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What Not to Do in Cuba

America tourists are now welcomed in Cuba for the first time in decades, but it's important to know what not to do when you visit the country.

America tourists are now welcomed in Cuba for the first time in decades, but it’s important to know what not to do when you visit the country.

So you want to go to Cuba, but you’re unsure if the culture and “rules” are different. Well, you’re right! Cubans are human beings just like Americans who raise families, go to work, pay bills, and go to the movies. But because our cultures are different, some customs are different, too. Sometimes they’re small, day-to-day things, but other times they’re major cultural differences. As long as you know what not to do in Cuba you’ll be set for the adventure of a lifetime.


Flaunt Your Money


This goes for anytime you travel to a new or different place, but especially when you’re in a culture whose economy has a lot less money than yours.


Many locals average a salary of less than $30 per month, meaning it isn’t wise or respectful to flash your money – by wearing fancy jewelry, clothes, or purses.


It’s totally OK to visit Cuba if you do have wealth – just don’t make it abundantly apparent. Wear generic-looking clothes and leave the bracelets, necklaces, and rings at home. Wear a neck stash or money pouch instead of carrying around a large flashy purse. You’ll also reduce your risk for getting robbed.


Drink the Local Water


A staple rule for all international travels, not drinking the local tap water is very important in Cuba.


As an American, your body won’t be ready for the type of bacteria in the local drinking water. It might be okay for Cubans, but not for you. Stick to bottled water for everything, even brushing your teeth.


Visit Without Learning Spanish


While you certainly don’t have to be fluent in the language, trying to learn a few words and common phrases will go a long way with the locals.


Remember that most people in Cuba will speak Spanish. Think of how much easier your trip will be if you can ask for the check or where the bathroom is in the native language.


Over – or Under – Tip


In America, it’s common to tip 15-18% for good service, 20% for great service, and sometimes even more when you have a stellar experience. Keep in mind that isn’t always the case in other countries – including Cuba.


Tipping is expected, most commonly in the following amounts:

Hotels: $1 per day

Restaurants and Spas: 10-15%

Tour Guides and Taxi Drivers: 1-5 CUC (depending on length, ease, etc. of trip/tour)


Tipping much more or less than is expected could cause issues, so keep in mind the activities or excursions you have planned when trying to budget for your trip.


Fall for Street Tricks


As a low-income country, it’s common to find people on the street trying to turn tricks on tourists to make money.


Be aware of the fact that the sad old man on the corner telling you his sob story is probably lying, and he’s just doing it to get your money. Don’t pay attention if someone comes up to you to offer a cheap tour, free rides, or anything else that may seem “off.”


Attract Attention


Even though you’re on vacation, remember that Cuba and the U.S.’s friendly relationship is still new. Americans haven’t been allowed the in country for decades, so it’s best to keep your cool and assimilate into the local culture.


It’s OK to have fun, but it’s not OK to get drunk and be disruptive. Be courteous to the people who are hosting you, serving you, and transporting you. Respect of the locals will go along way in Cuba.


Disrespect the Government


In today’s day and age of hot politics on everything from billboards to television to social media, it’s commonplace for Americans to discuss politics. From their distaste of the government to who they’re going to vote for, it’s all kosher in the states. But remember that Cuba is a much different place, and disrespecting the government in any type of way is a no-go.


Cuba is a communist country. Stay on the safe said and don’t even talk about politics or the government, especially while in public. As a tourist, you’re there to experience the culture, taste new foods, have adventures, and mingle with the locals. Air on the side of caution and keep your distance between anything and everything political. Even try to refrain from taking photos of government officials or politicians.


Cuba is a great place to adventure and explore – if you keep in mind that you’re in a different country not much traveled by Americans. While you’re interacting within the local culture, be aware of your surroundings, your actions, and those of others around you, and you’ll have an unforgettable experience in a magical country just 90 miles off the coast of the United States.

Flickr: dariorug