Experience Cuba Like a Local: Insider Tips
Cuba can be one of the most diverse, people-oriented trips you can take to the Caribbean. Unlike other destinations, the island isn’t overcome with resorts and all-inclusives. Due to the warm, welcoming nature of the Cuban people, there are plenty more opportunities to see Cuban life up close. That’s where the true charm and appeal in the island is.
If you don’t mind being a little adventurous in this not-so-typical tropical destination, here are few ways to experience the best that Cuba has to offer just like a local.
If you’re getting around the city of Havana, you’ll likely be taking the almendrones or classic car taxis. Instead of taking the private, touristy version, take it a step further and opt for a colectivo. You’ll share with other Cubans, but usually pay no more than $1 per trip.
Also, you’ll want to take one of Cuba’s most unique modes of transportation: bicitaxi or bicycle taxi. These are perfect for destinations that are a little too far to walk but a little too close to hail a taxi.
Finally, you can take the Cuban bus. Locals refer to the bus as a guagua. These buses can be extremely crowded and will take you longer to get around but the price is right. The smallest Cuban coin covers two people. Buses run around the clock and friendly Cubans will help you navigate the system in a pinch.
There’s almost nothing more Cuban than opening your home and hosting strangers. Cubans are hospitable and enjoy having people in their homes.
The owners will often have good recommendations on what to do and things to experience in Cuba. Many will even have connections to help you experience the best of Cuba: taxis to the beach, access to salsa lessons or invites to Cuban gatherings with food and music.
Fortunately, insightCuba is now able to offer this authentically Cuban accommodation to its guests. We believe there’s no better way to connect with Cubans than the personal encounters you’ll experience with casa particular host.
Use the Cuban Peso
Cuba has two types of currency: the CUC, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar but taxed at 13% upon conversion and the CUP with converts at about 23-25 to the U.S. dollar. Most cadecas or exchange places will tell you not to bother with CUPs. However, if you really want to experience Cuba like a Cuban, it’s well worth it to convert $20-$30 to CUPs.
Cuban fares and wares can be pretty inexpensive in CUPs. Enjoy fried chicken at a kiosko for 25-35 CUPs or street pizza for a little less than half this price. Stop by a fruit stand and get produce for less than 2-3 CUP per item.
Connect with a Cuban
Cubans are a highly literate population and many of them know just enough English to be helpful or make a friend. It might make for awkward communications in the beginning, but it’s very worth it.
Cubans are a passionate expressive people and they tend to convey things without spoken language very well. If you’re feeling hesitant, pull out your Spanish pocket dictionary and échate un cubano (grab a Cuban) to chat with. You’ll be amazed at what you both will learn by the exchange.
If you’re interested in learning more about the country and it’s people, check our tour diverse Cuba Tour options to plan your people-to-people trip to the island. Experience authentic casa particular accommodations on our Undiscovered Cuba Tour and Classic Cuba Tour.
Written by: Aja McClanahan
Photos by: Robin Thom