One of the most exciting, eye-opening journeys you could make in your lifetime awaits you in Cuba. All the more so if you come on your own and are willing to entrust the help of locals for advice on getting around, checking out the hottest nightlife venues, the best hanging out hotspots, the most atmospheric bars and finding the best places to sample the most authentic bites.
Travelling solo in Cuba is not only completely safe but also highly recommended if you want to fully immerse in the culture, the way of life, the music and the dancing, with no distractions or interruptions from travelling partners and with the freedom that travelling on your own, under your own rules implies.
At your own pace, in your own time
When travelling solo you don’t have to take into account anyone else’s interests or agenda, you are free to make it up as you go along and you don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval to head somewhere in a spontaneous fashion. Simply put, you don’t have to agree with anyone on any aspect of your trip. You are free to decide.
Experiencing Cuba on your own is the best way to blend in, mingle with a local crowd and gain an otherwise tricky to obtain insider’s perspective on pretty much everything. And yes, travelling to Cuba alone is completely safe, only basic common sense is required. Cuba has long been regarded Latin America’s safest country and was recently awarded a "Safest Country" certificate because of its exceptional safety record. Travelling solo through the island is a transforming, deeply inspiring and eye-opening experience that might forever change your perspective in life. It can be motivational, educational, immensely culturally-enriching and at times also frustrating, thought-provoking and puzzling, but always ultimately rewarding.
You certainly don’t need a partner to experience the best of Cuba, in fact, in some cases travelling with friends or partners can be a hindrance in some scenarios and get in the way of you interacting more with locals. Once you brush up on the destination a little, identify what you’d like to see and experience in Cuba you’ll have no problem doing it on your own, and if the need arises you can always book guided excursions form your hotel desk or go off the beaten path by asking around and befriending locals or talking to your host, should you stay in a "casa particular".
Putting the facts right - trumping all unfounded scaremongering
If you’re an American, please don’t let Trump’s over-the-top, exaggerated and largely non-factual scaremongering tactics, deployed to please his anti-Castro Florida voters, put you off travelling to Cuba, alone or otherwise. The ludicrous claims that the Cuban government had something to do with the so-called mysterious sonic attacks that allegedly affected U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana, are completely unfounded and as of yet no investigation has been able to prove the culprit.
In my opinion, it was a clever smoke curtain to put the blame on Cuba and justify Trump’s harsh reversal of Obama’s rapprochement with the island. The Cuban government wouldn’t be as foolish as to purposely deter American tourists from coming when the island’s tourism industry has benefited from the spike in U.S. visitors over the last few years. Cuba and Cubans welcome American visitors with open arms, don’t let Trump’s "fake news" and alternative facts dissuade you out of a potentially enriching trip.
Why travelling to Cuba on your own can be so great
When you travel with a partner, a friend, family members or a group of friends, all of which are great fun too, most of the time you are in a bubble surrounding your travel party and thus more meaningful one-to-one interactions with the locals are far less likely to happen.
You’ll also far less likely to strike up a conversation with strangers when you yourself are accompanied and thus more distracted with your own company. It’s also less likely that Cubans will approach you in bars to share a few drinks and chat. Travelling to Cuba solo frees you from the distractions of well-known travel companions and puts you in the best position to really soak up all that surrounds you. You’ll be more aware, more in tune with what’s around you and you’ll find it easier to create a deeper, more meaningful connection.
And before you think, well all the above wouldn’t apply to me as I’m a rather shy person or I would need an extrovert’s social skills to make verbal exchanges with total strangers abroad, or I’m not really a social butterfly nor particularly bubbly or chatty …You really, REALLY don’t need to be either of these things to approach a stranger in Cuba, they do it here all the time. It comes as second nature to most Cubans to talk to strangers.
But, not in a creepy way, more in a casual, conversational tone with often generic topics like how the price of avocados has gone up, getting tickets for the latest show at the theatre and where to find potatoes, certain ingredients in Cuba are hard to find depending on the season.
