What not to do in Cuba
There are some things you wish you knew beforehand when heading on holidays and some people make a living out of your innocence. Take a taxi driver at an airport. You have no idea the distance, the cost per kilometre or maybe even the exchange rate. You are ripe to be ripped off. Below are some of the mistakes I made, some good, that hopefully will help you when you are visiting Cuba.
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t get a classic car ride round Havana
I made the mistake of falling for the beautifully coloured and sparkling 50’s cars in Havana and paid $35 for an hour to cruise around town. ‘I’ll never get another chance’ I thought. Well, as Havana was our first port of call I hadn’t much wisdom. It turns out that there are classic cars everywhere in Cuba and in fact only a few days later I paid around $10 for a 4hr trip in one between provincial cities. This was one of many intercity trips in them. The taxi collectivos (shared taxis) are the best way to get around Cuba and more often than not they are in a 50year old classic car. The collectivos are the same price as a bus (give or take) and they collect you and drop you to the door. Any casa will be able to organise you one. If you are venturing out into the provinces of Cuba then don’t bother with the classic cars in Havana.
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t not smoke a cigar in Vinales
Double negative makes a positive right? I’m not a smoker of cigarettes or cigars. In fact I despise being around the smoke but I must say that when our cowboy dude in the tobacco fields in Vinales dipped a Cuban cigar in honey and I gave it a puff (for the experience) I quite liked it. I’ve had one or two drags when on a night out and hated them but these cigars were almost nice! I didn’t smoke the whole thing but as these Cuban cigars are only natural and from the local farm there are no chemicals in them to preserve them. So go on and take a puff and you’ll be surprised what you taste.
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t bother climbing the hill in Trinidad
Unless you want a bit of lung exercise the hill, Cerro de la Vigia, isn’t worth it. It has the height no doubt and looks like the views of Trinidad and countryside would be excellent but it turns out they are not. They are okay at best but the tall grass and bushes take the ratings out of this attraction. The highest point where the communications tower is is semi blocked by a lower bump on the same hill and means you can almost see none of the town from it. You get a great view of the airport and some of the distant coast! On that same said lower bump if you walk through the bushes you get a slightly clearer view but only head up the hill if you want the exercise.
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t be afraid to get on a chicken bus
Now I’m not recommending you go from Havana to Santiago in one but the local chicken buses are worth getting on for the experience. You might be on a 30 year old school bus with no windows or you might be on a truck with a portacabin fixed on the back but if going on anything less than 2hrs you should get at least one. Not comfortable, very windy, probably squashed but are you not in Cuba to see the local way of life? No better way than seeing how the locals actually live and the goings on that on their transport. Sure Viazul is more comfortable but where is the fun in that.
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t just stay in the well know tourist areas
Heading to out there countries is ‘getting off the beaten track’ but you don’t have to go far in many countries to see what 90% of tourists don’t see. When in Havana make sure to get off Calle Obispo, make sure to take a different way home every time taking in different streets that aren’t as fashionable. I’m not suggesting you do this at 2am when it is dark and empty but take normal precautions.
You might find locals boys playing football and they all have perfect eyebrows! You might find a very local pub where you get friendly with the barmaid (who was very hostile to start with) and end up visiting her house and family and end up in a salsa club until 4 in the morning! (There were two of us so it wasn’t my silky chat up lines that got us there!)
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t get annoyed from hearing the Guantanamera song
It’s everywhere. It’s like the heat and the short shorts. Almost ubiquitous. In fact it wasn’t even that famous in Cuba originally until The Sandpipers had a top 10 hit in the US with it in the sixties and only then was imported back to Cuba with much fanfare and now is all over the place. It’s not the worst and by the end of your trip you will be able to judge which versions are good and which are bad.
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t spend too long in Varadero
Everybody needs a break to wind down. And where better than on the beach to do that. All I would ask is that if you go to Cuba make sure you don’t spend all your wind down time in Varadero. We met several people in Havana and that was all they did. Havana – Varadero and home. Such a shame. The beauty of Cuba are the ancient cars, the laid back feel of the country and the provincial towns. Varadero is not like the rest of Cuba. It is very similar to what all other beach resorts all over the world are like and surely that is not why you picked Cuba for your holidays. Vinales is one of the most laid back towns I’ve ever been to and some of the squares in places like Trinidad or Sancti Spiritus are wonderful.
What not to do in Cuba – Don’t be an eejit like me at dusk on the beach
This may be rule 101 of heading to tropical climates but if you are on the beach in Cuba beware of mosquitos at dawn and dusk. After scuba diving we had a few impromptu beers on the beach for a few hours until sunset came. No problem for an hour or two. When we saw the first mosquito we legged it back to the casa. Much too late. We were caught unawares and although we didn’t see many mosquitos we were eaten alive. You have to admire how they manage it! I had 18 bites on the back of my neck alone! I wasn’t so foolish after that. We had been in Cuba a week with very few bites prior to the beach but just don’t make the same mistake we did.