Art, Culture, Books and Travel
Travel Tips for Havana, Cuba: What to Do, What Not to Do
Travel can be weird, in the most wonderful way possible. You arrive in a new destination – a place you’ve maybe been dreaming about visiting for your whole life, only to discover that the reality is very different… different, unexpected, and better. You might have a specific way that you want to experience the city or country, whether it’s by wandering around alone and trying to blend in, or by joining a guided tour to make sure you don’t miss anything. A lot of your travel choices are a totally personal preference. For some visitors it would be unthinkable to visit Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower, and yet many people would be happy to admire it from the ground. There are some other elements of travel that go beyond what you should see, and are more about how you should behave. You’re not in your own country now, and each place has its own cultural and social aspects – some of which you might find strange. In Bulgaria, shaking your head up and down means no, and side to side means yes – the exact opposite of most places. So if you’re ever in Bulgaria and an unattractive stranger invites you for a drink, be sure to shake your head up and down! Havana is a truly unique destination with countless points of interest, but there are also a few things you should definitely avoid doing…
Don’t Stay Seated
Baseball is known as the American pastime, and yet their American neighbors have nothing on Cuba. Check out the passion on display and take in a game at the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana (which is best from October to April). At a large sporting event, or indeed any large event, it’s quite common for the national anthem to be played. In many countries, it’s expected that you get out of your seat for this, but it’s also OK if you don’t. In Cuba it’s considered an insult if you don’t stand proudly while the anthem is played, so make sure you follow the crowds lead, regardless of your views on Cuban politics.
Do Be Careful What You Photograph
If you have a cell phone manufactured within the last decade, chances are that you’ll have a camera in your pocket at all times. Feel free to snap photos of practically anything you see in Havana, but remember that a number of things are definitely off limits. The Lourdes base is a now closed Russian military facility in Havana and is interesting to look at, but don’t take photos of it, or any military facility in Cuba – you might have your camera confiscated. The same goes for images of poverty or decrepid buildings.
Don’t Criticize the Government
Did you know in Thailand you can be jailed for insulting the Royal Family? Of course, Cuba doesn’t have royalty, but their communist government is still well respected… at least in public. Avoid getting into political discussions about the pros and cons of the Cuban system. Just respect the fact that it’s different to yours and explore those differences by visiting key sites of the revolution. Visit the gigantic statue of Che Guevara (Avenida de los Desfiles), which also houses his remains in a mausoleum at the base of the statue.
Do Be Careful What You Eat
Cuba is one of those places where you need to be careful about drinking the water, as it contains parasites that can make a visitors stomach very uncomfortable, even in a city like Havana. Stick to bottled water, which is readily available. The Havana dining scene has undergone a welcome transformation in recent years, and the low quality government sanctioned restaurants should be avoided. Instead you should indulge your tastebuds at Paladares, which are privately run restaurants offering delicious Cuban cuisine. A great meal should definitely be on your list of things to do in Havana Cuba, and the Cuban-Creole influenced dishes on offer at San Cristóbal (Calle San Rafael No 469) are sure to make your mouth water. You can also find many great Paladares by exploring the Vedado district of Havana.
Do (Or Don’t) Smoke Your Cigars Before You Leave
A visit to a Cigar factory is really recommended when you go to Havana. It’s not like some gigantic manufacturing facility filled with loud machines, but instead you’ll see rooms of dedicated professionals painstakingly rolling each cigar by hand. The best of the best in Havana is the Partagas Factory (Calle Industria 520) which gives a fascinating historical insight into the importance of cigars in Cuban culture. If you’re traveling to the US, remember that importing Cuban cigars is not permitted, even if it’s just a few for personal usage. You might want to smoke them before you leave, but if you’re traveling elsewhere, it’s generally permitted to bring them with you. Be sure to check customs regulations for your ultimate destination, since you don’t want to have those lovely cigars confiscated!
This is a post by David who is a freelance writer a blogger and a young entrepreneur from Hungary. When he is not working he likes to read, write and travel. If you have any questions feel free to contact with him anytime, Google+.