Why did I not meet the lovely, friendly Cubans everyone talks about?

Cubans are unique people.

What’s up with people visiting countries and always, inevitably and predictably falling in love with its people? Each time I plan to visit a new place, I spend hours on the web reading about it. Travel blogs, online magazines, guides, travel diaries and what not. I don’t think I have ever come across a negative comment about the people of a specific country. Hardly anybody ever said publicly that the people in said country are unwelcoming, or that those of another are rude, pushy or lazy.

Privately though, it is a different story. And recently I have started coming across more and more blog posts that give a honest and personal version of things. That’s when I hear people say that really, they hated the people in a country and actually fled because they could not take the locals anymore. A friend of mine who spent years living and working in Peru finds Peruvians hardly amicable.

Another who travelled across South America thought that people in Bolivia are rude and cold. What’s interesting is that I have a completely different opinion on both Peruvians and Bolivians. In my experience, they are both reserved people, yet so welcoming and caring. I have had some great encounters in both countries and hold great memories of the people there. Then again, I appreciate reserved people as I enjoy silence and time alone.

This goes to show that really, the way we perceive a people and a country is all a matter of individual perspective. It depends on how we feel while we are travelling, and sometimes even on who we are travelling with. And, quite importantly so, it depends on our ability to communicate, both verbally and non verbally.

Havana, photo 3, Cuba
People you meet at the book market in Havana

If what I say is true, I must not have been in a very good mood when I travelled to Cuba then (and none of my friends who have been there before and after me were in a good mood either!) because seriously, I did not like Cubans all that much. Mind you, I love the country and I could visit it again any time.

I had a great time there, despite everything, and I even think that the second time around I would have a real blast and perhaps, knowing what to expect, I would not have such a hard time communicating with the locals. Because really, in the end it was all due to miscommunication and cultural differences.

But… Was It?

I like to think of myself as a fairly open minded individual. I have travelled widely, and I have lived in various countries that are not my own. I have learned to communicate effectively with people from all over the world. However, try as I might, it was impossible for me to meet those loving, friendly, smiling, fun, relaxed and fantastic Cubans everyone talked about, to the point that I even wondered if we were talking about the same country, about the same people at all.

The Cubans I have met felt more like sharks I should steer away from, swimming against the current not to fall for their scams. They made such a strong impression on me that I actually started my blog in the very ambitious attempt to warn the world about what travelling to Cuba really implies.

I suppose I had to digest what had happened though, as now, despite my various misadventures and the numerous scams, I end up recommending Cuba as a country to visit to just about anybody – with a number of scam warnings attached to my recommendations.

Read more about Cuba on my post on the things to do in Cuba.

I actually felt lonely in Cuba
I actually felt lonely in Cuba

What I found frustrating in Cuba was that I could hardly mix with the locals. I speak Spanish fluently (and in any case, not speaking the local language has never stopped me from communicating!) and I find that getting to know someone from the place I visit, sharing my travel tales, and even parts of my life, culture and country, as well as learning more about the country where I am traveling through the eyes of someone who was born there is always an enriching experience.

I have always met amazing people during my travels who, for as brief the encounter, have always wanted to help me, to know about me, and to just talk for the sake of it.

I would have liked to chat but I felt a barrier
I would have liked to chat but I felt there was a barrier

Having An Authentic Experience: Cubans And Scams In Cuba

Hardly any of this happened to me when I travelled in Cuba. Any genuine conversation I would try to have would end up in an offer of sex (in exchange of money or a drink), in demands that I buy something or that I give away my clothes (including those I was wearing), or in a trickier scam attempt. Not so much of a cultural exchange – or perhaps it was a cultural exchange, just not the kind I was hoping for. 

Even if I tried to find an explanation for what was occurring, I could hardly justify it. Cuba is a poor country, I told myself. But then, I have been to places that are considerably poorer and none of this had happened and even those who had nothing were kind and helpful and not so hardened by life.

What about those people who’d approach me and start introducing themselves by saying: “I’m not like other Cubans”? In fact, they were not like other Cubans – way more sleek in their scams! They would present themselves as the most helpful people in the city, so good in their act that they seemed genuine. They would master a few words of Italian.

They’d prompt me to watch out for scams and people working for commissions (called jineteros) and then offer to take me to a good restaurant or bar (hardly the one I may be looking for) to then sit and have a drink (which I’d offer, to thank them for their tips), leave without a word of thank you and get a commission from the owner in the end. Ah, the irony!

What about those who were celebrating their birthday everyday? I can’t even remember how many people I have met in Cuba who, after some small talk, told me “today it is my birthday” – and then expected to be offered a drink in a bar of their choice (scam warning: this is just a strategy to bring tourists to a bar or restaurant and get a commission from the profits).

All in all, the feeling I had was that people saw me as an ATM with legs that they could try to get cash from, or as a sexual object, or a passport, or all of that. There was no explaining that I was on a tight budget and had saved for years to be able to afford that trip, or that I was not interested in sex as I was in a relationship (I wasn’t, but you get the point). Nobody cared. All that people seemed to think about me is that I was a foreigner, therefore better off, and as such it would be fair to try to take advantage of me.

Station Baracoa, Cuba
The wall – casas particulares owners looking for guests at the bus station in Baracoa

Some other episodes that occurred to me during the few weeks I spent in Cuba made my opinion of the locals become less than positive. I spent my first ten days in Cuba fighting not to get scammed. The first thing that the owner of the first casa particular where I stayed in Havana warned me against was the existence of the jineteros. He made it a point that I learned to defend myself against them.

When he offered to take me to the ceremony of El Cañonazo in Havana, I gladly accepted – he was so well educated that I figured it would be a great experience. Then, a few hours before going, he said he could not make it and suggested his (less than talkative) cousin could take me instead, for “protection”.

I said that would be nice of him, and he told me straight out to just pay him the entrance fee, the taxi, and a meal and drink afterwards. I was shocked. Had he not just warned me against this practice of having to buy drinks to men in exchange of company and protection?

I felt like I always had to watch my back
I felt like I always had to watch my back

By the end of my trip, I was well trained in recognising scams. On my first night in Viñales, I signed up for a salsa lesson. As the dancing school was undergoing renovation works, I had to take the class at the teacher’s neighbour’s apartment. The lady was nice, polite, her flat small but spotlessly clean.

As we finished the lesson, I asked the teacher if he could suggest a restaurant for the night as I didn’t have time to look for one on my guide. The lady jumped at the occasion and said I could eat at her place. In disbelief for the invitation (was a Cuban really going to offer me dinner, at her house?), I started asking questions.

