With pristine white beaches, coppery tobacco fields, and pastel-painted cities, Cuba delivers a travel sensory overload. Classic cars from the 1950s cruise the streets of Havana, making the city at times feel like a time-warp, as salsa music reverberates through the streets in the evening. And the food scene has been undergoing a revival, as local chefs integrate the country’s culinary roots with international influences. But despite all this, what is often most memorable from a trip to Cuba is its friendly, lively people. Here are five ways to meet — and connect with — Cuba’s knowledgeable, hospitable locals.
Stay in casas particulares
In Cuba, travellers can stay in casas particulares, which are a cross between a bed and breakfast and crashing with your friend’s mom. Local families across Cuba rent out a room or two (or sometimes more) in their homes to travellers, and since these lodgings are peoples’ homes, rentals range from cozy rural bungalows to multi-storey villas. Each experience is as unique and memorable as the homes themselves: For a few extra CUCs (Cuban convertible pesos, the local currency), casa owners will provide home-cooked meals, and can even arrange activities and excursions with local guides. Staying in a casa particular is a wonderful way to connect with local families — after a few days, you’ll feel right at home.
Share the gift of gab on the street
When in Cuba do as the locals do: visit stores and talk to the owners, ask your cabbie where the best breakfast spot is, chat with the lady running the local rations market about the best places to shop. Take the time to talk to the people you come across while travelling. If you carry photos of your friends and family in your wallet — and are comfortable sharing them with new friends — these can be a great icebreaker, as Cubans place high value on family, and enjoy chatting about their loved ones.
Take a trip to Viñales
Located about a 2.5 hours’ drive from Havana, Viñales is a great place to spend a few days. It’s a land of rotund limestone cliffs, and is covered in tropical vegetation and rich coppery soil. Taking one of the organized excursions offered in Viñales — like horseback riding, nature walks, a tour of a family-owned tobacco farm, or just a bike ride around the area — is a great way to explore the rural community and learn from the locals.
Hire local guides
Hiring a local to show you around their town is like exploring it with a friend. She’ll know the nuances of their town, and can share stories about the history and culture of the area while introducing you to locals. Our guides in Havana, Viñales and Trinidad, brought each city to life, and helped us understand aspects of Cuban culture that we might have missed on our own. They also shared important tips like where to find the best ice cream, the tastiest fried plantains, and venues with the best music, and where to see the best sunset views in Havana.
Take a class (salsa, anyone?)
Most of Cuba’s cities and towns have an array of classes of available for short-term travellers. From Spanish immersion to cooking classes to salsa dance lessons, there’s plenty to explore that will connect you directly with locals. And there’s the added bonus of learning about Cuban culture, whether it’s food, dance, or the language, through these classes. Both private organizations and universities offer an array of classes for travellers, so brush off those dance shoes, roll up your sleeves, and install a Spanish-language app on your phone.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Cuba encompassing a wide range of activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.