Canadian and European travelers have been enjoying Cuba for decades, and now that the half-century economic embargo is lifting, American travelers are beginning to return to this Latin-Caribbean island, too. The beaches are stunning, the resorts are well-appointed, the music is ever-present, and the colonial cities are like stepping back in time. There is still a lot of misinformation and confusion circulating about this enigmatic destination and its people. If this fascinating “time warp” island is on your travel radar, there are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind. Generally speaking, Cuba is a safe and friendly country that is most welcoming to tourists, but here are ten things NOT to do in Cuba.
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10 Things NOT to do in Cuba
Did you know up until 1997, it was actually illegal for locals to mingle with tourists. It’s okay now though, and today even Americans are allowed to explore the country that was barred to them for 55 years. This unique “time warp” island is generally safe and friendly, but there are a few things NOT to do in Cuba.
1. Don’t Bring Bling
The average Cuban salary is about $20 per month, so don’t flaunt your wealth. Walking around with dazzling jewelry and slick smart phones can make you a target to pickpockets.
2. Don’t Take Pics of Police
It’s illegal to take photos of any military, police or airport personnel in Cuba. If you want to avoid unpleasant interrogations from the authorities, don’t get snap-happy in front of these officials.
3. Don’t Diss Fidel
Cubans don’t have freedom of speech and government criticism isn’t tolerated. Of course, they discuss things covertly among trusted confidants, but you don’t qualify! So don’t dare to diss the Castros or Communism in casual conversation.
4. Don’t Blow Your Nose in Public
Cubans consider that to be extremely rude. If you have a cold or allergies, it’s best to take care of things discretely in private.
5. Don’t Fall for the Jineteros
A jinetero is a seemingly friendly local that suddenly charges you for assistance you didn’t really ask for. Some besiege you with hard-luck stories to guilt you into paying more money. This also applies to the escorts and prostitutes on the island who make a living off of lonely middle-aged tourists.
6. Don’t Forget to Bring a Few Gifts
Local hotel staff and guides appreciate cash tips, but also things like shampoo, school supplies or canned tuna. Some airlines allow passengers to bring an extra bag full of sundries like this for “humanitarian aid” purposes.
7. Don’t Get Short Changed
The official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP), but you can’t use it. Tourists have to use the CUC but there’s a 13% exchange fee when converting US dollars. So, just bring euros, Canadian dollars or Sterling. Also beware of jineteros offering to exchange with you on the streets. Even shop keepers are notorious for short-changing and switching CUP for CUC.
8. Don’t Take Unlicensed Taxis
There are lots of vehicles on the streets operating as taxis, but not all are licensed or metered. To be safe, tourists should stick to the yellow official cabs to avoid falling for any scams.
9. Don’t Forget the Cigars
John F. Kennedy famously stocked up on 1200 cigars before imposing the 1962 embargo. After 50 years, Americans can now legally bring back $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol from Cuba.
10. Don’t Do Drugs
Cubans can receive the death penalty for drug consumption. Tourists however can be sent to maximum security prison.
Most importantly – don’t delay coming here. Cuba is a magical country you want to see before word gets out.
For a few more tips and details, read our post 12 Things Not to Do in Cuba.