It soon became clear that I wasn’t going to be invited in the western sense: I’d have to pay for the food, I’d be served at the table and sit by myself. Just as in a restaurant, only this time sitting uncomfortably and slightly abashed in some0ne’s home. I told her I’d eat there the day after and suggested that the family, as well as the salsa teacher, should eat with me.

I suppose I took them by surprise.

But I think they were not surprised when the day after I did not show up as there was no way I would accept an invitation to then have to pay for everyone’s meal – my means were not such for me to be able to afford it, and even though I could appreciate the cultural differences, it would simply be odd to have to offer dinner to some complete strangers when I had been “invited” to their home.

However, the episode that well classifies as the worst and that still makes me angry if I ever think about it happened to me on my very last day in Cuba, in Viñales. The guide who took me on a tour of the valley seemed to suffer from mood swings.

One minute he was kind and helpful, the next he’d leave me alone to bike and hardly said a word. All in all, he was rude.

I had kept to myself, and he must have not liked it because at some point, when we stopped to have a break, he started talking to my Mexican friend in Spanish (as if I was not there to hear and I could not understand) and said that if he did not plan to have sex with me, he would. I felt like an object, and disgusted.

I was right there when the guide (on the right) asked my friend whether he planned to have sex with me.
I was right there when the guide (on the right) asked my friend whether he planned to have sex with me.

All in all, I suppose I did get a very authentic Cuban experience – as authentic as it can get for tourists. Because really, there is hardly anything as authentic as a Cuban scam in Cuba.

Don’t get me wrong.

It was not all so bad and I actually met a few people who were nice.

Although most owners of casas particulares were almost intrusive when wanting to find out about my future plans on the island (so that they could push the services of one of their friends on me, whether I liked it or not), others were very kind and talkative yet never pushy – one was so keen to practice his English that he took “advantage” of me on that; another was so motherly that she’d check on whichever guide that took me around and if he didn’t pass her test she would not allow me to go out; one more spent hours in Trinidad looking for the yogurt I asked her for, not knowing it was hard to find in Cuba.

Some guides were protective of me to the point that they offered to go give a lesson to the driver who had scammed me the night before. A young man in Baracoa carried my backpack across town when he saw me bent over the weight.

Mojito time
I left from Cuba with a huge smile on my face – I wanted that to last

In general, my impression is that Cubans have suffered from the isolation that the embargo era has caused. They have all they need – food, education, healthcare. But nothing more than that. However it is in human nature to want more – and to find ways to get it, even if this means swindling unaware tourists.

Travelling in Cuba was tiring. I knew that any time I’d set my foot out the door, I’d be surrounded by people making demands, either openly or in a more sneaky way. I knew I could not go for a walk by myself, because nobody would respect my need for alone-time. I never felt respected as a tourist, as a person, let alone as a woman.

I remember spending whole mornings saying “no” to taxi drivers who, one after the other, would ask me if I needed a taxi, although they heard me turn down their collegues’ offer just one second before. Did they never realise it was annoying?

I became almost aggressive any time I was approached by locals, because a polite “no thank you” would not end a conversation but turn into an endless rant which would inevitably lead to a quest for money, clothes (even those I was wearing) and whatever else I may have on me.

I remember walking in the street without ever making any eye contact, or smiling, or answering to those who said hello, because I knew that there was no way they’d be interested in me as a person but they only saw me as a tourist to exploit to their benefit.

That was not how I wanted to travel. It made my trip less enjoyable, because there hardly was a memorable encounter with a local that was genuine and kind to me, just for the sake of it. I felt I could not let myself go and enjoy a conversation because if I lowered my guards there would be a scam waiting for me; and if I told straight out that I was not looking for company, or that I had nothing to offer, people would get offended.

I tried a few times to be more approachable and I fell for scams – it happens to the most experienced travellers, really, but this did not make me feel any better. In the end I really felt I could not trust anybody, that nobody wanted to help me, ever – they only wanted to help themselves and make money out of me – and this is not an uncommon feeling among people who travel there.

I like to think the way I felt when I travelled to Cuba has a lot to do with my personality. I consider myself to be a “social introvert” – I like socializing, but I need a lot of alone time. I like observing, but from a distance. I don’t always want to be surrounded by people and I don’t necessarily want to talk all the time.

In my experience, Cubans are the opposite of that: they very open, they like meeting people; they like to talk and they don’t have as much a need for privacy as I may have. Cuban homes are a mirror of Cuban culture and personalities: they are always open and people go in and out, often unannounced. I need people to ring my bell and ask permission before I can open up.

I now can’t help but wonder if, going to Cuba again, I would be able to finally connect more with the locals and have a more enriching experience, that cultural exchange that I felt was missing my first time there. I wonder if, knowing what to expect, I would be able to figure out the people I had to steer away from and those I could trust. I surely am ready to try.

Have you been to Cuba? What was your experience with the locals?

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is it really easy to travel around Cuba - via @clautavani

243 thoughts on “Why did I not meet the lovely, friendly Cubans everyone talks about?”

  1. I have never been, but I’m sorry to read about your experiences. I can totally understand your sentiment especially because of the scams, but would hope that they are not entirely representative.

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your experiences! I’ve not been to Cuba nor am interested in going there, but if getting in touch with locals is what drives you, I’m sure it is insanely disappointing. Maybe someone else can answer the question better for you 🙂

  3. I’ve never been to Cuba, but I had a friend who went with her boyfriend and felt much the same way as you did, despite having her boyfriend there too. I’d probably feel as ill at ease as you did at times!

  4. Of course they are not, but it is hard to meet really genuine people there – more than in other countries!

  5. I have heard of people who have had better luck. But most of the people I spoke to (other friends who have been there) have had similar experiences, if not worse!

  6. Thank you for this honest post. I felt in a similar way when I was traveling in Morocco. I, too, have read tons of posts on friendly locals before . I never found them and by the end of my stay I refused to talk to any locals if it wasn’t totally necessary. I wrote a note about it on my blog, because I believe that a honest blogger writes real stories. Imagine my surprise when I had a chat with another blogger who told me privately that her take on the locals in Fes was same as mine, but she decided not to mention it in her articles. I was a bit shocked. Let’s keep blogging real.

  7. I had a similar experience in a couple places I have visited, not as bad, but locals always trying to outsmart visitors. The thing that annoys me is that they are so consistent. You can say no a million times, but every time they see you they ask you again. I have not travelled to Cuba, but it is unfortunate you had that experience. Hope when I do visit I will have a better time with the locals.

  8. Oops. I want to go to Cuba so badly, never been there and I really was planning a visit there next year. Never thought that the people would be so rude.
    Well, I thank you for sharing – it’s always important to also mention the negative aspects of a place. It isn’t always rainbows and unicorns when you’re traveling 🙂

  9. Thanks for your comment. I am sure that some travellers – blogger or not – have indeed met friendly and lovely people (in Cuba, Morocco or other places). I haven’t really had the pleasure, except for some cases which in general did not make me change my opinion of the locals. Then you know, as I say at the beginning of this post, some of my friends told me that Peruvians or Bolivians are not kind, and I found them to be nothing but really lovely and friendly!