Joining a crowd of dancers won’t feel awkward at all, and getting asked to the dancefloor is social custom. And Cubans, more often than not are really keen and eager to interact with foreigners, dust off their, sometimes precarious, English skills and try their very best to communicate with you. Of course, it helps if you can muster a little Spanish, but if you can’t, you’ll find Cubans will make an extra effort to find their way around with words and get their message accross and yes, that will likely involve lots of hand gestures!.
How to make a solo trip to Cuba simply unforgettable, for all the right reasons
Making it to Cuba on your own doesn’t mean you have to rough it up with accommodation, although you certainly can if you want to stick to an austere budget, or backpack your way through the island. You can still enlist the help of a knowledgeable tour operator, like us at Cuba holidays, *hint *hint...
Five ways to make the most of a solo travel experience in Cuba
Stay at a Casa Particular with a live-in host
This is one of the easiest, most straightforward ways to interact with locals and really sink into local life effortlessly. This is as close as you can get as to experiencing the island like a Cuban and mingling with Cubans. Not only will you sleep in a real Cuban home, although in recent years some have been refurbished to look more like boutique hotels than homes, but your neighbours will be Cubans as opposed to other tourists.
Your host could be a couple, a family, a charming old lady, or anything in between; they could live in a room upstairs, in a house next door or down the street and might come to see you on a daily basis, to cook you breakfast and dinner, to say hello every now and then to check that everything’s OK or you might only see them at check-in and check-out.
How interactive the experience is depends on the casa particular and you can conduct research to find out as much as you can about them before booking. Often, the best advice in terms of where to eat and where to go come from hosts at casas particulares, who are among the most knowledgeable people on the area’s cultural and nightlife scene.
Download offline maps
A while ago it was impossible to even contemplate the idea of using the GPS Google Maps application in your phone to get around Cuba, as internet access is very limited and roaming impossible for foreign mobile phone users. Bringing a GPS device to Cuba is also against the rules, as such gadgets would be confiscated upon arrival in customs.
So what are the options? Well, now the island’s tourism authorities have launched a new interactive online map of the entire island (cubamaps.travel) and developed a mobile-ready application for Android devoices, which you can download into your phone straight from the website and which can be accessed offline, no internet connection required.
Beyond giving you the most accurate and up-to-date directions, the app also points you to sites of cultural interest in the area, shows you the nearest bike and car rental, as well as bars and restaurants close by. This makes navigating through Cuba on your own easier than ever, another great bonus for solo travellers. Just remember to download it onto your phone before you go!
Sample street food
Yes, by all means, if you want a deeper cultural immersion sampling street food in Cuba is an absolute must! Not only is it very cheap compared to both "paladares" and government-owned restaurants but a very convenient way to eat when on the go. You can eat as much as you without worrying about going over budget. To put it into perspective an average homemade cheese pizza, the famous “pizza de queso” or “cuban pizza”, sold in the streets of Cuba will cost you no more than $15 CUP, that’s less than 0.50 CUC or 50p in sterling!. Additional toppings like chorizo, ham or onion will cost a little extra, between $3 to $5 CUP more, that doesn’t even amount to £0.15!.
For mere cents in Cuba you could be filling your belly with gusto. Cuban pizzas are nothing like the Italian or American versions you might be accustomed to. The dough is puffy and bread-like, the bubbly cheese is a big blob dominates the base’s circumference. It’s basic, it’s rustic, but, trust me, it’s also really tasty.
And as quirky and unique as the pizzas and homemade fast food sold by locals in Cuba is, the place from which you get them is just as creative and surprising. Pizzas, sandwiches and sometimes also plates of spagguetti and lasagna, are sold from locals’ converted patios, front doors or house windows, and the novelty of the location will sure add to the authentic experience. Not long ago, in fact, a mini-documentary was made on the peculiarity of Cuba’s flying pizzas, where the pizzas were lowered from a balcony to the customers at ground level using a rope and one half of a fan’s outer shell. Yes, this is real, and as raw and authentic as it gets!
