Traveling to Cuba is great, but how you travel is just as important.
cuban travel talek nantes
A privately owned restaurant in Cuba. Photo: Talek Nantes

After a couple of very tough years for the Cuban economy driven by COVID, the corresponding lack of tourism and other factors, visitors are trickling back. This trickle is expected to surge once the traditional season starts in late November/early December. These visitors will include tourists from all over the world and U.S. citizens that can visit under any other 12 categories approved by the U.S. government. Most U.S. citizens select the “Support for the Cuban People” category.

The non-U.S. citizens could conceivably lounge on one of Cuba’s spectacular beaches and sip mojitos their entire vacation, alternatively they could choose to immerse themselves in the Cuban culture and interact with its people. 

For the U.S. citizen, however, visiting Cuba for the sole purpose of tourism is prohibited and they are expected to adhere to a specific set of requirements that encourage interaction with the local people.  They must, according to the U.S. government regulations, engage in activity that “enhances contact with the Cuban people, supports civil society in Cuba and promotes the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”

Related Post: Is It Ethical To Travel to Cuba Right Now? 5 Things To Consider Before You Go

In addition, U.S. citizens visiting Cuba are prohibited from patronizing certain entities owned by the Cuban government such as tour companies and higher-end hotels.

The most appealing aspect of the casa experience is that you are a guest in the home of real, honest-to-goodness Cubans…Plus, you are giving to the community.  

Rather than crimp one’s style, these requirements are not only easy to comply with, achieving them will guarantee a more authentic and rewarding travel experience.

For example, can’t stay in a high-end hotel? Stay in a Cuban “casa particular” or “casa” for short. These are rooms, apartments or entire homes rented out by their Cuban owners who, in typical Cuban resourcefulness, have transformed themselves into entrepreneurs.

Same goes for eating at “paladares,” private enterprise restaurants run by Cuban entrepreneurs. The food is better, the experience more pleasant and patronizing these establishments promotes free enterprise.

These casas are much less expensive than a hotel. They are clean, convenient and come with a hostess (usually women) that ensures all her visitors’ needs are met. A delicious, full breakfast is usually included.

cuban travel casa particular
This symbol indicates a casa particular. Photo: Talek Nantes

The most appealing aspect of the casa experience is that you are a guest in the home of real, honest-to-goodness Cubans. Sit in their living room and watch TV, play with their pets, have a drink on their terrace. This is about as authentic a cultural experience as you can have. Plus, you are giving to the community.  

cuban travel talek nantes
Breakfast at a casa particular. Photo: Talek Nantes

Same goes for eating at “paladares,” private enterprise restaurants run by Cuban entrepreneurs. The food is better, the experience more pleasant and patronizing these establishments promotes free enterprise.

Visitors from the U.S. may inquire how to identify a casa or know if a restaurant is a paladar or a government entity. Casas always have a sign – a blue upside-down anchor – identifying it as a private accommodation. One could knock on the door and ask to see the room.

cuban travel resort
Boats like these can be found only at Cuba’s tourist resorts. Photo: Talek Nantes

Other U.S. citizens wanting to visit Cuba opt to go with a tour from the U.S. that specializes in Cuban Cultural tours consistent with U.S. government requirements.

Other ways of connecting with the Cuban people include meeting with local artists, farmers, musicians, tour guides, drivers and business owners. Connecting with these Cuban entrepreneurs adds perspective to a visit. Many speak a bit (or a lot) of English and are happy to get an opportunity to practice.

Where do you find these local Cuban entrepreneurs willing to chat? The driver can be the owner of one of those classic American cars that give tours around the city. The farmers are in the tobacco farms of the western provinces, the artists exhibit at local galleries and workshops open to the public. The tour guides are everywhere, just ask your casa hostess. The entrepreneurs are in the shops that line the busy pedestrian streets and the musicians…well, the musicians are everywhere! 

Shopping in local artisanal shops or the tiny “bodegas” that many people set up in their homes is another way to support local entrepreneurial activities and comply with the “Support for the Cuban People” U.S. government requirements.

Shopping in local artisanal shops or the tiny “bodegas” that many people set up in their homes is another way to support local entrepreneurial activities and comply with the “Support for the Cuban People” U.S. government requirements.

Take a salsa class, learn to cook a Cuban meal, learn a few words of Spanish, take a Cuban history or architecture walk and interact with the teacher. All of these are opportunities to enhance your travel experience and support the Cuban people.  

Many of these individual services are available via a quick search online. Another option is to research Cuba cultural tours that have the local contacts to design and organize a culturally meaningful experience that will maximize your time and ensure authenticity.

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t just visit Cuba, experience it.     

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Talek Nantes is an Amazon best-selling author, digital content creator and founder of the travel blog, www.travelswithtalek.com. Talek’s personal and professional background have led her to travel to over 110 countries. She has lived and worked throughout the world. Talek speaks several languages, has an MBA and a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband in New York City and Miami. Talek offers culturally immersive tours to Cuba to share her heritage with others.

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