  10. When you plan to do so, let me know – I will lecture you fully on things to do, places to visit in Cuba and scams!

  11. You will have my guide on things to do to read and many other posts that will prepare you fully 🙂

  12. Sorry to hear about your experience Claudia. I would have called that guide out though for making that comment by responding back in Spanish haha imagine his surprise! At the end of the day, as travellers we have our own experiences and opinions about a place and this is how you found it. But at least you came back having had the experience and still enjoyed Cuba which is a plus 🙂

  13. Sorry to hear that your experiences with the Cuban people were far from pleasant. Personally, I didn’t run into many of the things you described happening. That’s truly horrible. Although, it was everybody’s birthday haha! I’ve run in to that particular “scam” all over though.

  14. It’s what I like to think of as the death of authenticity. With the outside world readily available to even the poorest countries via the Internet or a cellphone, in addition to the realization natives have about the walking ATMs in their midst, the world is rapidly becoming a full blown market, and you’re for sale. I’ve been traveling since the late 90s as a fairly-introverted-but-open-to-random-conversations/experiences-with-locals and there has been a real increase in situations like this with me, and people that I know, as well.

    It’s a difficult and sticky thing to write about (and probably why you don’t see much of it) because you don’t want to paint an entire culture with a broad brushstroke. But let’s be honest, if 98 percent of your interactions are of the negative kind like you describe here, it’s totally valid to associate a country with scams and swindlers. The why of it doesn’t necessarily matter because these are still human beings making real decisions to be assholes, to be aggressive or to straight up lie to your face.

    Now that authenticity is dying in most of the world, the only way that I can see traveling to an oft visited destination is to parachute in, snap a couple pictures with the peace sign and then shovel the crooks out of the way back to the boat or plane. It certainly isn’t a fun way to travel. Having friends in these places (real, real friends) usually flips the occasion in your favor but even then, you might begin to wonder..

    This right here, this great, honest post that I wish more travelers would write is what attracts me to traveling in the first place. The challenges that we face in every culture is slightly different, but the hook that most often binds them is the hunt for your dollar (or in a woman’s case, quite a bit more).

    I hate it, and if I were you, I wouldn’t count on a different experience the next time around. It’s actually getting worse, and not just in Cuba.

    So, with that comforting thought, there are destinations that spring to mind that are actually authentic, and we need to hold onto those for as long as we can because it’s only a matter of time til everything gets tainted.

    Nice post Claudia! I’ll definitely be coming back to your website

  15. He knew! Because I spoke to him in Spanish all the time (although he had said he spoke English). But he just did not care!

  16. What a sweet, insightful comment! Truth be told, I was really expecting a different reaction from this post. I was expecting people to accuse me of singling out an entire people based on my experiences (and that of 99% of my friends and of other travellers I know who have been to Cuba). I was expecting people to tell me that I need to put myself in the shoes of the locals, that I need to understand their poverty, etc etc. I really thought I would be attacked and would have to defend myself and explain myself all over again, and instead it seems that people really appreciated what I had to say.

    Yes. Cuba was a challenge for me. And no, poverty is not an excuse to treat others badly and scam them all the time. People there have adopted this attitude and the result is what you read on this post. I have been to far poorer countries, and I have met so many people who were kind, friendly, polite and overall genuine. So genuine that they would refuse any offer of money in exchange for their help.

    The funny thing is that I have met Cubans outside of Cuba and… well, they were not much different from those I have met there. The administrator of the place I rented in Rome was Cuban and I could hardly stand dealing with him in the end, as he constantly invaded my privacy. In the end I would tell my roommates to warn me if he was around, so that I would either lock myself in my room or… just avoid getting back home!

  17. I’m always suspicious when people wax lyrical about the ‘locals’ wherever they visit, building them up to be some wonderful stereotype only to have your dreams dashed when you arrive. Everywhere we’ve been we find some are lovely, and some are not, and at the end of the day we’re all just individual people. Having said that I have to admit your Cuba is our France…we never really feel welcome, and the people are often downright rude to tourists who speak English. It’s good to know I’m not the only one!

  18. whoaa.. Thanks for sharing your experiences…
    I’m not planning to go in Cuba but if I ever did .. I would be careful …
    I’ve never heard of these things before .. I’m kind of shocked.. )
    and btw, from where I’m coming…if it’s my b-day – I have to pay.

  19. I’m sorry to hear that your travels around Cuba we’re what you had expected. You’re not the first article/blog post I’ve read where people have said that the people there only saw them as an atm or a sex object in a matter of speaking.

  20. Oh you’re not the only one;-) I traveled to countries where I’ve met the most amazing local communities, but there were also countries where I just didn’t seem to band with anyone. I’m guessing it’s just a culture clash you’ll have once in a while. No biggy;-)

  21. I have nominated you for the Sisterhood of the World Blogger Award! I have posted some questions on my blog for you, to get to know you better 🙂

  22. This was a really reflective, well-written post that I really enjoyed reading — glad to have come across it and your blog!

    I think I had a similar feeling in Morocco (although I think the Middle East seems to be the only common exception to your opening comment about people never saying they didn’t like the people somewhere). I only spent about two weeks there, but in the inland cities like Marrakesh and Fez I really just didn’t enjoy myself, mostly because of the people. I’m a diehard Couchsurfer and to me I’ve wasted my time if I’ve visited a place without getting to know locals, but in Morocco I found it nearly impossible to penetrate the same mentality you talk about here in Cuba.

    However, when my friends and I travelled waaaaayyy off path to the last village before the Algerian border, we spent two nights in the desert with a really lovely, warm, friendly Moroccan Berber family, which made the whole trip worth it. It reminded me that it’s important not to generalize and to hold onto just a little bit of that naivete that makes you want to believe everyone who comes up to you with a smile just wants a smile back and nothing more 🙂

    I really enjoy your writing, and will be keeping an eye on this blog!

  23. (P.S. — I hope you’ll write the whole story one day of the overprotective motherly owner of the casa privada who wouldn’t let you leave the house if the guides didn’t meet her standards! She sounds like quite a character 😛 )

  24. I still remember the first postcard my sister sent me from Paris. She wrote something that read: “Paris is gorgeous, but people here have a stinky attitude”. She’s been there many times and yup, she still finds them unbearable LOL

  25. Ha, that’s the same in Italy! I don’t even celebrate with my friends if I can’t afford to pay them a drink!

  26. Thank you for such a lovely comment. Yes, I think that at times that naivety helps us a lot. Perhaps I was a bit too worried to be scammed in Cuba and it was noticeable?