And, OK, so a week of eating cheesy pizzas and fried street food isn’t exactly healthy but more likely than not you’ll be burning those calories fast by walking around all day, exploring and dancing the nights away. Which takes me to my other piece of advice…
Dance the night away
Put simply, you cannot, must not go to Cuba and not dance. As a solo traveller you’ll have plenty more opportunities to hone your salsa dancing skills and be asked to the dancefloor. Cubans aren’t shy about taking the lead and reaching out their hand to you in an inviting gesture that says “shall we dance?”. And absolutely you should say yes everytime! Even if you’re not the best dancer, have no sense of rhythm and can’t tell your right foot from your left, you’ll still have amazing fun being swayed along and Cuba is the perfect place to lose your inhibitions.
Your Cuban dance partner will in all likelihood be able to tell that you’re foreign before asking you to the dance floor, so when they do, he or she will want to make you feel part of the party atmosphere, not judge your dancing skills. Most will be happy to teach you a few dance steps and will adapt to your pace, they’ll go easy on you. Be afraid not, Cuba is the place to dance the night away, every night!
Be a conversation starter
If you’re in a bar with a drink in hand and you notice other Cubans around you lively chatting, don’t be shy to join in the conversation, assuming you speak some Spanish, or ask a simple question in English, like where to eat the best pasta or sample the most authentic “ropa vieja”, a traditional dish consisting of shredded meat.You can save up more in-depth questions for later if you want to ask about the way of life, politics and so on.
If you’re surrounded by people speaking and can understand a little of what they say, you can always contribute to the conversation in English and more often than not they’ll start talking to you straight away as they’ll be glad of having someone to practice their English with. Brushing up on your Spanish certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s not mandatory. Most Cubans will try their best to communicate and are curious by nature, so will put their bad English to use to try and get to get to know.
Escape the city
The majority of tourists arriving in Cuba head to either Havana or Varadero or do a combination of the city and the beach, be it including stops at other popular cities like Trinidad or Cienfuegos or beach resorts like Guardalavaca, Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Coco or Cayo Guillermo. And of course there´s nothing wrong with staying put in Havana, which a lot of travellers do, be it for lack of time or advanced planning or for budget restrictions.
Yet, escaping the city for a day or two needn´t be too costly or put too big a financial hole in your pocket. Heading to Vinales from Havana is very straightforward and will give you a completely different side to the capital. You can either book an excursion in advance or once in Cuba through your travel agency or at the hotel desk. You can also arrange travel there on your own by hopping on one of Viazul´s coach buses, the cheapest option, but one that requires checking timetables online before your trip to Cuba.
The journey from Havana to Vinales or Soroa by car takes around two hours and a half. You can stay the night in a "casa particular" or at an eco-resort in an eco-community like Las Terrazas. Experiencing rural Cuba is one of the best ways to get a more well-rounded, truer taste of the island - and doing it solo is no problem!
Tips on travelling solo to Cuba
Getting around in Cuba is not as straightforward at you might think. Public transport is scarce and extremely unreliable, with no discernible schedule and hard-to-find spots, so walking or hiring government-owned or private taxis is the more sensible option. It can, however, get really expensive when relying on taxis all the time; whether that´s the whimsical-looking CocoTaxis, "bicitaxis" (rickshaws), average taxis or fancy classic car rides - the latter being the most expensive option by far - those cab tabs can quickly add up.
So, what to do? Well a great alternative is jumping on the older "almendrones", run-down classic American cars, used by locals and also known as “carros de 10 o 20 pesos” because the ride will cost you 10 or 20 CUP, less than 1 CUC or £1. These operate a little like buses and cover certain stretches and routes. It´s a good idea to check in advance where to catch one depending on where you want to go and for this you need a local’s insider advice. You can also check on forums online. Best of all, since you’ll be travelling solo, you’ll likely share your journey with colourful and authentic Cuban folk.
Before you read too much into these, let me make it very clear that the most common way for tourists in Cuba to fall victim to tricks or scams by locals is by buying something usually expensive off the street from someone who claims that these items are premium quality and that they are able to sell them to you at a lower price because of factory connections, etc.
This most commonly happens with cigars, and especially in areas surrounding cigar factories, where these hustlers prey on naive tourists and approach them before entering the factory to tell them not to buy anything at the gift shop because they can sell the same cigars to you at a discounted price. Often said cigars are poor quality and not the brand they claim.
