1. Stay with locals
Many travellers these days are choosing to stay in the homes of Cubans as homestays (Casas particulares). Don’t be put off; these function very similarly to bed and breakfasts and are often the highlight of the trip. Try the Cuba Junky application or simply look for the signs on the street.
2. Don’t mess with the queuing system
The first time you find yourself in a disorganised queue can be quite traumatic – there seems to be no formation or logic. The answer is simple – always ask who was the last person – “¿Quién es el último?” Then you know it is your turn after they get served. Similarly when someone new comes to the line, they will ask who is the last and you must say “Soy yo” to keep your place.
3. Learn the language
Unlike many other Latin American countries, you really do need to have a bit of Spanish under your belt to get around here! Learn as much as possible before you go – it will make your trip that much easier and enjoyable! Find a class here.
4. Be super street savvy
While it is true that Cuba is mostly safe, you still have to be careful on the street! Jineteros/as will hustle you in the smoothest of fashions, watch for the most common scams. Carry your bag with your valuables as normal during the day but leave them at home at night (especially women’s handbags).
5. Have a money plan
Money is still tricky business in Cuba – dual currencies and very limited International Exchange makes life miserable for foreign visitors. Take Visa cards as backup, always count your change at Cadecas (Currency Exchange) and get to know the two different currencies quickly to avoid being ripped off.
6. Taxis are king
Get in a group of 3-4 people and travel Cuba by Taxi! Taxi collectivos are often the same price as the bus with the added bonus of getting picked up and dropped off at your desired locations, and at a time that suits you.
7. Don’t take the hissing to heart
Machismo is well and truly alive in Cuba – the constant hissing (yes, hissing) and commentary that accompanies you while walking down the street can make you feel anything from outright offended to simply gorgeous. Try and take it all with a grain of salt, you can even hiss back too if you feel like it, they mean you no harm.
8. Learn the steps
Don’t wait until you’re there to pick up the basic Salsa steps! (The fun part is perfecting them with a great dance partner!) Learn the basics before you go, and thank me later.
9. Love the music
Get ready to fall head over heals for Cuban music – it’s simply to die for. Whether you like the old school type of Son, the more youthful Reggaeton or the classic Salsa – there will always be something that will move you here. Get familiar with some before you go:
If you want to imagine what young modern Cubans are like, look no further than this music clip. Notice the diversity, the dance combos and that excentric fashion!
An absolute classic, played at least once a night in most bars (if not 3 times)! Check out the beautiful shots of Havana streets and the Malecón.
11. Connect at a Wi-Fi park
Wi-Fi has arrived in Cuba! And in classic Cuban fashion, it is beautifully public, open and communal. Find a Wi-Fi Zone, usually a park (Here is a list) and grab an internet card. Put your people watching goggles on because this is a classic modern Cuban moment – likely to be just a memory of history soon enough!
10. Remember, Cuba is still communist
It may sound obvious, but many of those excited about the United States warming its relationship with Cuba assume everything has changed. Not so. Whatever your political leanings, Cuba will likely open your eyes and make you question and think. There is no advertising, just revolutionary propaganda. Cubans can own very small businesses, but the government still rules every market. Try and support local business where you can (you will get better service too)
12. Watch something
While you don’t have to be an expert, a lot of Cuban society and culture will make a lot more sense if you watch a few documentaries and movies! Many museums, particularly about the revolution, don’t cover the basic history – only more intricate details, so if you have no idea it’s not going to make a lot of sense! Start with these films: The Motorcycle Diaries, Fresa y Chocolate, The Truth About Che Guevara.
Essential Characters to Understand
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By Penelope Ray
February 1, 2016
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