  27. Oh she was UNBEARABLE. I remember we had planned to go to Trinidad and we wanted to stay at a particular casa we had read about. She would not have it. She wanted us to stay at her friend’s place. She insisted, insisted, insisted till we’d tell her where we were going to stay, because she wanted to make sure we wouldn’t. She talked really loudly. So much so that I would tell my sister: “You go deal with Caridad” because I could not take her. LOL. But on the other hand, she was caring and well, she gave really good advice when it came to transportation, guides, things to do and eat etc 🙂

  28. I went to Havana Cuba for few days, stayed in a hostel in downtown core and after three days I just cannot wait to leave and return to Canada. It is not a bad city but I was just being annoyed each day by scams and ripoffs. and I was so happy when I arrived in Canada, This was ever happened to me in other countries.

    Many friends do not understand and saying that I should have stay in the resort area so I can travel hassle-free, but I agree that this prob is part of the culture exploration, just not the one we all expected.

  29. Julie, if you want send me a quick email and I can really teach you how to react to those scams and spot them. I am not a resort kind of person and would never recommend staying in one. Cuba is better lived and experienced the way you are doing it – although it may be rough at times. There are ways to work it out!!

  30. The problems you were met with has to do with the government. Perhaps you heard the old Cuban joke: The three successes of the Cuban Revolution –medicine, education and sports– and the three failures of the Revolution: breakfast lunch and dinnner. In reality, the medicine success is a failure, too. There is also the common phrease: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”

    Aside from the sexual advances, which I’ve seen happen to women in all corners of the world, the Cuban people are desperate. Remember, the embargo on trade and travel, has been about as effective as using a net to hold water. Nations of the world trade with Cuba, except for the US. US goods find their way through to Cuba by a third party in many cases. So, where is the money? It stays at the top with the political and social elite. No Cuban has one job.

    I think in some ways you have to pardon the Cuban people. As a frequent visitor I’ve run into a few scams, but nothing like the Middle East. Cubans haven’t lived normally for over 50 years. People are watching them as they watch you. Did you see the “Committee for the Defense of the Revolution” (CDR) signs? The snitches are still there. Talk with any Yanqui long enough and you, as a Cuban citizen, could be questioned. I’ve known of some pulled in for that very reason.

    Cuba is not a free country, and people have to survive. As far as being approached sexually, I can’t comment. I’m old and ugly. But at least I didn’t have some guy offer to sell me his sister for a few hours, like I did in Mexico.

    Try Cuba again if it ever becomes really free, a democratic nation.

    Cuba libre is more than a drink.

  31. Thank you for this insightful comment, Richard. I am actually very keen to try Cuba again – I wonder what a bit more of traveling and haggling experience, and much improved Spanish communication skills would do. I think I’d have a better time the second time around. What’s funny is that my sister and I – we went together – keep saying that despite all that happened to us, want to go again. We will!

  32. I think the isolation of Cuba makes people want things they can’t get. But the basic needs they have.
    I like their way of being inventive in getting what they want.
    But it is indeed tyring have to tell people off all the time, but it’s no different then in Bali. There you have to tell people of also all the time. They see you as the walking bank, you are not. At least I am not.

  33. Oh no! I am sorry that you had that experience – I had the same one in Fiji. Altogether, it was a good learning experience though. I am now heading to Cuba this coming February, by myself as well! Eeek – hope I can avoid some of these troubles!

  34. I am sure you will be fine! Read my other posts maybe, so you know what to expect? Or just go with a VERY open mind 🙂

  35. Great post Claudia! Very insightful! Came across it on time … going to Cuba at the end of the month for a couple of weeks so I am definitely going to keep your advice in mind and try to stay out of trouble! Also, great blog in general, will be coming back to it with pleasure. Writing one myself, together with one of my best friends, Manuela. We sometimes also write travel posts. Looking forward to your next posts! Kind regards, Oana

  36. Oh, how I know what you’ve been through… 😉
    P.S.: today is my birthday, can you buy me a drink? ;D

  37. Thanks so much for sharing Claudia. So many people write such amazing articles about Cuba – a place I would love to visit – but I have only come across a couple of articles like yours. I suspect your experience is much more like other peoples, they just don’t want to say it.

    We were desperately hoping to visit Cuba before it changes to much, but unfortunately won’t make it there on this trip. Maybe that’s not such a dreadful thing. Perhaps in the future tourists will be seen as more than a way to make money.

  38. You see, there are A LOT of travelers (and even travel bloggers) that actually go on a tour of Cuba… a pre-packaged tour of Cuba. Where all experiences are pre-established. Where they are somehow magically and spontaneously invited to get inside the home of a local and have a cup of coffee. There is nothing spontaneous about that – and that comes from someone that has worked as a tour leader for a good while, though not in Cuba. Everything is paid and accounted for. And I am surprised that people don’t realize this. Traveling independently to Cuba is challenging, it can be frustrating and I HIGHLY recommend it as it really is an eye opener. Don’t worry too much about it changing and being invaded by tourists. It will take ages to change, and it already is invaded by tourists anyways 😉 Just go when you can and enjoy it! A LO CUBANO!

  39. Thank you for your honest post. Visiting Cuba just moved down on my list of places I want to visit.

  40. Oh no! Don’t let this deter you! You should by all means go see yourself and just go prepared 🙂

  41. Yes! Completely relate. Solo female traveller to Cuba in 2012. Got hustled on my first night by a guy and his “sister” who took me to a bar when I was smoking outside one of the big hotels. I naturally was overcharged for drinks but the guy was friendly but told me he liked me and would I be interested in seeing him. I loved the country but I did find not being able to sit on a bench for 5 minutes without being approached by some old Cuban rather tiresome by the end. “No” was my favourite word. Good blog post.

  42. Such a shame though, right? On other occasions, in other countries, I would have been glad for some spontaneous company. I was so exhausted by all the people trying to get money from me in Cuba that I became rude. No, “vate” and “dejame en paz” were my favorite expressions too. So bad. I felt like humanity and spontaneity were taken away from me.

  43. Hi Claudia. I’m going to Cuba later this month and will be staying for 3 weeks! I’m as excited as I am nervous since I’ll be travelling alone and I get that people are going to target me as a ‘rich westerner’. I’m prepared for that though, and like you I am fluent in Spanish, so that should help me feel more at ease. But what about security? I’ll be taking expensive gadgets with me as it is a long trip. Did you feel that your stuff was secure in casas particulares? Or did you never let it out of your sight!?

