I met Jose Fernandez through a mutual friend here on FOH (Hat tip, and a thank you, you know who you are, much respect). Pre-Covid I would visit Havana a couple times a year with my Dad and friends. Jose and I became great friends also. He owns one of 20ish private taxi's in Cuba licensed for whole island travel and airport service. He's an incredibly professional person and driver. He speaks perfect English. Typically, when I'm traveling to Cuba now, I simply contact him on WhatsApp and tell him my itinerary (well in advance), what kind of accommodations I'm looking for, what neighborhood, and I just show up at the Airport. Everything is taken care of 100%. He's with us from the time we leave our Casa to when we're ready to turn in. Jose is communicative, kind, intelligent, prompt and trustworthy.
Jose will basically set things up the way you want them. Submit an itinerary with place and dates. No problem, it's handled. Want to simply call Jose when you need him during your itinerary as a Taxi Driver? No problem. Looking for Cigar tourism? No Problem, he has deep relationships from Havana to Pinar del Rio to Vinales. Looking for City hop over the course of a week or weeks? No problem.
Jose can be reached via:
WhatsApp / Mobile at +53 5 2594032
1. The best way to use Jose's services would be to fully book him to your party while you're in Cuba. He shares a price for that with you and will be agreed upon before you arrive. That price includes transportation, gas, and his time with you as your translator and concierge. Meals are not included. (see note 3 below) Frankly if you're English speaking with weak to no Spanish, Jose will take all the pressure off of the trip and you'd never not want to travel that way again -
2. Airbnb's and Casa Particualres accommodation culture - I booked an Airbnb once and he asked why I didn't ask him to book it for me. (I simply didn't know to ask) Well traveled people are used to handling their own itineraries end to end so that's what I was doing. Ultimately, the price you pay for Airbnb and the price he can negotiate with the Casa owners on your behalf directly are often as much as 40% different or as little as no difference. It's worth the ask. Send him the address and contact info for the Casa you'd like to rent, and he'll let you know in a few days.
3. Mealtime. Jose is happy to translate for you wherever you go. Mealtime is no different. He's happy to set the reservations for you, see you to your table, and help you order during the meal if you like. He will make everything as smooth as possible. Side note - If he's with you during the meal, he rarely eats, but will if you make him 😉 When he's with us, all of his meals are taken care of by our group and that's probably the best approach. He won’t drink while on duty.
4. Don't stay in Hotels. Well, you can if you want to, but it isn't the best way to experience the culture. Have Jose book a house for you (you'll have it all to yourself if that's what you want) and the owners will keep it clean, and even make breakfast for you each morning. Breakfast typically costs ~$5 per person per day. It's worth it if you'd like that.
5. Petty Theft - Cuba is _very_ safe. Probably the safest Caribbean parallel country I've ever been to. I've only had something stolen once while in Cuba and I've never felt threatened or unsafe even walking the streets at 2am through neighborhoods. In this case we were at the beach and our bags were outside of our field of view for a little too long. Ensure you know where your things are at all times around Havana and the beaches. Keep your passports and cash on you where possible. I use a backpack that I don't let out of my sight. Petty theft is about all you'll ever need be aware of. I've stayed at many houses, they all had safes in the rooms and or just left our things be. Cubans are very honest and pride themselves on this.
6. Cigar Tourism. Habano's Tours are one of Jose's specialties. Talk to him about what you're looking for. You found a true gem in him in that regard. ..and no, we're not talking about the cooperativa BS you get in the street. You're in very good hands there.
7. Currency Exchange. Jose can arrange and assist with currency exchange for you as soon as you arrive. Don't sweat it. You can exchange in the airport if you like also. Just let him know what you need, and he'll work it out so it's drama free. I've literally handed him thousands of dollars to go exchange for me for our group for our Casa fees and he came back later, we counted it together right on the front porch of the Casa. If you're from the US, the blue banded new style 100's are the most drama free to exchange. As of 2020 your Credit Card's still won’t work in Havana if you're from the US.
7. Don't be afraid to ask anything of Jose. You want bottles of water? He'll find it for you. You want that special Rum or Cigar box you can’t find. He'll drive to every place in Havana to look for it. He realizes you're on vacation and wants it to be your experience. Jose is relaxed about everything. You'll feel that way as well.