- 4 years ago
- Wedding: September 2016
The BF and I just got back from two weeks backpacking around Cuba, and we loved it! We had booked our flights, taken a backpack each and booked our first two nights’ stay, then spent another 11 days exploring the western half of the island. it was super easy to travel around, really flexible to book everything we wanted to do by the day before, we didn’t need to take a car, and it was nice to be disconnected from the world a while. Unless you get a super duper CHEAP flight-and-all inclusive package where you theN go off and do your own thing 90% of the time (including nights away from the resort) I would say your best value is staying at B & B’s(casa particulares), eating at local restaurants, and booking on the fly.
Things to definitely do:
– read detailed reviews and look at pictures on trip advisor for casas in advance, and take a ‘top three’ list for each city you may want to go to; or, if you were super impressed with one casa ask who they know in other towns and they will often give you a list.
– carry a list of phone numbers you think are important, like taxi numbers And the casas you want to stay at. If you call in the country, take off the first three (53 and one other) and add 0 (or 01 if you are in Havana) to make the number work. If you are calling internationally, you can dial 180 from a house phone to get to the international operator to make a collect call (donde Ellos pagar) Or buy a prepaid phone card in etecsa in any town or city to use at a pay phone; after you enter the card number you can press a number to set the card up in English. If you have an important medical condition, write something up about it, run it through google translate then post it up on a bilingual forum like spanishdict.com to make sure it makes sense; this will make it easier to explain it in a clinic if you have to.
– definitely brush up on your spanish. It will make life a lot easier for you.
– look into travel vaccines before you go; we got a few, “sure, of course it is,” comments when we asked if things were being made/cleaned with boiled water that I’m not so sure about and while it’s not 100% effective! we had taken dukoral and didn’t get sick.
– bring a ziplock bag and a roll of toilet paper, and keep a supply of TP/hand sanitizer with you. public bathrooms are usually without much other than a flushing toilet (and even then…)
– bring earplugs in case you are done partying before 4am, want sleep and ended up with a room facing the street!
– take a money belt for under your clothes and a lock for your suitcase – you will want to carry enough cash for your trip and emergencies unless you are overpaying at a hotel for the privilege of being able to pay with a credit card! Tours at havanatur and cubanacan offices can take credit cards, too. We brought between $80-100 per day, did lots of trips and stayed at nice places and came home with a little extra even after an unexpected emergency trip to a clinic. Split it up, carry enough for the day in your wallet/purse and put the rest somewhere it won’t get stolen easily. We saw some Germans who had put $500 of national money in a bag someone had grabbed off the Ground where they had put it down to take pictures and moved away for a second. A money belt might get a bit sweaty but you will never have to worry about it going missing.
– ask how much it costs before you stay at a place/order it without a price tag/say you will buy something/get in the taxi. The price will be better for you.
things to not do:
– don’t bring fifty thousand pens, toothbrushes, batteries, hard candies, or bars of soap to give out at random times and places. There are not shortages of these things (not since the mid ’90’s, at least) and really, it’s not necessary. Also, kids will come and ask you for gum, candy and money; the occasional adults asking for things made me feel like a horrible person if I didn’t at least try, but no kid in that country is hungry and homeless, and they should not be tought that they can get rich quick by begging off of tourists. That will get them dropping out of school, whereas if they stay in school they can go on to absolutely free university for as long as they want. Do you want to rob a country of everyone with ambition and make them into touts instead of doctors, accountants and lawyers?
also, the most mad I got on the trip was when I saw a tourist couple handing out pens to a bunch of kids at a truck stop. they were giving out cheap ballpoint pens (the kind companies put logos on that work about 10 seconds) to preschoolers and smiling like Mother Teresa, even as this one babe in arms of an older sister took his new ‘toy’ and jabbed it deep into the back of his mouth. SO NOT SAFE.
– Don’t change money on the streets. Or buy cigars, they are probably shoved full of all the broken bits and stems that ought to go to cigarettes.
– If someone offers to sell you street drugs, turn them down flat and cold. 99% change they are an undercover cop as there are no laws against entrapment and Cuban drug dealers face long jail terms ormthe death penalty. You could be hit with a huge fine (even by North American standards), threatened with jail, and sent on the next flight out of the country on your dime.
– don’t tell people how long you are staying for. Be vague. pretty much the only crime against tourists in the country is trying to hustle you for as much money as possible, which sometimes they gauge by how long you are staying for (therefore how much cash may be on your person, because most people bring in all the cash they need for their trip). don’t share your table at a bar or restaurant with anyone you don’t plan on buying everything for.
– Don’t expect to post things online they day they happened; internet is super slow and expensive, lines to get a on a computer are long, and it was way more fun to spend that time exploring, swimming, boating, hiking or drinking!