  44. I have never had a problem, actually – but I have met several other people who did. Always lock your important belongings in your suitcase, and hide your money. A good thing to do is actually counting the money you are leaving behind and, whenever you go back, recounting them. If anything happens, say you are going to call the police. Police in Cuba is very strict and that will make all your belongings magically reappear!

  45. Such a shame! I have great memories from 2001 in Cuba but then again it was my first time out of the country and I am Spanish. back then there were very few tourists and the country was pretty much closed off to anyone but Spanish who floaded in hoards. I guess tourism and foreign currency has changed this a lot, I would be very annoyed by what happened to you. I get frustrated when I am seen like na ATM with legs…such a shame

  46. Yup. Since then, I have been wanting to go back. Just to see what would happen if I go fully prepared 🙂

  47. Hi Claudia, I am off to Cuba shortly and so found your blog/website on the internet. I’d rather read this than the Lonely Planet, so far, so good.

    As for the inability or missed opportunity to bond with the locals, I think you nailed when you bring up their 1) isolation and 2) lack of wants (as they have what the UN decrees as the basic human rights in terms of food, shelter, education, health) … I spent 15 years in mainland China, where the culture is very much based on barbaric thinking = ‘us vs. them’, and there are some similarities to what you experienced and what most foreigners experience in China. However, not to the same degree. I am not sure why Cubans are that way, I have not met many Cubans, nor have I been there yet, but I generally think that there can be a certain ‘jealousy’ when wealthy tourists (or at least in the minds of the locals we are wealthy) show up and it is pretty clear that there is a massive economic gap between us and them … much of this thinking that all Westerners are rich is, well, thanks to the pop culture that has reached their shores, movies and TV and everyone has heard of the lifestyles of the rich and famous in Hollywood … when i lived in China, I was asked constantly about my Benz and Mansion back home in Canada (say what?), not to mention they always asked me my salary where ever I worked. Part cultural, but a lot is based on the fact that for many folks in the world, and especially in lovely places that we like to ‘backpack’ to, the locals don’t fair as well, they don’t usually have access to the education, the jobs and the income, nor the luxury of time to be able to just pick up and travel. For CHinese and what appears to be Cubans, too, getting a passport (not a government service passport or a dip passport) and visas to other countries is very difficult, unless you are going on an organized/government controlled ‘tour’. So, this kind of ‘gap year’ travelling for so many people is not a reality, and is sort of the epitome of luxury (despite we stay in huts on the beach, etc). “What? How will I support my family if I am backpacking overseas?” And, perhaps because of western culture (music videos, movies, tv shows), western women are seen as open and available when it comes to sex … it really shocked me when I was in NE China and many Chinese male taxi driver’s not only assumed I was Russian, but assumed that I was a Russian prostitute and asked if I was available and for how much. Many men travelling to China find themselves in interesting situations, much having to do with a Chinese woman wanting a visa / new citizenship to a Western country to have a better life. Men staying in hotels are often called in the middle of the night for ‘extra room services’, regardless of who he might work for or be travelling with. It is crazy, but for many, it is a way of life, hopefully to have a better life.

    I think I married locally in China in order to see if it would change, the assumptions of this and that just because of my citizenship. Many things changed, but a lot stayed the same or were somewhat amplified. My artist husband at the time was told he had it made, for his wife was a foreigner … what’s that supposed to mean? There was an assumption that he would succeed more because his wife was a foreigner. Bizarre thinking, but it exists.

    Is this a communist thing for Cubans and Chinese? I am not sure, perhaps for the lack of goods and absolute controls on their lives, relationships, and the media, but China has opened up and you can pretty much buy ANYTHING for a price there … I am not sure about Cuba, but I ‘ll let you know when I get back in mid January. There were scams in China, but there were also many locals who would help without a string attached, or could find some ‘goodness in their heart’ to help or whatever. The worst scammers I met in Asia were the gem dudes at temples in Thailand – beware!

    Thanks for sharing.

  48. Thank you for this insightful comment, Karen. A lot of what you describe as the current situation in China also goes on in Cuba – the main difference that I find is that for what I have seen and heard while I was there, Cubans (men and women) are actually more open about their sexuality than we are in Italy. I just find it sad that people – anywhere in the world – try to “make it” by exploiting others. I have been to many poor countries, way poorer than Cuba, but nowhere else I have experienced the stress and frustration that traveling there caused me. I wish to go back though, just to see if the second time around, being more prepared on what to expect, things are different! Have a good time there, hopefully you will find my other posts useful (also check out my In the Media page for links to guest posts, plenty of stuff I wrote for other blogs!).

  49. Did you consider that maybe they didn’t understand you, especially if you’re telling them “vate”?

    I have never been to a foreign country where people weren’t constantly staring, scamming, or begging. Congratulations on traveling.

  50. I would like to start off by saying thank you for sharing your experience. Although you make a point of it on your blog/twitter it’s always a personal thing to share your travels both negative and positive and regardless of what was felt the world is illuminated by the sharing of experience.
    ` I am a Cuban man (40 years of age) and first generation Cuban American. My parents left Cuba two years prior to Fidel Castro taking control of the island nation. I say this to lend some credibility to what I wish to share. I have not been to Cuba although plans are in the works for a visit in 2017. I have however met current residents and know a handful of folk who still live on the island and a few of which I stay in touch with. I also lived in Miami for the majority of my life and over the course of 30 some odd years have met pretty much every facet of Cuban that there is. Having said all of this I can tell you that you are correct in your initial viewpoint that your mood and state of mind will direct your personal experience and how you might perceive a culture when visiting.
    Cubans in Miami generally are classified into four groups.
    Those who arrived before Mariel.
    Mariel Folk and Beyond.
    1st Generation Cuban Americans (Americans born of Cuban immigrants).
    Beyond 1st Generation Cubans.
    Each group has very distinct set of beliefs and behaviors. They also carry stigmas and preconceived notions. I want it said that although the following are generalizations they do not define everyone grouped with them. The most commonly accepted are:
    Those who arrived before Mariel are fiercely Anti-Castro, beyond appreciative, incredibly giving, and the hardest of workers.
    Those who came with Mariel are hardened street Cubans, many of them criminals, hustlers, and indifferent to Castro having already lived under the regime for decades and having survived what was thrown at them.
    Those 1st Generation Cubans like myself are often described as the bridge culture between what being Cuban means and what being Cuban means in a country that was closer to what the elder Cuban culture grew up in. Cuba was a bustling and very advanced nation prior to Castro and the parents of my generation worked hard and sacrificed much to give us everything they had or didn’t have. Many of us keep the tradition of old Cuba alive as best as one in this country can although we can also be guilty of misunderstanding what that life may have been in that island nation prior to the 1960’s.
    Beyond 1st Generation Cubans I am sad to say are for the most part clueless to what their grandparents went through and much less what Communism meant, and even less what it meant for an island nation like Cuban to be ruled by a Dictator and have everything they ever were familiar with taken from them and forced to risk their lives for a better future for their kids. Most of this generation don’t even speak spanish and have embraced a different kind of Miami life than that for which many Cubans have come to love.
    Now I know what your thinking. What does this have to do with Cuba Cuba. The point I am trying to make here is that Cubans are very much transient and transpersonal in their environments. I have no doubt that there are endless number of scammers out there, (have you ever visited China?). Communist nations (and in the case of Cuba it would be just to call it a straight up dictatorship country vs Communist) are well known to breed poverty and an inequality that can sometimes push poor behavior and dishonesty to the forefront where tourists are concerned. I know this is rampant in Cuba. I also know that there are areas designated for travelers to go and deeper more personal and “real” areas of Cuban cities and countryside that seldom get visited by travelers much like yourself.
    I do hope you return to Cuba and by your own words it seems like you have reserved some judgement and I am pleased to see you have. I can say with some bias but I swear it is minimal, that the Cuban people are by far the most generous and warm culture I have ever come to experience. The history of that great island is long and complex. The suffering of it’s people as well as their strength to persevere under one of the worst dictatorships known to man (still much of the atrocities which took place in the first half of Castro’s regime have not been made public or exposed) only fortify in my mind that the Cuban people are not only unique in this kindness and humility but a culture that excels at fostering it.

