I recently returned from an eye-opening trip to Cuba. During my travels around the island, I discovered the country’s warm community-based culture, its diverse landscapes, and its colonial cities. I ate the best chicken ever, visited farms, and made friends with locals. It is one of the best trips I have ever been on. And, you too can have an amazing trip around Cuba if you follow these eight tips.
8 Tips for Traveling in Cuba
Bring Ear Plugs
Car horns, crowing roosters, and horse’s hooves on cobblestone streets. Cuba never sleeps and neither will you without ear plugs. This hard working nation is moving constantly and if your accommodation is located in the center of town you will be in the thick of it. Getting a good night’s sleep, with ear plugs, will keep you energized and ready for adventure.
Tourist buses are cold, crowded, and slow. An alternative mode of transportation are Colectivos or shared taxis. Colectivos offer door to door service, cost the same as the tourist buses, and will get you to your destination quickly. They are also a great way to meet fellow travelers heading to the same city as you. If you are staying in a Casa Particular ask your host to arrange a Colectivo for you.
Stay in Casa Particulars
If you want an authentic Cuban experience you need to stay with locals in Casa Particulars. Casa Particulars are Cuba’s version of a B&B. Cuban’s all over the country open their homes to travelers; offering you the chance to live within the community and practice your Spanish. In a Casa Particular, you will be provided a bedroom, a bathroom, and meals if you wish. Each Casa has its own unique flavor so, make sure you look at a few before deciding which one is the best fit for your travel style.
Eat in Paladars
Similar to Casa Particulars, Paladars are restaurants owned by local people. And, they have the best food! If you want fresh, yummy, and authentic Cuban food, be on the lookout for busy Paladars to eat in. Dishes not to be missed are the soups, chicken cooked with onions and pineapple, and rice cooked with black beans. Food in Paladars is simply served but, loaded with flavor and love. If you cannot decide where to eat ask your Casa Particular host for a recommendation.
Many Canadians and Americans do not venture into Cuba’s agricultural heart and it’s a massive shame. The small town of Vinales is cool, laid back, and full of rural beauty. It is also home to some of the country’s most beautiful Casa Particulars and endless opportunities for adventure. From hiking and caving to snorkeling, rock climbing, and agricultural tours outdoor enthusiasts will love Vinales. I highly recommend visiting a tobacco farm and walking up to the La Ermita hotel for sunset during your time here. Day tours are also available from Havana to Vinales if your itinerary does not allow for an overnight visit.
Bring Plenty of SD Cards
Every corner and every street in Cuba is a new photo opportunity. So, make sure you are stocked up on SD cards! In order to get the best photos make sure to venture out during the golden hours; shortly after sunrise and just before sunset. Also, always remember to ask permission if you are taking pictures of local people. Many Cubans are happy to pose for a quick photo if asked politely. In Havana, you can even find ladies dressed in traditional garb who will pose beautifully for your camera for a few dollars. Finally, if you are serious about capturing authentic old world Cuban scenes make sure to visit Trinidad. The city is filled with horse-drawn carts, colorful buildings, and cobbled streets.
Wear Sturdy Shoes
Do not bring heels to Cuba! The streets and the sidewalks are uneven and there is construction going on everywhere. Make sure you pack and wear a pair of sturdy walking shoes that provide you with ankle support. The last thing you want to do is roll your ankle on a loose cobblestone.
While many Cubans speak at least one foreign language, your trip will be greatly improved if you learn a couple of essential Spanish phrases. Trying to learn a bit of the local language will help you converse with locals and enrich your travel experience.