It’s been a while since I did one of these but it’s so fun to learn new things about a place you visit. Some things you will never know unless you experience it first hand. I love being surprised by what a location has in store. Here are a few things that surprised be about Cuba!
1. Names on Houses
In Vinales the homes had peoples names on them. They would say “Casa de Maria” or “Casa de Hector.” I thought it was cool and different to see. I didn’t notice this in Havana but also didn’t see as many homes in Havana other then the large ones at Mira Mar. Everything else was mostly apartments. I don’t know why I loved the names on the homes so much but I thought it gave the neighborhood such a warm homey feeling.
I knew Cuba was diverse but it was so nice to see in person. What I loved about the diversity was not only that there was every race represented in the country but also that everyone identified as Cuban. In America we are all American but we are so divided by race it doesn’t always feel like we’re one united country. All countries have their issues but at least with Cuba they have a unified identity as Cubans even though they all look different and I really loved that!
3. Stray cats
Cuba had as many stray cats as it did stray dogs. I’ve never seen so many stray cats in my life.
4. Big island
Cuba is BIG!! I had no idea how big it was. We really wanted to go to Santiago because that’s where a lot of the Haitians are located on the island but we quickly realized it was 16 hours away! That’s like bigger than all of New England. You can drive from Boston all the way to South Carolina in 16 hours. No that’s big big!
5. New cars
Maybe this is naive of me but I didn’t think I would see any new cars in Cuba. I love the idea that most of the cars are old. I didn’t see a ton but it really was weird to see some new cars driving on the road amongst a sea of classics. I hope they don’t start to get too many new cars as long as the old cars are still running well. I get if it’s a necessity to bring newer cars in but it has become such a unique part of Cuba to have the older cars so I hope they don’t lose it.
6. Money Exchange
I mentioned this in my Cuba Travel Guide but the American dollar in Cuba is WEAK. Tourist have their own Currency in the country called CUC and the dollar is only worth .83. Plus US has an additional 10% charge for money exchange. If you eat locally in less touristy spots your money will go far but if you eat in touristy areas it will be equivalent to US prices with the weaker value on your money. Taxis are not the cheapest either. Overall I didn’t realize I would lose so much money in the exchange or that prices would be higher than I thought. I spent about $660 in 7 days and we did extra things like tours and traveling outside Havana so I thought that was a reasonable amount. Keep in mind I exchanged $800 which eventually translated to $600. When I came back to Cuba I hat $140 left.
7. Old Havana
I also mentioned this in my Travel guide but the biggest shock to me was how much of a tourist trap Old Havana is. It really is just catered to tourist and you won’t see as much as the culture first hand here. It is FULL of tourist. It still is a must visit though and it looked just like I imagined. But if you want to dive into the culture this isn’t the spot.
8. Toilet Paper and Soap
Many of the bathrooms in Cuba didn’t have toilet paper or soap in them. Make sure to travel with hand sanitizer, hand wipes, and roll of toilet paper if you plan on venturing out for the day.
9. Horse and Buggy
People still ride horse and buggys. It’s the best thing ever. You see them in neighborhoods, on the highway, and in the streets. You will see more if you venture outside of Havana though. There aren’t has many in the city.
10. Tip for Bathroom
In many locations especially hotels, you have to tip to use the bathroom. There will be an attendant there and they will for sure expect a tip. Make sure to enter the bathroom with .50 CUC to spare!
11. No seatbelts
Many of the cars do not have seatbelts in Cuba. It doesn’t seem to be a thing. The only cars we rode in that did were yellow cabs and the driver will be sure to tell you to put it on.