Tip: We booked our Viñales day trip when we arrived in Havana on our first full day exploring the city. In old Havana city center, you’ll find a bunch of classic cars all parked in different areas. We found out where the Vinales Taxis were congregated (in front of the Gran Teatro de La Habana) and asked about a day trip. We booked if for 120 CUC total for two people.
Is Cuba Safe
Yes. In the past and still today the government regulates almost everything. And even though Raúl Castro, the brother of former leader Fidel Castro – current Cuba’s president is sloooowwly easing some restrictions, people are cautiously optimistic. Cubans are abiding citizens as harsh punishments are imposed on anyone who breaks them.
So the worst crime that can happen to you is getting overcharged for your ride, or getting change back in CUP instead of CUC. The latter did happen to me, but I learned I could still spend the CUP change I got and learned that 25 CUP = 1 CUC. This is somewhat annoying, but in the grand scheme of themes, it’s no biggie.
Havana is indeed going through a slow metamorphosis in shifting into the next chapter after the Fidel Era.
Without understanding some history and having side conversations with locals, you cannot possibly comprehend the reality of life in Cuba and why people act the way they do and why certain things are the way they are.
And when you don’t know, it’s easy to make up your own stories and judgments about the way of life in Cuba without compassion. This to me is not how one should travel. Travel is meant to open your mind and hearts to learn about another culture, what shapes their values and drives their behaviors. If you don’t, you will no doubt feel frustrated and feel your patience being tested. (My ego is no immune this, and have had to keep it in check too.)
In speaking with the locals, here are some things I’ve learned:
- Under Fidel Castro’s rule, if he found out you owned more than what you should own, he’d strip you of your vehicles, land, TV, of whatever it is your owned;
- A few years ago they weren’t able speak to tourists unless they worked in a hotel;
- Anyone Cubans who were caught with foreign currency on the streets would be punished;
- Since Fidel passed, Raúl Castro has began to slowly lift and ease restrictions;
- Wi-Fi is something recent Raúl has allowed for the people to access;
- Raúl has also said that once his term is up, he wants to allow Cubans to exercise their right to vote again;
- They are given a monthly ration to cover their basic needs but often times it is not enough to cover and feed a family;
- Educations and healthcare is accessible to everyone;
- Before Fidel Castro passed away, he made up a law and said the country needed to mourn his death for a week without entertainment, so no TV, no music, no dancing. What a bastard eh?! wanting to control the Cubans and needing one final word even after his passing;
- When asked, would you rather have Trump as your leader or Fidel. The locals said Fidel. They said, ‘we’d rather have order than chaos and a lunatic running our country.’
How to support local Cubans
- Remember the extra toiletries I told you to bring? Donate them to the locals;
- Purchase cigars direct from the tobacco farmers at a reduced price where the money goes into their pockets instead of the government who marks it up;
- Support paladares particulares(privately-run restaurants). Similar to the cigars, your money goes directly to the businesses instead of to the government;
- Listen to what they tell you with an open-mind;
- It’s natural to be curious and ask questions but do so with grace and in private;
Would I recommend Havana?
Yes! It will enrich your mind and your perspective on your life and others’. Take in the experience, what you see and the moment you create for what it is and make it your own! Cuba is slowly awakening, and with more people visiting the country, there will be more opportunities for intercultural exchange and understanding between Cuba and the world fostering more opportunities for its people in the future.