  51. Thank you so much for this incredible comment, Jonah. One thing I know for sure is that I am definitely interested to get to know the Cuban culture and people better. The strange thing that I have noticed is that there is no in-between. Either people go and their experience is similar to mine (an every day struggle to avoid scams), or they encounter fantastic souls who are willing to help, share, embrace. When I went to Cuba I was not used to not getting things my way. I had a plan in my mind, and every day I crushed with the fact that in Cuba things simply don’t work as they do in other countries. It is the one place that showed me the beauty of spontaneous travel, to the point that now I am reluctant to plan anything at all.

    As a former human rights lawyer I am also really interested in knowing more of the dirty secrets of the dictatorship. One “strange” thing I noticed when I was there is that all the postcards where I did praise the country made it to my friends. The ones where I expressed cynical views about the revolution, never made it. I think I was being censored!

    Either way, Cuba taught me a lesson and I am willing to go back for more!

  52. So sad to read your post and the comments here…I am Cuban, I am 41 years old and living outside Cuba ( in Spain) for almost nine years. First, it´s not valid to mark Cuban people for the 99 bad experiences you had ( As CVV said) I am sorry and I apologize in the name of my country but it´s simply not fair. It is true that scams have increased a lot lately BUT there is a large percent who is not interested in ripping you off. Hard working, honest, simple, real people…It is a pity you didn´t encounter them. However, most of the ones related to tourism will try to get as much from you as possible. A rent house owner, a street jinetero( yes, thousands..), a bici taxi, a cashier, a hotel worker, a salsa teacher, taxi driver: they all have learnt an easy and horrible way to make profit.But that is not Cuba! Maybe I should mention that Cuba has lived an unprecedent past, Cuba has suffered in a way most people can´t even imagine and not only the material aspect of life( you would need to live there for more than three weeks to realize it..It´s a country whose people are crossing the sea on an inflatable raft to escape and many of them are surely trying to do so right in this moment! This tragedy and the families separation over the years deserve more posts on the web and news on the media but, oh..this ironic and hypocritical world!) But, I won´t justify it. I simple feel sad, angry about what some of my fellow countrymen have turned into. Again, sorry you had such a bad time and you could enjoy my piece of lost paradise, which I love so much. I hope it would get better in the future, so people don´t have the need ( or willingness) to harass tourist to make easy money. Where we all can sit in front of the beach together ( you and the neighbour of the salsa teacher and her family..) to enjoy one CUBA-LIBRE and just…chat about life.
    I like your blog and the way you write. Congratulations. I wil read more.

  53. I think this is the best comment that I have read here, because YES, in Cuba you should go a little deeper, into the roots of things to understand it. It is not like any other country in the area, it is unique ( politically, culturally, socially..)..and that is why so many feel attracted to it. It is true that the values I was raised as a Cuban are lost or decandent, the respect for others, honesty..But if you manage to stay away from the tourist spots, then you know the real Cuba. Go to the countryside…maybe you will be asked for clothes or candies, but perhaps they didn´t have breakfast ! Many people don´t think it is possible in Cuba in 2015 and I say Yes !! No doubt. Ok, it doesn´t justify scams but softens them. People are just desperate, and somehow they are not thinking-acting in a normal way, or not in the way it used to be years ago. It has been a gradual process based on a tragedy that has lasted too long. I visit my country every year and I also suffer it. They think I go loaded with money. BUT I know the truth about their empty lives, so I don´t judge them too hard. Claudia I hope you have a better experience next time.

  54. Yohan, thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate having an insider’s perspective, really. You are most definitely right – in my time in Cuba, I only managed to scratch the surface of it to be able to explain what I saw and experienced. A better understanding would definitely need a much deeper cultural immersion, which however isn’t possible as you surely know. Tourists are not even allowed to stay in the country for longer than 30 days on a row. Another thing that I found disheartening was the fact that it was impossible to get out of the tourist circuit. I really wouldn’t know who to blame for that – I think the easiest would be to blame “the system”. No matter how much I tried to go to a certain specific place, everything plotted against me and eventually I never made it there. If I decided to go to a specific village, I would first had to go all over town to find whether there was a public transport to go there (and trying to extort certain information at a ticket office isn’t the easiest thing). Eventually, when it was established that no bus or train would go (or at least, not one I could take), someone would offer to take me by taxi and shoot the highest price ever so of course I would give up. On other occasions, I even said yes to the price (after extenuating haggling) and eventually… the driver decided that nope, he wouldn’t take me there for all the most “reasonable” excuses and took me where he wanted to take me (aka a tourist spot where I would have to spend money and he’d get yet one more commission).

    This is to say – it isn’t easy to get to know a country and a people that have suffered so much for their isolation, and boundaries have been set so clearly that even if one wants to cross them, it is very difficult to do so. The ridiculous separation between tourists and Cubans who have no access to certain places? SO UNFAIR. I made it a point NOT to go to any of those places.

    Cheers to a day in which we can sit on a beach and enjoy a mojito (sorry, I don’t like Cuba Libre) and celebrate for a CUBA LIBRE! A LO CUBANO!

  55. That’s the thing, Yohan… it is so hard to stay away from the tourist spots in Cuba. SO HARD. I need to go again, to see if the second time around I manage!

