CLASSIC AMERICAN CARS ZIPPING ALONG THE BREEZY MALECÓN ARE AMONG THE FIRST IMAGES THAT COME TO MIND WHEN DREAMING ABOUT A TRIP TO HAVANA. BUT HEADING TO CUBA ALSO MEANS LEAVING BEHIND ALL THE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE TROPICAL ISLAND AND MODERN LIFE.
Being consciously aware about where you go, what you buy and what you give back is only the beginning of a truly transformative trip.
One way to contribute directly to the local economy is to stay at private homestays (known locally as casas particulares) while visiting Havana.
Casas are scattered all over the city (and the country). Not only do they provide budget-friendly accommodation, but they’re the perfect way to interact with a community. Hosts often go above and beyond expectations to share their insights on the city’s must-sees. Just remember you’re a guest at someone else’s home – keep the volume down.
Being socially isolated for decades after the triumph of the guerrilla-lead revolution in 1959 has left Cuba with a particular, authentic culture. Music and dance still rule over Internet-fed commercial hits.
Let resident musicians indulge you with their curated repertoire instead of belittling their talents with too-touristy requests or cheesy covers. For real Cuban music venues visit Fabrica de Arte Cubano, EnGuayabera or Casas de la Música.
Cuba depends mostly on precipitation for its water supply and tank trucks are the most common form of providing potable water to local residents, especially in Old Havana.
Be mindful of water usage during your stay, for both running and drinking water. Given that tapped water is not safe to drink, plastic bottles are a common accessory in tourists’ bags. A better option is to use (or bring) single refillable bottles or purchase bigger 5-liter containers, which is also cheaper.
No one wants to feel limited during a well-deserved vacation, but saving energy as you would at your own home should be followed, especially when staying at a casa particular.
Turn off the AC when you leave for day trips or long strolls to the city. Not only are you putting less strain on the electrical grid, you’re helping the environment as well.
Overtourism is not an issue in Havana (yet), but solid waste disposal systems are a major problem – recycling policies are still in its infancy and trash bins might be hard to find outside the touristy "golden mile" in Old Havana.
Bring canvas bags for shopping instead of the single-use plastic ones, avoid dropping cigarette butts, cans or bottles on the streets and refrain from using plastic utensils whatsoever. Bring your own knowledge of leaving no trace and feel free to share that with the locals.
Oh, souvenirs. Everybody wants a little memento to bring home, don’t we? But when purchasing goods from another country, it’s more impactful to support resident businesses and buy local – that way money goes directly to the community. However, say "No" to souvenirs that denigrate minorities or disparage the country’s history.
Don’t walk around town randomly handing out school supplies. Instead, talk to your casa host, tour operator or hotel concierge on the best ways to volunteer or assist while on your trip
To learn more about visiting Havana, including what to see, do, eat, or enjoy, hit the button below.