At Rickshaw, meaningful travel means having one of a kind experiences that bring you closer to the places you’re visiting. It’s all about getting to know the locals whilst preserving their communities, traditions and way of life. We try our best to make our trips as authentic, sustainable and responsible as they can be. Here are our top tips to help you explore the island of Cuba in a meaningful way. Enjoy!
Start getting to know the soul of Cuba now
Don’t wait until your plane touches down to start learning about the country’s history, to understand modern Cuba you need to look to its eventful past. Fidel Castro’s revolution has many interesting books written about it but we suggest two cinematic gems; Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather 2” and the Russian made “Soy Cuba”. The later’s title translates as “I am Cuba” and is a beautiful film that reveals the soul of Cuba and the hardships that lead to the revolution.
Understand the difference your loose change can make
Cuba is a two tier economy with tourists using Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and locals using Cuban Pesos (CUP). This difference leads to what we would consider a modest tip being the equivalent to a week’s wages for a doctor. It is no surprise then that locals often see tourist money as a way to improve their current situation and are not shy in asking for tips. As the country opens up and the internet shines a light onto the outside world, the determination to acquire tourist currency will only increase.
Pack things that you’d never normally take on holiday
We always love to hear from our customers when they return from their adventures, especially when they pass on their advice for future travellers. Rickshaw Ramblers Tanya and Stephen loved Cuba and recommend you take a selection of useful things including clothes pegs, lots of tissues and toothpaste. Don’t just take soaps for you to use, they are gratefully received gifts for locals. Simple things like tea bags, paracetamol and a tupperware for uneaten food become essential on the road in Cuba. A compass and torch made blackouts and lack of road signs manageable so don’t forget them. Some people find the local food a little plain so take some pepper or even bottle of hot sauce to keep things interesting.
Aprende un poco de español – Learn some Spanish
Lots of visitors to Cuba have told us just how useful even a little Spanish can be as many people don’t speak English. Cubans are a very friendly bunch and will appreciate your efforts even if they can’t completely understand every word. If you’re travelling around Cuba by car it is quite common to get stopped by the police, don’t worry, they just want to check who is in the car. On Cuba’s sometimes confusing roads being stopped by the police can actually be really useful as they are often really helpful with directions, you needn’t feel threatened or unsafe. Some of our customers picked up hitchhikers along the way, they had no problems at all and often got useful directions from them when getting lost. You’ll also find most prices in shops are negotiable.
Leave some space in your suitcase for the way home
One our our favourite tips to pass on is all about shopping: make sure you have space to take things home so that when you see a piece of art you like you can buy it! If you want to buy cigars visit the tobacco fields and buy direct from the farmers, you will not get better quality or price and you will be directly benefiting the local people. One way to ensure space for souvenirs is to take some gifts to give away during your trip, as well as toiletries mentioned before we’ve heard that nylon guitar strings go down a storm with musicians and that a humble pen is particularly popular with locals in Havana.
Some final tips
Download a GPS app and offline maps for your phone before you go, you can’t take a standalone GPS into the country but having some help getting around is invaluable. There is no longer a need to keep 25 Covertable Pesos per person for the airport, the exit tax has been abolished now. And one final thing… take a rubber sink plug with you!