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Cuba is an increasingly popular destination, but the Caribbean island presents a particular set of challenges for those who travel solo. The following tips will help you make the most of your time on the island as a solo traveller.
Backpackers may be disappointed to find that hostels are few and far between. Apart from a couple of properties with dorms in Havana, you will most likely have to stay in hotels or homestays; this means that you’ll have to make a special effort to be sociable and look out for opportunities to meet fellow travellers.
In homestay properties, known as ‘casas particulares’, you have to pay for the whole room rather than just your own bed. As a result, solo travellers can end up paying significantly more than those who travel in groups. Making friends to travel with will make your trip more fun and help you save money.
This taco joint in the Vedado neighbourhood of Havana runs a weekly event where locals and travellers can meet and get to know each other. Not only is it an excellent opportunity to meet Cubans and find out about life on the island, but solo travellers can also meet other like-minded people who might be visiting the same places. It’s a great spot to hang out for the night and encounter new friends. You could even end up with a travel partner or two for a portion of your trip.
Cubans pride themselves on maintaining a low crime rate, and you will notice that the island is a lot safer than many other destinations in the region. Even at night, you will be safe if you walk around by yourself, and most visitors report that they were not worried for their safety. You are more likely to encounter confidence tricksters than you are to be a victim of petty crime.
While crime is low, there are some common scams that a small minority of Cubans have been known to pull on unsuspecting visitors. One of the most common is to sell fake Cuban cigars that don’t contain tobacco, while another to watch out for is the woman with a baby who asks for a bag of milk powder. On occasion, tourists have been wildly overcharged for the milk by a shopkeeper who is in on the scam, and the pair split the money.
Cuba uses two currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP), used mainly by locals, and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), used most often by tourists. It is important that you get used to the coins and notes of each currency so that you don’t get shortchanged. If you’ve been given CUP instead of CUC, you will end up out of pocket; one CUC is worth around 26 CUP!
Solo travellers are advised to use the Viazul tourist buses for intercity trips due to the high cost of hiring a taxi by yourself. Of course, you can team up with fellow travellers or share with locals, but if you need to know what time you will leave and arrive, then Viazul is the best option. Otherwise, you could be left waiting around for the car to fill up with other passengers. You may also see Astro buses around the country, but tourists are not usually allowed to buy tickets for these services.