Traveling to Cuba is a beautiful nightmare. We at Higher mountain magazine wanted to visit Cuba, because it hasn’t become a touristy modern destination. Usually, destinations off the beaten track offer the best experiences. While there are a million good reasons why you should go and see Cuba before the tourism boom, we wanted to show 10 reasons why you shouldn’t.
10) The Taxi Mafia
Cuba is a huge place. If you want to get anywhere other than Havana (and I’d suggest you get out to see the country), it is first necessary to deal with the Taxi Mafia. These people can be identified as large guys, chain smoking cigarettes while they scream spanish into a phone, and aggressively tell you about 4 different prices, depending on your poker face. They look just like any other stock businessman, and bully taxi drivers into giving them a cut of whatever business comes their way (I heard from one driver that they will pull a knife and gang up on them if they don’t comply). If you try and walk away from them for whatever reason (or in our case, flee on a horse and buggy), they will chase you down in a car with new prices, which is pretty creepy.
9) The Secret Police
I did not believe the secret police existed, until they suddenly arrested our local friend, Andy while we were at a bar. The men who arrested him looked exactly like tourists on vacation. They were holding beers, wearing colorful sweatshirts, and had Andy sitting in a jail cell in a matter of seconds. The experience was surreal.
Cuban people will constantly talk about how there are 2 Cuba’s. One is a front put on for the tourists, while the other Cuba is a completely different, much harsher experience for the people. I thought they were being dramatic until my friend was arrested by these extremely well disguised agents, and I realized anyone could be a cop. The people really did have to watch what they said. The rest of my trip was really spooky.
8) Havana Is Magical, and Full of Scammers
When you get lost in the way Havanas architecture, a feature of gritty romance crumbling back in time, you are also probably getting scammed. People are great at it here. Cubans are some of the best salesmen in the world. You will buy extremely overpriced cigars in somebody’s house, give random people 5 dollars for showing you where to buy ice cream, and most likely purchase some family milk for their child (I fell for this like 3 times). And you will feel good while doing it. They will also pull more nasty tricks, like raising the price 5-10 dollars at the end of a taxi ride, which creates an awkward and sometimes aggressive scene.
7) The Food Is Only Sometimes Good
Cuba is full of surprises. One of them is the food. Occasionally, you will eat some of the best food in the world. But most of the time you are settling for over cooked chicken, over a bed of dry rice and beans. The other quirky food situation in Cuba revolves around random shortages on their menu. Some menus will list over 20 items, while they only have 1-2 options in stock. They will not tell you right off the bat that their menu has changed. You may go through 15 before they tell you exactly what they have.
Also, paying more for food is not even close to a guarantee that it will be better. In fact, expensive food is usually worse.
6) Their Systems Are Completely Inefficient. In Fact, There Are No Systems.
Everything is much slower in Cuba. Much much slower. Any system that would take 15 minutes, will take close to 2 hours in this beautiful island nation. Even something as simple as a checked bag will take over 2 hours to appear, with computer systems that randomly shut down, and screens which typically display nonsense. The same goes for anything that the 21st century has made simple. Taking out money from the bank can take days, if the internet for Havana decides to suddenly go down (city wide). Food will take over 2 hours to appear, with waiters acting surprised that you are getting anxious about actually eating food. It is easiest to be slightly drunk the whole time you are in Cuba.
5) Beaches Are Great, But Really Hard To Get To
In my 18 days of being in Cuba, only 2 of them were actually at the beach. Most of the beaches are pretty remote, and expensive to reach from town. Expect to spend around 30 dollars to get both there and back, as well as a budget for food when you are there. The beach will be an awesome day though, and could also be one of the best reasons to go and see Cuba.
4) You Can Only Drink Bottled Water (Which Gets Expensive)
Sometimes a bottle of water will cost 80 cents. At other times, it will cost as much as 3 dollars. There is no way of knowing which place sells them cheaper, or which will be more expensive, because Cuba has systematic chaos. Occasionally, places will sell out of water for several days at a time, and you will have to search around to find a new source for water (Cuba is really hot, so you will need a lot of water).
3) Drivers Are ruthlessly Savage
Cuban drivers are like french drivers, on crack. While most of Cuba takes on the mantra of being, “Tranquillo” (tranquil/ calm), life becomes a chaotic death race when they get behind the wheel of a car. A change happens with these polite people, and they suddenly become blood thirsty maniacs. Drivers will try and get as close to people walking by the road as they can, gunning their engines, and honking ridiculous horns (Cuban horns make a wide variety of sounds). If you are crossing the road, they will absolutely not slow down for you, but do their best to run you right the fuck over.
2) Dangerous Scammers May Ask You to Pay Their Electric Bill
One of the only times I felt threatened in Cuba, was by a drunk guy claiming that it was his birthday, flashed a knife at us, and tried to get us to pay his electric bill. Seeing as Cuba is a socialist country, I was not aware that they actually had electric bills. We talked to him for a minute, and heard stories about how he tried to fight some people robbing his house, on the grounds of a graveyard, where he threatened to open some portals to hell. He spoke perfect English, and could recite lines from Shakespeare off the top of his head. We caught the next taxi back to our casa, and luckily never ran into the guy again.
1) If You Are From The U.S. You Might Get Audited For Visiting Cuba
People from the U.S. aren’t technically banned from visiting Cuba, but there are economic sanctions against U.S. citizens spending U.S. dollars in the country. Since you cannot visit a country without any money, the government potentially has the right to audit anyone who has visited Cuba, to see just how much money they have spent, and why. I don’t know anybody who wants to be audited, which makes this reason number 1 for not visiting Cuba.
Going to Cuba is like stepping back in time. It can be a truly amazing experience at one moment, and then absolute hell for the next 2 hours. Over 18 days, we got to know Cuba very well. Everything from a stranger offering me the shoes off his feet (mine were soaked), to a man trying to get us to pay his electric bill, happened within our two and a half week stay. I would not suggest going for a long period of time, and to expect the unexpected. In Cuba, anything is possible, except for most simple travel conveniences, and experiences which are easily accessed anywhere else in the world.