Cuba has long been a popular vacation destination for Canadians and Europeans looking for an affordable sunny island escape. However, most tourists stick to resort areas with little opportunity to interact with local Cubans beyond their hotel staff. In fact, up until 1997, it was actually illegal for locals to mingle with international tourists. Now that the five-decade embargo with the United States is starting to thaw, Americans are beginning to put Cuba on their travel radar again. Right now, they are restricted to family visits and packaged cultural tours, but it’s only a matter of time before relations normalize and a wave of curiosity tourism flocks to this unique “time warp” island. In the meantime, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the dos and don’ts of traveling to Cuba. The rules are in flux, and the culture remains a bit of an enigma. Cuba is generally a safe and friendly country, but to help you figure things out, here are a couple of things NOT to do in Cuba.
1. Don’t Bring Bling
Beyond the veneer of the glitzy resorts, Cuba is a relatively impoverished nation. From the small villages to the streets of Havana, you can see evidence of this economic struggle. The average Cuban salary is the equivalent of about $20 per month. However, many living expenses are subsidized, so you have to put that alarming figure into perspective. People aren’t necessarily homeless and starving in Cuba, but they’re not consumers flush with cash. Therefore, tourists walking around with dazzling jewelry, designer watches, slick smart phones and ipod buds in their ears are asking for trouble. Like anywhere, opportunistic street crime can happen when the “haves” flaunt their coveted belongings to the “have-nots”. Just don’t bring the bling and you won’t be as much of a target to pickpockets.