The second and final collection of Cuba Travel Tips from my trip to Cuba in December 2014. To view the first part, click here.

Cuba is the country evolution forgot. Time gobbled it up in the 1950’s and spat it out as a fascinatingly dilapidated preview of it’s former self. Roads lead to rundown remnants of a once glitzy heyday – an era where the rum ran cold and US ties were tight. A period that for varying reasons, was never going to last.

But last it did, sort of. Havana’s grandly disheveled buildings with their rusted-raw metal and multicolored pastel paint peeling off like semi-healed scabs are constant reminders of those opulent pre-Revolution days under the corrupt pro-America Batista government (you can read about the pre and post Cuban Revolution here). The catchy Cuban beats, dusty streets and lack of Coca Cola remind you this country has seen a lot these past 60 years. Its citizens have been pulled like rag-dolls from one commercial extreme to the communist other.

But what they haven’t seen is the Internet. Weird? Slightly. No matter how many times I told myself I wouldn’t be able to Google or check my emails, I still had trouble getting used to it when I was there. How do these people find good places to eat in Havana? Turns out, there’s really only one. How do these people know when salsa festivals are on? Apparently they pick-up-the-phone and spread the word. How inherently simple…how old-school. And yet for Cubans, being completely disconnected from the outside world is a way of life. I suppose it’s rather liberating, really. Confronting, yet liberating. It leaves you with plenty of time to kill. And what do Cubans do in their free time? Congregate on the streets for Salsa-dancing and party in their Casa Particular’s with Cuban music blaring. Which is awesome fun until it’s midnight on a Monday and you want to catch some shut-eye but you can’t because your next-door-neighbors are singing at the top of their lungs!

For me, all I can say is thank you Lonely Planet (and the couple of rare English-speaking locals I hung out with after meeting them on my first night when I was aimlessly walking the streets) – I don’t think I would have made it without you. But Lonely Planet didn’t tell me everything I needed to know before I went. The rest I picked up along the way…

Cuba Travel Tips

Cuban Travel Tip 7 – Cubans Know How To Have Fun…

Did you think a country where you could buy a one-litre bottle of Havana Club Rum for the equivalent of $5 AUD would be a boring place? From festivals to baseball games, there’s always a party somewhere in Cuba. Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, life is lived on the streets. People sit in doorways, peer down from balconies, and front doors are left wide open to let the groovin’ beats permeate the streets. If you walk about 500m in any direction you’ll probably stumble across a Cuban band in a square playing old songs from the Buena Vista Social Club and couples, both young and old, having the time of their lives dancing to the tunes. Fun is contagious in Cuba. You can’t escape it.

Amateur Baseball Game Cuba

Salsa on the Streets of Cuba

Cuba Travel Tip 8 – Supermarkets are Scarce…  

Supermarkets are an alien place in Cuba. First of all, they are very hard to find. Second of all, if you do find one hidden on a street corner you will quickly realise the produce is even more limited than the shop itself. You’ll notice the entire left hand side is dedicated to Rum, Cigars and Cigarettes. There will be a couple of smaller aisles in the middle sparsely stocked with cleaning products, communist chocolate (which tastes horrible by the way) and select package item offerings like cereals, pasta etc (nothing commercial, mind you). Then of course is the right hand side, where freshly-baked bread, bakery treats and home-brand ice-cream tease you on those nights you might have had one too many. A word of advice: it’s pretty difficult to cook your own meals in Cuba, so if you’re looking for a cheap snack then buy fruit or bread from the many mobile street vendors. Or you can purchase some peanuts wrapped in a little white paper cylinder for CUC$50 cents from the dudes off the streets in the toursty areas. It’s become a booming trade.

Cuba Travel Tip 9 – Backpacks Only…

Casa Particular’s are notorious for having the steepest stairs known to man, so if you feel like a full-body workout every time you check into a new place in Cuba then by all means, bring the roller-suitcase. If you don’t want to break out in sweats (and possibly risk your own life by falling down said stairs), then stick with a backpack!

Cuba Travel Tip 10 – Be Prepared to Get Harassed by Locals…

Let me preface by saying Cuba is not an inherently violent place. In fact, little to no violent crime is ever really reported. BUT, If you’re a woman traveling alone (or with another lady) and you’re a WASPY blonde tourist-type with a DSLR slung over your shoulder then you can be as sure as death and taxes that people will be staring no matter how conservatively you dress. What’s more, you’ll probably be told you’re beautiful by every single male you pass on the street; and every third will try and converse with you. To be honest, the amount of attention I received from intrigued onlookers in Cuba was the most I’ve ever received in any country I’ve been to (and I’ve visited Morocco, India etc). All I can say is keep your wits about you, be positive, listen to your instincts and just take it all with a grain of salt. It’s harmless. Annoying yes, but harmless nonetheless. There’s not much you can do to minimize this attention other than to try and befriend some locals (or other travellers) and hang with them like I did.

Cuba Travel Tip 11 – The Street Fumes Are A Slight Choking Hazard…

No matter how hard I try, I will not be able to prepare you for the overwhelming stench of the car fumes accosting the streets of Havana. The old town is particularly bad, with its tall buildings and narrow streets acting as a giant dome that traps the pollution from the old Chevrolets and silently shoves it up your nostrils. I’ll admit there were times I wished I had a face mask or some kind of breathing apparatus. But that may have been me just being precious…

Cuba Travel Tip 12 – Times, They Are-A-Changin’

These days the Cuban government is becoming less stringent on the traditional “communist” ideals – restrictions on international travel have been lifted, people can buy and sell their houses and cars and even open small businesses to make their own money.

With Obama announcing late last year that the trade embargo with Cuba will be lifted, the time is now to visit this fascinating place lest the countries’ time-warp of old might actually catch up to modern times! And what a shame it would be to miss it!

Stefanie Acworth Cuba Streetscape

Havana Club Cuba

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AMW xx