When we think of Cuba, we see beautiful beaches, incredible architecture, exciting experiences, and a whole lot of rum!
But it’s important to be mindful when traveling to any country of its unwritten rules and local customs.
With some knowledge and sensitivity, your trip to Cuba will go much more smoothly.
To avoid making any mistakes, read our list of 11 things you should never do in Cuba.
1. Don’t Talk About Politics
Bringing up Cuban politics with the locals is definitely not something you should do!
This can make people extremely uncomfortable and wary of you and could even lead to trouble with the law!
Cuban politics is a very interesting and controversial topic, so it’s best to show interest in other parts of Cuban culture instead.
There’s no problem with asking about Cuba’s history and customs, but try to avoid the word “communism” wherever you can.
Again, the topic of Fidel Castro is a very interesting one, but it is actually illegal in Cuba to criticize him, his communist ideals, and the Revolution!
Try to avoid the topic altogether, as it could land you in trouble with the government if you say anything that could be considered even slightly critical.
2. Don’t Photograph People In Uniform
If you are a travel blogger or photographer, then you should be well aware that photographing the Cuban police, soldiers, and military personnel is strictly prohibited.
You might be tempted to take a few candid shots, but this impolite action is not worth the consequences if you get caught.
What you consider to be an innocent action may be deemed as espionage by the Cuban government.
The last thing you want to see during your trip to Cuba is the four walls of an interrogation room.
There are some incredible sights to see in Cuba, so capture shots of the beautiful architecture and fascinating landscapes instead of the local uniformed officers.
3. Don’t Drink The Tap Water
Like in many countries, it is not advisable to drink the tap water in Cuba.
Though the water is purified at the source, it can sometimes be contaminated within the distribution system.
Some places in Cuba have also had instances of cheap plastic being used in the plumbing system, which has led to contamination of the tap water. While in Cuba, it is best to stick to bottled water.
Most hotels will provide you with bottled water during your stay and also have filling stations for you to refill your water bottles.
When venturing out into Cuba’s bustling cities, be sure to stock up on bottled water so you can stay hydrated all day and avoid contaminated water.
4. Don’t Blow Your Nose In Public
Sometimes, we can’t avoid blowing our noses. However, Cubans consider blowing your nose and spitting in public extremely rude.
Cuba is unique in that, unlike other countries in Latin America, it takes great offense at those who spit or blow their nose in the presence of others.
It is considered very unsanitary and, let’s be honest, pretty gross!
You should excuse yourself whenever possible if you need to clear your nose or throat. Find a bathroom or private area with no one around to do so.
This way, you’ll avoid offending locals and be able to dispose of any mucus in a much more sanitary way.
5. Don’t Use An Unlicensed Taxi
This is a rule of thumb in any country! When visiting Cuba, you should always familiarize yourself with the local transport and how it works so you can identify taxi scams.
There are many unlicensed taxis in Cuba that aim to either rob tourists point blank or scam unfamiliar visitors out of their money.
When using taxis in Cuba, make sure you check that they are licensed taxis so you know you’re getting a legitimate service.
You should also be aware that even licensed taxis might take advantage of you by overcharging you or giving you change in the wrong currency.
To protect yourself from this, ask a local how much a taxi fare should cost from your starting point to your destination.
You can also insist that a taxi meter be used, so you’ll be charged a reasonable fare.
6. Don’t Rely On Public Transport
While local buses in Cuba are the cheapest way to get around, you should consider using other forms of local transport and not rely completely on this system.
Buses in Cuba, known as gua gua, are almost always crowded and run on erratic schedules that can be hard to understand.
Most of these buses are only meant for locals who possess a form of Cuban identification.
While you may be able to ride these buses, the bus driver is liable for fines if they are checked by local authorities, so they will likely not allow you to board.
For short distances within the city, it’s better to use one of the many bike taxis within the area.
Also, when traveling between Cuban cities, you can opt for the Viazul.
This is a tourist bus line that will make it much easier to get where you need to go.
7. Don’t Fall Victim To Currency Confusion
Unlike most countries, Cuba operates with two currencies – Cuban Pesos Nacionales, or CUP, and Cuban Convertible Pesos, or CUC.
Because of this, you need to handle money carefully when visiting Cuba as it can be very confusing.
Unfortunately, some locals may try to rip you off by slipping different currencies into your change when you pay for a service.
This can also happen when exchanging currencies in the wrong place.
You should count your change every time you pay for a service so as not to fall victim to those trying to get more money out of you.
Also, make sure you know the exchange rate and only convert currency at airports, official exchange houses, BFI and Banco Metropolitano banks, and major hotels, like the Hotel Saratoga.
By doing this, you’ll protect yourself from being ripped off.
8. Don’t Flaunt Your Wealth
You may have luxuries that some Cuban locals have never experienced, especially in poorer areas of the country.
The average Cuban salary is just $20 per month, even though the cost of living is relatively high.
By wearing your finest jewelry and designer clothes, you’ll be a perfect target for pickpockets, purse snatchers, or even armed robbers.
When packing for your trip to Cuba, leave your expensive items at home. This will keep you much safer from some of the less friendly Cubans you might come across.
Cubans are generally helpful and hospitable, but you never know who you might encounter on your trip.
Always keep your necessary valuables in sight, especially your wallet, phone, and passport. They could easily be swiped in a second if you’re not careful.
9. Don’t Fall For A Jinetero Scam
Jineteros are Cuban scam artists who will try and sell you anything on the streets of Cuba.
It might be Cuban cigars, rum, or even advice that they will try to sell you.
When you encounter these people, it is in your best interest not to engage at all.
The vast majority of the time, jineteros will be selling counterfeit goods for a cheap price. It is very unlikely that you will ever get the real deal.
Furthermore, they will try to make you pay for information and advice.
Again, you should avoid these people so they can’t scam you out of your money.
10. Don’t Stay In The Orange Casa Particulares
It is important to note that when renting a private house in Cuba as accommodation, tourists have to stay in an authorized home.
These are called Casa Particulares, and tourists are only allowed to stay in houses with blue signs outside.
When booking a Casa Particulares as your accommodation, make sure that it is the blue type.
If you book an orange type, then you and the house owner could find yourself in legal trouble, as these houses are only for Cubans.
11. Don’t Pay The Departure Tax
Tourists who have visited Cuba before might be aware of the 25 CUC per person departure tax before getting on your homebound flight. However, this rule has changed.
As of March 2015, Cuba’s departure tax is included in your flight cost, so there is no need to pay at the airport when you leave the country.
Despite this, some agencies will still try to charge you 25 CUC per person.
This is an agency scam used to pocket the money for themselves, so do not pay this charge if you are asked for it at departures.
Cuba is an incredible country with friendly, hospitable people looking to provide you with genuine help.
However, it is important to keep in mind all the rules when visiting so you don’t fall victim to scam artists, law enforcement, and general rudeness!
Refer to this guide before your next trip to Cuba so you can make sure your vacation goes down without a hitch.