If you’ve never visited before, some aspects of culture Havana, Cuba will surprise you at first. Here are five challenge you’re sure to experience after arrival.
1. Feeling terrified your taxi will run someone over
Taxis are the main mode of transportation around Havana and the rest of Cuba as well. We read that the driving was crazy before we arrived, so we were somewhat prepared for that.
Drivers used their car horns on a wide range of occasions—equally when they were happy and when they were upset—at other taxi drivers, at pedestrians, and at their friends. If you are out walking in areas like Old Havana (Habana Vieja) where the streets are very narrow and used both as a road and sidewalk, and hear a horn, it’s best to move to the side as quickly as possible.
I knew that Cuba would have many classic cars. But still, I was somewhat surprised just how many there really were. Almost every taxi we took during our stay was a classic car. Some were nicer than others but all got the job done.
2. Wishing you had paid attention in high school Spanish class
You won’t run into many fluent English speakers in Havana, so it’s important to arrive with at least some basic Spanish phrases. I studied by listening to the first two seasons of Coffee Break Spanish starting a few months before departure. By that time, I could confidently use the basics: greetings, introducing myself, ordering food, telling a driver to turn right or left, saying I don’t understand, etc.
Despite this, I couldn’t understand too much. I would say that Cuban Spanish speakers spoke very quickly, even after realizing I knew an only a little of the language. Every little bit of preparation counts.
Even in casas particulares, the go-to overnight accommodations in Cuba, hosts didn’t know much English. And, of course, I’m not saying that I expect them to. As travelers, it’s easy to assume that people in the tourism industry will know the basics of English because it is so often as a universal language.
At the same time, I would say that the hosts are the most patient and will take the time to speak slowly and repeat themselves as necessary so you can practice your Spanish (the taxi drivers, understandably, do not have time).
3. Saying to say “no” after dozens of requests from strangers
Everywhere you turn in the city, you’ll find someone selling something. To make ends meet, many locals have several side hustles, many of which are aimed at tourists. Some sell fake cigars on the street (as you’ll see in any guidebook, you should always buy these in shops). Others get a commission for getting you to eat at a certain restaurant.
If you’re a thrifty traveler like me, then these have real potential to screw up your budget for the day.
My fiancé, Ethan, is a total yes-guy and hates to tell people he’s not interested. I will admit that we ended up at a couple restaurants because of very persistent people standing outside rather despsite being uninterested in the restaurants themselves. In all of these situations, it’s best to learn to say “no” and move along.
4. Being completely confused about where to find wifi and how to buy it
5. Relying on offline maps
Numbers four and number
I typically rely on Google Maps, but it doesn’t allow you to download a whole country in the same way.
I would recommend doing a test run ahead of time while you’re back home. I’m not too directionally challenged, but I struggled to get used to the interface. If you’re too short on time to do a test run, watch this quick YouTube tutorial.