  56. Pingback: Accommodation in Cuba: What You Need to Know | CJ
  57. Dear Claudia:

    First my congratulations for your writing, as a Cuban it was heartbreaking for me to read your words, but I know that deny the reality is living in denial so thank you for bring me back memories from Cuba even if they are not the best ones. I am a 43 years old Cuban living in Finland. I came to Finland to work and to study, five years ago. I came because as many other Cubans I worked very hard, I studied very hard and I wanted my son to have the future I could not have in Cuba. I have not been in Cuba in five years, it is heartbreaking but it is also a lesson of humility and sacrifice. I was apart from my son for three years because he could not come with me, I am still apart from my lovely family and I do not know when I will see them again. (My case is the case of many Cubans)
    I still close my eyes when I am in the forest and I imagine the sound of the wind in the trees is in fact the sound of the waves of the sea in Cuba. Finland opened its arms to me, I love this country nevertheless there is something missing and not matter where I will be in the future, I know that emptiness will remain in my heart.
    However, I chose to give my smile and my kisses to all those Finnish friends who really need it but cannot ask for it. I chose to make every day count for me and for everyone who get close. I chose to be grateful because many Cubans will never have the opportunity I have now to build an independent life. I chose to fight in order to provide for my son and do my best to raise him as a good man.
    Now, I propose you to imagine people who broke up with the love of their lives and there is not possible reconciliation. Imagine those people being abandoned by the person they love and trust the most. Imagine how that person broke their spirit. What happen then?. I think it depends on the people but usually we try to gain that person back and after working hard for years without any results, we decide the only option is to escape from that person (Cuban government) who destroyed every hope we had. Like in a broken love, you low your self-esteem and become desperate to find a way out of the pain for example with a rebound relationship that can fill the emptiness. Then, foreigners come and offer themselves as the rebound relationships, Cubans take the opportunity, and the foreigners take the opportunity. Cubans learn to see foreigners as an opportunity to survive and many foreigners see Cubans as an opportunity to explore the exotic world. Cuban + foreigners think they gain something, unfortunately I think most of the time the only gain is emptiness. I do not pretend to justify, I just want to show you why many Cubans are so desperate to sell their souls to tourists.
    Many other Cubans chose other ways to escape if they have the opportunity. I was lucky to be among those others, but many have not been so lucky.
    I would also like to apologize in the name of all those persons who made your time in Cuba unpleasant. I believe that unfortunately when you visit Cuba as a tourist you face many limitations; it is not possible to have the big picture of Cubans.
    I feel sad because my lovely country is bleeding, because my people is desperate, I feel sorry for myself whose generation did nothing to change the reality.
    I feel sorry you did not get to know so many hard working people, struggling everyday with their lives without forgetting to give you their big smile and to dance with you because they know how hard life is so they cannot afford to waste one second. I deeply apologize for your bad moments in Cuba. Finally, I hope one day you revisit Cuba and find the other face. I hope you forgive the bad moments, I hope you never forget the deep wounds a bad government can cause in people spirit. At least now, you have seen a different side of Cuba, the one that it is not salsa, rum and tobacco, mulata and mulato; you have seen the desperate face of a broken country. At least now you are ready to go deeper, reveal the origin and understand the sadness beneath the Cuban smile.
    I hope your future experience in Cuba can take you heart closer to many people who are suffering and do not find the way out.
    I would only like to kindly request something from you: If you ever revisit Cuba please go to the beach look to the sea and tell Yemaya that there is a Cuban somewhere who is grateful for her blessings, and miss the Caribbean Sea every day of her life.
    My kind regards and the best wishes for your personal and professional life
    Zuzet

  58. I was in Cuba for 8 days in early January and I did not have any harsh experiences with the country, government or people. There was, of course, a musician dude who was trying to solicit my friend and I but that could happen anywhere, and was definitely an exception to our stay. I can not speak Spanish, so had a harder time engaging Cubans, unless they could speak English, but my friend speaks Spanish very well. She didn’t have any crazy experiences, either, and in fact was very welcomed where she and her husband went before I met up with them in early January. I will go back!

  59. Thanks for the article. I’m thinking of traveling to Cuba soon and your words have helped me form a better picture of what it might be like. I’ve had similar experiences in the Dominican Republic. Have you been there? Can you compare the two places in terms of scams and unfriendly people? Just trying to get a sense of what I might be getting myself into. 🙂

  60. I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for your lovely comment, for opening your heart to me, the way I was hoping to see in Cuba. Yes, I will go back to Cuba. I only scratched its surface when I was there, and I am ready to go for more, and take a whole different approach next time!

  61. I haven’t been to the Dominican Republic, actually. But I am ready to go back to Cuba, for sure!!

  62. Claudia,
    Thank you for this article. I just came back from a long time dream of visiting Cuba and did everything possible to make it a reality. I saved for a year!

    Your article has helped me not feel so alone in my dissapointment in the Cuban people as hospitable humans. I too have traveled extensively and I’ve never encountered so many people trying to so shamelessly take you for ALL you have, even literally the clothes on your back. They are sharks and they don’t think of others besides themselves.

    I am from central America and I would state my country (which is really poor) and I thought this would open some kind of cultural exchange or hospitality. ..zilch! They scammed me over and over again. I came back puzzled and without money and went on Google to make sure it wasn’t just me…I’m glad I found you. I too will write about my true experience to warn others of the people.

    I encountered thousands of people and only 3 did not scam us (one being a juice establishment which the lady charged us the correct amount and she gave us the correct change). I’ve never been to Morroco so unfortunately this would be the worst experience and it all has to do with the people.

    For everyone else – the country was absolutely breathtaking and the cleanest I’ve ever experienced. It’s just exhausting to meet so many people with such little moral compass.

  63. Your comment express everything I felt when I visited Cuba. Breathtaking country, truly beautiful, but close to a nightmare to travel there, especially as a woman. I am sorry you have had some bad experiences. I even have a post on scams, to warn people about what to expect and how to react to these scams! But hey, there is always a lesson to learn, even from bad experiences. And I am glad you enjoyed the country regardless!!

  64. Compared to Cuba, people in DR are very friendly and are hospitable. As a tourist you always know you are getting ‘taken’ by just a little and it’s usually reasonable amounts (extra pesos here, extra pesos there) but in cuba if they can take all your money (the first person you meet) they will do it!
    Ex: they can charge me 10cuc for a cab ride 10km but will charge you 45 for the same distance even if we are riding in the same cab (colectivo) everyone always has a friend and you are better off going to touristy places where they charge reasonable prices and not someone’s else’s friends house that triple it.

    The problem with cubans is that they are thieves disguised as your best friend. Except it seems to be everyone so you never catch a break.

