If you’re planning a trip to Havana, Trinidad, Santa Clara or elsewhere on the island, here are 10 Things You Should Do in Cuba, and soon!
1. Put Away the Guide
Whether your packing an old-school travel guide or a shiny new app, sometimes it pays to put the guide away and take your travel cues from your surroundings. A real sense for any place is often best gleaned away from the common tourist sites and eateries. Travel guides can be an excellent source for local history, suggested itineraries, and safety advice but relying on their contents alone will only keep you on the beaten path. Plus, their contents are only as relevant as their last publication date, making some information inapplicable in the moment.
2. Seek out Diversity
It is easy to see a district’s culture and assume the demographic model is representative of the city or country entirely, but even in your own hometown you likely know that’s not always true. Seeking out culture diversity can help paint a clearer picture of an entire region or country. Seeking out artistic, ethnic, religious, and economic diversity often provides a stunning viewpoint into the lives of the citizen you see around you.
Cubans are a very social and expressive people, often times through music and dance (see #4). Take a chance and find your own spot to dance with the locals, or find a low key watering hole to watch the baseball game with the rest of the neighbourhood. There are so many experiences to be found away from the resorts in Cuba.
3. Ride Local Transportation
We know the AC on a tourist bus can be pretty alluring, especially in hotter climates. Rarely will local transportation offer such luxury, but what is lost in comfort is often more then offset by the excitement, entertainment, and immersion of riding local transportation, chalk full of locals on their daily commutes. Even when you have it all to yourself, using local transport can be an adventure (like our experience – another story altogether!)
4. Take More Than a Few Moments to Listen
When travelling with a partner or in a group it’s easy to get carried away swapping impressions, travel tips, or upcoming itineraries. Just be sure to take some time away from all the chatting and listen to Cuba around you. Whether it is live music, with vocalists and dancers spilling out of cafes and restaurants, or just an impromptu sidewalk salsa parties, Cuba has it’s own unique soundtrack. The island’s bustle and rhythm is noticeable from the moment you arrive, and can be the backbeat to your travels. Keep a few CUC on hand to show your appreciation for the musicians. These state-employed artist often rely on tips to make a living and many will even have CDs on hand so you can enjoy the tunes long after you left.
5. Buy Local, Eat Local
We understand the natural inclination to avoid the dreaded ‘Traveller’s Belly’ but such gut wrenching fear can prevent you from fully exploring the culture, gastonimcally speaking. Sadly, most tourist haunts either serve up foreigner comfort cuisine like pizzas, pasta, hamburgers, and fries. Rarely is “tourist food” ever enjoyable, or certainly not nearly as enjoyable whatever is being served at many small hole-in-the-wall eateries crowded with locals.
Sure, you’ll still want to stick to some rules. Always drink trusted clean or boiled water and stick to food stalls that have a high turnover of happy looking people, but getting to picky about what and where you eat can deprive your tastebuds of some of the finer experiences in any country. Buy local, eat local, and if you can, with locals. Remember, the so called ‘authenticity’ of a regional dish is better judged by looking at the faces of the people enjoying their meals around you than by reading the dishes description on the menu card. More often than not, whatever you are served is likely to be an unforgettable experience all in itself, and it’s definitely something you should do in Cuba.
6. Stay Local
Thanks to many sites like AirBnB and TripAdvisor, finding local accommodation is easier than ever. In Cuba, Casa Particulars are affordable, convenient, and you’ll get a glimpse into a local’s home, maybe even a taste of some home cooking as many of these casas offer breakfast or dinner options at one of just a couple of tables – or even the family table. Cuban Casa Particulars are guided by state standards, but its always good to check the reviews or request your current host recommend and/or call a casa at your next destination.
We will be ranking our top stays in Cuba soon on our Top Casa Particulars, until then you can search Travel Tales reviews on TripAdvisor.
7. Reach Out
Generosity and Kindness are the types of traits that compel honest reciprocation and are rarely scorned. Making a new friend can be as simple as helping out to push start a car, or simply saying hello as you walk down the street. In our experience, Cubans were outgoing and generous with their time, helping us arrange transport or guide us to a particular destination, even showing us a few steps on the dance floor. Practice the art of conversation in Cuba!
Many Cubans are proud of their homes, and it’s not unusual to be invited back to someone’s place to meet their family. Hiring a local guide, or local transportation, can lead you to discover places off the preverbal ‘beaten path’. With the freedom of a private car or guide you can also tailor make your experience in Cuba while giving a local a chance to show of the neighbourhood as he or she sees it.
8. Everything is Worth a Second Glance
First impressions come quickly and can be hard to shake. The wrong first impression could mean missing out on a chance to see or experience something truly unique. While no place can be perfectly safe, it’s worth noting Cuba is a police state and thus violent crime is fairly rare. Stepping off a major byway to explore the occasional backstreet helps bring a dynamic robustness to Cuba that may not always conform with your original assessment. On the surface, much of Cuba’s architecture appears in disrepair, but delve a little deeper and you may fine a architectural gem beyond the facade, much like the old Americian cars touring through Havana.
9. Find Your Own ‘Beach’
Okay, so our beach day didn’t go as planned, but it still ended in a quiet seaside rest, waves rocking against the shore. Cuba is an island surrounded by beautiful beaches and warm waters. Finding your own lonely beach, away from the umbrellas in the sand and colourful drinks is a perfect way to find some island paradise. The southern shores of Cuba provide just as many wonderful sand and surf spots as those in the north (minus the peppering of all-inclusive resorts and vacationers). A perfect way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the islands (birds, palm trees, fruit trees, cold drinks, and the occasional seaside seafood shack.)
10. See Cuba From A Different Angle
This is not a metaphor. Literally, see Cuba from a different angle. Whether travelling through Havana, Trinidad, or Matanzas, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to find rooftop cafes, watch towers, or private balconies. Spending a few moments elevated up and away from the streets and crowds give you a chance to soak in a birds-eye view of your adventure while enjoying a cool refreshment or two. In larger cities or smaller towns it can help you find you bearings and change your perspective with the diversity of colours and styles that would’ve otherwise been missed at street level. Hit the rooftops for a different point of view, watch the sunset over the city you’ve come to see. Take Cuba in from as many angles as you can, you won’t regret it.
Those are Ten Things You Should Do in Cuba.
Have you been to Cuba? What are the Ten Things you would recommend?