Over the past two years, traveling to Cuba has become more accessible and open to Americans, and they are arriving on the island nation in droves. But after sixty years of restricted visits, unfortunately, there is very little knowledge about the way of life Cuba has to offer.
Bed-and-Breakfast accommodations are authentic Cuban style, but hotels are more reasonable for Americans. If you want the full Cuban experience then a bed-and-breakfast is the perfect destination, but if you want air conditioning, Wi-Fi and other commodities, then a hotel is the way to go.
For Americans, a hotel seems like a better choice because it offers some of the necessities for an American lifestyle and a 24/7 front desk staffed by English speakers for any questions or concerns.
Wi-Fi is offered in select hotels, and in order to get access you must buy an Internet card with a username and password. The Internet card for one hour costs around 2 CUC each (around 1 U.S dollar to 1 CUC).
If you try to access the Internet during the middle of the day- you will probably be kicked off because the router is too full. The Wi-Fi has the strongest connection in the evening.
You should be able to get around with Spanish. I speak almost no Spanish, so the language was a barrier for communication with the locals.
Most people speak only Spanish, so getting to certain locations and asking simple questions can become a big problem. When someone speaks English, you must speak slowly because talking quickly (normal American speed) can be confusing for the Cuban people. So be sure to download a translator app before your trip.
Be prepared for the sun. There are three major items you will need to protect yourself from the tropical sun – sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
You should apply and re-apply sunscreen throughout the day in order to avoid a sunburn. A hat will shade your face from the direct sunlight, and it will keep the top of your head from getting sunburnt.
Understand the culture. Machismo is the Cuban male culture that includes flirtatious behavior, bravado expressions and sometimes aggression to show male pride. Men calling you beautiful, checking you out and making kissing sounds are very common when walking through the streets. The best way to deal with the unwanted verbal attention is to ignore them.
Furthermore, Cubans are rarely on time. The culture is more focused on people than schedules. For example, lunch would start at 2 p.m. and wouldn’t be served until 3 p.m. Prepare for everything to take longer than expected.
Confirm and re-confirm plans. In order to avoid miscommunication and cancellations, confirm and reconfirm plans often. If you book a classic car tour in one of those lovingly restored Detroit-made, 1950’s metal monsters confirm the day before and confirm the day of the event.
If travelers can respect and appreciate Cuban culture it will go a long way towards furthering understanding between the two peoples who have been separated for too long.
Ashley Burger – Photography Editor