When I told my friends and family that I was travelling to Cuba, alone, they all gave me the same concerned look. Nowhere is 100% safe, including my home turf in London, but as far as travelling goes, I’ve felt safer in Cuba than anywhere else in Latin America. I did, however, encounter a few situations in which I didn’t feel entirely comfortable, so here are my Top 5 Tips for women going to Cuba.
Tip #1 You will get unwanted attention – just be prepared
I know I’m being harsh here – but sorry, if you can’t stand it, don’t go to Cuba. Or go with someone. It’s a given that Cuban men will show you attention, so you’ll just have to get used to it.
Having said this, I don’t want to put you off, nor does it mean you have to put up with it. Unlike some other Latin American countries I’ve been to (like my Nightmare on the paradise island of Roatan), most of the Cuban men who approach you are actually harmless, and often charming enough. But I get it, when it’s unwanted, it doesn’t make it any more welcome! I’ve never felt threatened by any of them in Cuba. Just ignore them and walk away. Or shout something silly back to them (if you’re confident enough with your Spanish), and they’ll probably just laugh . But the key here is, to keep walking.
Tip #2 Know exactly where your Hotel / Casa is before your bus arrives at your stop
This isn’t specific to women, but it’s one aspect that I found slightly intimidating, and that’s arriving at a bus station. As the bus pulls in, there will be a mob of Taxistas waiting to grab your business. They’re competing with each other, so sometimes this could seem a little aggressive. They will follow you even after a polite “No” or two, or three. My strong recommendation is to get the Casa owner to meet you at the bus station, or arrange for someone to pick you up with your name on a board. Most Casa owners are happy to arrange this, and whilst it might cost you an extra dollar, it could also save you from unknowingly paying double the fare, and will certainly save you from all the hassle of haggling for a reasonable price!
Failing that, at least have a look at the map beforehand so you know roughly how far your hotel / casa is from the bus station – this will enable you to haggle more effectively for a fairer taxi fare. If you do have to go this route, be firm but try to still smile (flirting is more effective than shouting. If this doesn’t work for you, then you might just look too rich!).
Tip #3 Make no mistake, they may be charming but they are called Jineteros (Oh, and they are everywhere)
You could encounter one of them anywhere, at any time. I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily, because I think most of them are harmless if you just walk away and show no interest, but any man you meet has the potential to be a Jinetero. Watch out especially if a really hot guy suddenly approaches you. 9 times or more out of 10, they will somehow try to become your “Cuban boyfriend” (or simply try to take you to a bar, a restaurant, or a casa for a commission). Now, this is not necessarily prostitution – what they’re after is the temporary lifestyle that you’re able to afford them. For most of them, that means being taken to restaurants, going out and having their drinks paid for, and many of them get given iPhones or other expensive items as a leaving gift. And who knows, it might lead to an exit visa. If this is what you’re after, then who am I to stop you? But know what you’re getting yourself into. If you have any expectations of true romance…that cute guy flashing his six pack with a strategially unbuttoned shirt offering to teach you Salsa? He probably isn’t going to be The One – well, he might be, for the duration of your holiday. And that might be nice, for some.
Tip #4 Don’t be scared to say “No”
Yes, that maid in the hotel or a random stranger on the street might ask you for your sneakers. Or your jersey, hat, or whatever. They are just being opportunistic, so unless you want to give those items away, just say “No”. I’ve had a cleaner ask for my sneakers – I had to say “No”, because I needed them for the rest of my trip!
I also witnessed an old Cuban guy come up to a Canadian tourist on the beach, asking for his shorts. His answer? “You want my shorts? Well I’m kinda using them right now!” Brilliant.
Tip #5 Cash is King in Cuba
We’ve all got used to the convenience of ATMs all over the world – but Cuba is different. You’ll rarely come across an ATM (personally I haven’t seen one), and CADECAs (Casa de Cambio, or Exchange Bureau) are not always easy to find. They have limited opening hours, and more often than not, there is a huge queue outside (remember you need your Passport to exchange money). So always make sure you have enough cash to get you to where you need to get to. Especially if you’re going out at night, be double sure you have enough cash to get you home that night. You will not be able to withdraw money for a cab after a drunken night out.
Finally.. I’ve listed these as Top 5 Tips for Women going to Cuba, but I suppose these are equally applicable to men – as they get just as much unwanted attention, in exactly the same way!
Have you been to Cuba? What tips do you have? Leave me a comment below ↓