Beyond the frequent cigar scam, just watch out for anyone approaching you out of the blue, most likely on the street, and too intent on selling you something or recommending a certain place to eat or drink, in most cases they’ll be getting a commission for sending customers their way. If something feels shady, pushy or just off, trust your gut instinct and fend these sly opportunists off.
Yes, you need to take it easy in Cuba when things don’t go your way, and more often than not, throughout the duration of your trip, something is bound to go awry or not exactly as planned. A train or coach bus that doesn’t depart on schedule, an excursion that’s suddenly cancelled with no prior notice or explanation, shows or people being late… This is Cuba and you’re on Cuban time, don’t let the laidback, unfussed way of life get to your nerves, be part of it and go with the flow. Face inconveniences as most Cubans do, with a shrug and a sigh. It’s all part of the experience!
We’ve already covered how Cuba is one of the safest tourist destinations in the world. And to confirm this, the island recently received an award for being the world’s safest country. That said, using common sense doesn’t hurt and just like anywhere else in the world, if you don’t take the necessary precautions you could be robbed or scammed.
Most theft in Cuba is of the opportunistic, non-violent kind, so mind where your valuables are at all times and don’t walk around with lots of expensive gadgets or jewellery on show, especially at night. Lone travellers are perfectly safe in Cuba but it’s also true that there’s safety in numbers so don’t wander off into unknown, potentially troublesome neighbourhoods at night and if a proposal to go off somewhere with a stranger feels iffy don’t go there. In short, behave as you will at home and stay away from potentially dangerous situations. Don’t tempt fate too much and all will be well.
Do your own research
This is very important, especially when you’re a solo traveller and all the more so if you have ambitious sightseeing plans that involve going rogue or heading beyond the confines of your city of arrival. In a place where internet is limited and language can be a barrier, coming prepared can make the difference between having an amazing time or coming back home frustrated and feeling like you’ve barely scratched the surface.
Yes, interacting with locals can get you a long way but it’s better if you have a lose idea of the place before you go, familiarise yourself with the dual currency and read up on some peculiarities of the most intriguing Caribbean island of all.
Apt for women solo travellers too?
Some destinations around the world can prove more dangerous or challenging for women solo travellers. Not Cuba, not in any way. Rest assured that man or woman, travelling through the island on your own is more than safe. Aside from getting cat calls and being wolf-whistled at; yes, like it or not Cubans will do this; there is no reason for ever feeling unsafe or vulnerable anywhere in the island.
Cubans are, generally-speaking quite cocky and self-assured and they go for what they like, so yes, you may get approached and asked out, though this is rare, or more likely as a man passes you by he might utter some complimentary words about the way you look. Yes, I know it’s rather sexist and this Latino lover, macho-man attitude can be off-putting for some, but that’s part of Latin culture and Cubans never harass you or go anywhere beyond throwing compliments or wolf-whistling, unless you engage, of course, in which case you might enjoy the attention.
But if this kind of unwarranted, uncalled-for attention irritates you just keep on walking and ignore the hissing, whistling and cat-calling. If you don’t engage they’ll leave you alone. If you smile and make eye contact though they might feel encouraged and continue with their flattery, in some cases they might even pluck up the courage to come closer and approach you but more often than not they won’t.
I remember when I was a kid growing up in Havana, that upon receiving “piropos” my mum very politely, when the compliments were nice and not sleazy, smiled and said "thank you" without stopping or looking back. I never ever felt we were under any danger. Cubans are just very flirty, that’s it. They will never touch you and they won’t come uncomfortably close if you make it clear you don’t want the attention.
A solo traveller in Cuba
More and more solo travellers are making it to Cuba these days, to the extent that this market has grown faster than any other in the island. And there’s very good reason why solo travellers are setting their sights on Cuba, with an impressive safety record, unique cultural riches found nowhere else in the world, a peculiar history, controversial politics and opportunities galore to interact with the super-friendly locals and an increase in more affordable, more varied accommodation options, Cuba is a solo traveller or backpacker’s dream.
More and more publications are echoing Cuba’s enormous potential for solo travellers and some travel websites like ViaHero are specialising on providing tools for those wishing to experience Cuba on their own. There’s so much to see and so many ways that Cuba caters to the curious solo wanderer that every true adventurer at heart must tick Cuba off their bucket list!