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7 Handy Hints to Help You Experience Cuba Like a Local

The selfie stick is one of those things you probably wish you thought of, since you know whoever came up with the idea has made so much money it’s probably obscene. But fads pass, and selfie sticks are nowadays cluttering up closets in their millions. In fact, if you were to see someone using a selfie stick, you would automatically think that the person is a tourist. And that’s a look that many people want to avoid when they go on vacation.

You don’t want to look like an actual tourist do you?

Sure, you are a visitor to your destination, a stranger in a strange land, but there is something decidedly uncool about sticking out like a sore thumb. You don’t want to advertise the fact that you’re on holiday, potentially making yourself a target for irritating touts, or just looking hopelessly lost. When it comes to a certain island paradise that should be up there on the list of places you need to see, there are a few ways to experience Cuba like a local… so leave that darn selfie stick at home.

1. A Little Spanish Can Be a Big Help

You don’t need to speak fluent español in order to experience the best of Cuba. There are some times where it’s going to be helpful though. You’ll find that English is widely spoken in larger cities, and basically anywhere with a tourism industry (it’s their bread and butter after all), but a little Spanish goes a long way. Learn the pleasantries; a hello, goodbye, or thank you in the native language shows you’re making an effort. Some language barriers might be experienced in the more rural areas, but it’s unlikely to pose a massive problem. If you are going to be spending a large amount of time off the beaten track, hunt for a translation app (that works offline) and have it on your smartphone just in case the need should arise.

2. Money Matters

For those who didn’t know, it can be rather confusing once you actually arrive in Cuba. The island has two currencies: the Cuban peso (used by the locals) and the Cuban convertible peso (pegged to the value of the US dollar and used by visitors). Sometimes you will receive your change in Cuban pesos after paying in convertible pesos (and you should always double check precisely which currency you get back), but otherwise the whole process is very simple when you know that you’re almost always going to be paying in convertible pesos. Also remember that it’s a cash-based economy, so your credit/debit card will not be all that widely accepted.

3. Pack Everything You’ll Need

You might be in the habit of packing light to the point of only taking carry on baggage. This is a philosophy that works in Cuba… but only up to a point. You can’t just pick up many essential items once you arrive, since some basic purchases can be hard to track down. Make sure you bring all toiletries, cosmetics, and any over the counter medication you’ll be using. These items can be found in Cuba, but you might need to do some major hunting in order to find something that is seemingly rather basic. Chances are you’ll feel a little awkward in Cuba if you found yourself unable to find any deodorant!

4. A Little Modesty Goes a Long Way

One way to experience Cuba like a local is to blend in (and more on that in a moment). You will find that expensive accessories (call it bling if you have to) will really make you look like a tourist. It’s not as though the locals refrain from accessorising altogether, but it’s done with more modesty, without drawing attention to oneself. Keep those expensive accessories at home.

5. Dress Appropriately

This also comes under the heading of blending in. Try not to treat Cuba like it’s one big beach resort, since shorts and flip flops aren’t going to be appropriate everywhere. It’s not an overly formal society, and yet there are instances where being too casual might attract a few curious glances. So when packing your bag, have something on hand that wouldn’t look out of place if the occasion called for a little more formality than you might be anticipating.

6. A Rough Schedule Can Be Beneficial

Planning your every waking minute has a tendency to suck the fun right out of your vacation. It’s not as though you need to schedule each and every thing you plan to do in Cuba days in advance, but it’s the sort of place where having at least a vague schedule can be extremely beneficial. It’s not so much an itinerary of your day as it is working out how you’re going to get from place to place. Public transport can be difficult to navigate, even in a major city like Havana, so when you have a rough idea of what you’ll want to see on any given day, also work out how far it is from each point of interest to the other, and decide if it’s walkable or if you’re better off in a taxi. This rough plan stops you from getting lost and allows you to get the most of of your time in the country. You’re not going to experience Cuba like a local if you’re strolling down the street in scorching heat, looking anxiously down at your map before peering up at street signs.

7. Be Social to Experience Cuba at Its Best

Don’t be afraid to become more than an observer when you visit Cuba. It’s a warmly social country, so don’t be so passive when everyone else in the restaurant hits the dance floor for some impromptu salsa as the night wears on.

Nobody is going to expect you to participate when it comes to dancing, drinking, or even conversation at the bar, but it’s a place where you can very quickly feel included… no matter how bad at salsa dancing you might be.

Do you have any questions? Just leave a comment below.