It’s not always easy finding a travel partner. None of your friends has been bitten by the travel bug and your online search ended without results. Putting your travel plans on hold or take the big step and travel the world solo? My mind was set. Cuba it is.
Out of Linsay’s travel journal
Staying at home or searching for a destination to travel solo. It was a dilemma that
haunted me for months while my boyfriend planned his trip to Argentina to climb the Aconcagua. I had no interest in a physically demanding holiday so I had little choice. Or I stayed at home for three weeks, waiting till he got back, or I would plan my own trip and make use of the occasion by traveling solo for the first time. My mind was set on Cuba, probably the most popular destination at the moment. Solo traveling was an experience I had never had before. ‘Is it safe?’, is a question I was asked many times before leaving. It was a question I didn’t have an answer to… yet.
Here are a few tips for female solo travelers in Cuba:
- Stay in a casa particular. These casas give a taste of the real Cuban life and are a cheap alternative for the expensive hotels. A typical room in a casa has four beds, even when traveling solo. Sharing a room with people you meet while traveling could save you some more money.
- Cuba has two different currencies. The national currency (MN) and the CUC (for tourists only). The CUC is about 24 times more expensive than the one Cubans use. It is advisable to have both. All products aiming at tourists will be priced in CUC. However, if you want to eat on a budget, find some restaurant where the menu is printed in their own currency and pay in MN.
- Negotiate everything. In Cuba other rules apply. If you travel across Cuba and always pay what they ask you will end up telling your friends that Cuba isn’t that cheap as they say. Or.. you play by the rules of the country, negotiate about everything and last but not least… know that you set the price. When you receive a bill that is simply too much, shake your head and offer less. Guaranteed succes.
- Cuba is a popular travel destination. Solo travelers wandering through the coloured streets of Havana will not be alone for too long. Not only are the Cubans extremely social people but you will meet fellow travelers to spend a day with quite soon. In my own experience, I only spend five(!) minutes alone in Havana before ending up with a German backpackster.
- Never pay in advance. Like this you will avoid that the taxi driver drops you on a different location and doesn’t want to refund you. Or that you leave your casa earlier than planned but the owners already spent the money.
Transport yourself with collectivo’s.
- These American oldtimers can be considered as the true taxis, collecting people with a single destination. For this ride you negotiate the price in advance.
As a solo traveler in Cuba you are an easy victim to get trapped in the tricks of the Cubans who are after your money. Here are some anecotes to get how things work over here.
Imagine walking through a forest where you notice a money tree. On the ground there are two notes of 50$. You pick them up and you shake the tree. Again, two notes fall off the tree. What do you do? Pick them up and leave? No. You keep shaking the tree till nothing falls off anymore. This is how Cubans look at tourists. Cubans know different kinds of tricks to make tourists pay for everything. (source: CubaConga)
ex. 1 To travel to Vinales I used the service of a collectivo. I negotiated the price and persuaded the driver to get me to my destination for 15 CUC. ‘Do me a favor.’, he asks me. ‘Don’t tell what you paid me to the next two girls who will get in. They do pay me 30 CUC’
ex. 2 You take a taxi to your casa. The driver is searching and searching but claims he does not know your casa or he doesn’t find it. But he does know another casa. A better one. It’s one of the many tricks applied in Cuba. When a Cuban recommends you something, be sure he gets paid a commission by what he recommends. Besides, your casa will be more expensive since his commission is paid by what you pay the casa. And the casa you had planned in advance? He probably did know it.
Cubans are macho. Do not fear that you will be dressed too sexy and like that will be provocative to them. Chances are big you cannot match the sexy dressing style of Cuban women. No doubt you will receive compliments while traveling solo as a woman during your trip. Often with no harm intended. If they are annoyant, just make it clear to them and if necessary, be angry.
Traveling in Cuba is learning to deal with Cubans. After having traveled for three weeks across the country I did not only boost my confidence, but met a lot of new friends and started loving the country. A country some much more than just cigares and oldtimers. An experience worth repeating. Allthough my boyfriend will think differently.