11 Things You Should Never Do in Cuba

Cuban flag
Cuban flag | © lloydbyron / Pixabay
Jack Guy

Cuba is known as a fun-loving place with plenty of rum, music and dancing. However there are certain things that you should know not to do during your time on the island. If you want your stay to remain peaceful, here are some things you should never, ever do when visiting in Cuba.

Don’t talk about politics

Cuba remains a communist country despite recent reforms, and the government does not tolerate any criticism. If you strike up a discussion about politics or the government you’ll likely make people uncomfortable, and you could end up being reported to the police for being a subversive foreigner.

A revolutionary billboard in Cuba

Don’t stay in the orange casa particulares

Across the country there are houses where foreigners can stay, almost like an official network of bed and breakfasts. Foreigners are only allowed to stay in the casas that have a blue sign outside, and houses with an orange sign are only for Cubans. Both you and the house owner can get in trouble if you stay in the wrong place.

In Cuba, stick to the casas particulares with the blue sign

Don’t work on a tourist visa

Most visitors are only allowed to spend 60 consecutive days in Cuba, but it’s important to remember not to do any work if you are on a tourist visa. Journalists come in for particular scrutiny, so be careful who you ask questions and what you ask them about. You might be called in for a police interview if it is suspected that you are working on a report.

A woman walks past a poster showing the Castro brothers in Cuba

Don’t take photos of police or soldiers

Professional photographers and keen hobbyists should also be aware of what they take photos of. It is illegal to shoot any photos of police or soldiers in Cuba. You might get away with one or two surreptitious shots, but if you get caught you might be accused of espionage.

You can get in trouble for photographing Cuban security forces

Don’t be shy

Cubans tend to be loud and animated, especially in Havana. Even if your Spanish isn’t the best, make sure you put yourself out there to get the most out of your trip. It’s certainly not a place to be a wallflower, so join in as much as you can.

Don’t get confused by the two currencies

There are two currencies in use in Cuba, and they vary hugely in valuation. One convertible peso (CUC) is worth 26 Cuban pesos (CUP), so always check your change to make sure you aren’t getting ripped off.

20 CUC (top) and 20 CUP (bottom) notes

Don’t expect to find creature comforts

There are serious shortages of many consumer goods in Cuba, so make sure you bring everything you need with you. You might struggle to find toothpaste and shampoo, or even toilet paper at certain times.

Don’t forget to tip

The basic salary in Cuba is very low for most people, and the cost of living is high. Those who work in the tourist industry are likely to rely on tips to ensure a decent standard of living, so don’t forget to tip.

Locals in Havana working on a 1950s American car

Don’t blow your nose in public or spit in the street

One of the cultural curiosities in Cuba is the attitude towards blowing your nose and spitting in public. In many other Latin American countries no one would bat an eyelid if you cleared your nostrils in company, but Cubans find it incredibly rude. Go somewhere private if you need to.

Don’t fall for the touts

Everywhere you go in Cuba you’ll find friendly locals offering advice and directions. While some of them are genuine, there are others who will take you to bars and restaurants where they will charge a commission or expect payment from you. Keep your wits about you.

Don’t turn down a drink from a shared glass

On many occasions you’ll see Cubans passing around one glass of rum and taking a sip or a shot before it’s passed on to the next person. Turning down your turn is a sure fire way to cause minor offence. If you want to make new friends, drink like the locals do and share the glass.

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