Cuba is lustful — especially for the solo traveler. From late-night dancing, to epic historic sites, to people-watching along Havana’s seawall, Cuba is the sort of place where you could easily find yourself in a transformative journey.
But navigating Cuba can present unique challenges. There’s the confusing dual currency system, the taxis without seatbelts, and the slow and expensive Internet access, to name a few. While crime in Cuba is generally believed to be on the rise, violent crime remains an anomaly. You’re still more likely to encounter uncontrollable weather events, such as hurricanes, than crime.
Still, it’s helpful to do your research and travel smart whenever you’re traveling — but especially when you’re on your own. Here are some tips to consider before going it alone.
1. Choose casas particulares over hotels.
Cuba’s version of the bed and breakfast is becoming more and more popular in the face of a countrywide hotel crunch. But the real upside to staying somewhere with a local, personal touch is that the owners can provide insider’s tips on navigating the country. Ask the host to suggest local sites and activities — whether in Havana or outside the capital; many are likely to have trustworthy guides and drivers they can recommend to you, too. Casa owners are also typically willing to answer your new-to-Cuba questions: How does one understand the currency? How can you access the internet if you just can’t live without it? Bonus: Many of these lodgings are now available via Airbnb, making them easier than ever to book.
2. Don’t be afraid to venture beyond the capital.
One of the most challenging and nerve-wracking aspects of traveling solo in a foreign country — especially when there’s a language barrier — is navigating public transportation and taxis. Instead, opt to rent one of the island’s famed vintage cars to travel from city to city, or take a bike trip across the country, which has incredibly well-kept roads and no traffic. If you do that, be sure to read Lynette Chiang’s travelogue, The Handsomest Man in Cuba, a 2008 memoir about her cycling-round-Cuba-solo trip, before you set off on a two-wheeled adventure. Visiting Cuba’s provincias, the provinces beyond Havana, tends to be especially rewarding, since most American visitors confine their Cuba trips to the capital.
3. Consider a tour.
The recent proliferation of tours to Cuba designed for Americans has led to new ways for solo travelers to see the country. The four-day, three-night itinerary offered by Cuba Travel Network, for instance, includes VIP arrival treatment, fast-tracking you through immigration and customs, as well as private tours of both well-known and less-visited attractions. The company, which has been leading Cuba tours since 2002, recently launched a solo travel option in response to market research suggesting that this is a growing demographic of U.S. travelers.
“In designing the itinerary, we wanted to focus on personal interactions with the Cuban people and Cuban culture that you wouldn’t easily have access to on your own,” says Eddie Lubbers, CEO of Cuba Travel Network, which has more than 50 employees across Cuba’s fifteen provinces. The highly customizable itinerary can include adventures in all sorts of categories from bike riding excursions to privately guided city walks in Havana from $1,495 per person.