  65. It is sad. I think poverty has hardened them so much. But then, why hasn’t it hardened Nicaraguans?

  66. Hello, Laura. I am 20-years-old Cuban living in Cuba, and although watching this story is very sad for me as a Cuban, I can’t hide the Sun with my fingers. I’m agree that this attitude is not a by-product of poberty or necessity, but in my opinion, it is what some people call “cult to vividness”, a cultural scourge in our idiosincracy, fueled by the isolation, that make people wrongly think that it’s good to be vivid and tricky, and if others fall in your tricks, it is their fault, not yours.
    I live in the countryside and here the people are nicer than in Havana. For what I’ve heard from those who live in the capital, the people there are somehow malicious. The good thing is that, hopefully, I can see this way of thinking is decreasing along with the isolation, and the new realities of Cuba, like the contact with a lot turists and Internet connections (as the one I am using) are going to change our culture for good.

  67. Hello Bill – my name is actually Claudia 😉

    Yes, I think people are nicer in smaller places in Cuba, but that is the same in all countries don’t you think? It’s just a result of people being able to see each other more often, meeting in the streets more easily. I am glad to know Cuba is changing in this sense!!

  68. I don’t completely understand why because there are many poor countries in the Americas but they are not like what you are describing in Cuba. I’m originally from Nicaragua, and we are poor poor…we don’t get the free healthcare and education like in Cuba. Many people in Nicaragua are literally starving, but they have not dedicated their time to developing a culture of scamming foreigners. It can happen anywhere, sure, but taking advantage of non-Cubans seems to be part of the Cuban culture. Initially, I was intrigued reading about Cuban culture and wanted to visit. I decided to seek Cuban friends here in the US. I met some Cuban immigrants, even tried dating one, and it was very similar to your experience in Cuba. He always asked for money. I thought, “what kind of machismo is this?” and not just twenty bucks, hundreds of dollars! I did not have the amount of money he needed, and instead of him accepting that, he became extremely angry. It was scary! I started to realize, this man is actually a very spoiled boy, who is used to women doing everything for him and used to non-Cubans giving him financial assistance. I was compassionate and helped as much as I could, but I am a poor immigrant too. When I couldn’t give him money for a car, he said I never did anything for him, which was not true… he just didn’t appreciate the help I had given. Entitled. Malagradecido! It was a terrible experience because he lied about his intentions. He told me he wanted to be with me, but he’s actions contradicted that. His MO was completely foreign to me, I had never seen anything like this. He called mainly when he needed something, and was not ashamed to ask. Most men would be ashamed to ask an attractive new female for so much money, if they were truly interested in her. So, I did some investigating on social media. I saw his profile and how he was interacting with females, younger ones, in Cuba. I confronted him and told him he is not acting like someone who cares about me and wants to build a real relationship because he was still pursuing women in Cuba. No matter how hard I tried to get him to see the humanity in me, it felt like he saw me as a machine. It felt like I just wasn’t invited to be a part of this awesome culture that he liked to brag about but never showed me. I saw some very ugly character traits and some disturbing cultural ones as well. This man came to the USA on a mission, and the first step is to find a woman who can offer financial support. When I found out he was still communicating with the mother of his sons in Cuba, I asked him about it and his response was not satisfactory. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t believe him at all, so now I can only assume that from me he only wanted help to establish himself, get permanent status, and then apply for his woman and kids in Cuba to come. What a disappointment. I would say don’t even waste energy going back. I’m sure most Cubans are good people, but it’s not cool to travel, be out of your element, feel uncomfortable, and have to look over your shoulder. There are other beautiful, cultural places where you can feel relaxed.

  69. Thank you for your lovely comment Ana. I am very sorry to read about your bad experience but I must say this is not the first time I hear of such a story. Sure, it isn’t nice to travel to places where you constantly have to watch your back and can’t really trust anybody. It is all the more interesting that you compare Cuba to the situation in Nicaragua. I have been to Nicaragua 3 times, I saw the real poverty – the one that breaks your heart – and yet, people are so kind, so nice and so helpful. I fell completely in love with it and I know I will go back. It is one of those places I will never get enough of. And to date, if people ask me what my favorite country among those I have visited is, I will say it is Nicaragua.

    Stay strong, and keep away from bad men!!

  70. Dear Claudia,
    Thank you for your honest blog post. My boyfriend and I are Australian and we left Cuba this afternoon after a week in Havana and Trinidad – me crying with relief to be leaving and exhaustion from the strain. As soon as I had internet again I started searching around to try and understand the experiences we have had. Like you, we have both travelled extensively and always pursued the “local” experience as much as possible. Accordingly, in Cuba we decided not to go with tours or hotels, but stay in casas and eat in local restaurants where we could. However, our first experience of Cuba was having a phone stolen from our luggage at the airport (yes – our fault for not securing it!) That wasn’t particularly noteworthy as we had been fairly lax in our security – what really scared me was having the “Lost and Found” staff immediately weigh our bags on a scale (that we later deduced had been tampered with), declare that the bags were actually HEAVIER than when we left (by comparison to the scales at the Grand Cayman check-in counter) and therefore nothing could possibly have been taken. This was mostly communicated through facial expressions, signs and, after merely a couple of minutes, the turned backs and shrugs of the counter staff. Since then, we had our casa owner steal our taxi money to the airport from our bedroom (under the guise of going into our room quickly to “check our hot water”) as well as countless “leakages” (as we called them) for hidden “foreigner tax” of all kinds. Our experiences of Cuba were absolutely dumbfounding. We are used to “short-con” street scams and being fairly relentlessly hassled for money or for custom. The corruption and shameless “long con” scams were fairly new and noteworthy – but nothing that we ultimately couldn’t take in our stride. What was truly horrible was the undisguised contempt from most of the people we interacted with and the sense that under no circumstances would we have help from anyone (unless we were lucky). We felt quite helpless. Like you, we initially tried to justify our experiences on the basis of inequality or desperation. But our experiences went beyond that and appeared to be systemic; I have never experienced anything like it and am simply unable to put it down to “bad luck” or “culture clash”. What made me particularly sad is the affection which we saw many Cubans showing each other on the street – which was in such stark contrast to our own treatment. Having toured some of the museums and seen some of the political propaganda, we are left speculating whether the Cubans are somehow taught this attitude by the regime. In any case, our speculation may not be correct or helpful. The only thing that I know for sure is that I will unfortunately be unable to recommend Cuba to my friends at the moment and can only hope that easing of restrictions will bring new outlooks and attitudes to the Cuban people.

  71. Hi Melanie,

    I am sorry for your bad experience. All I can say is that I completely understand. I remember sitting on my bed in Trinidad after yet another argument with a local (this time it was an agent at the local Cuba Tours office), crying to my sister who was traveling with me and saying that I couldn’t wait to leave the country. I managed to enjoy Cuba anyways, but I always had to watch my back in order to avoid scams, and I promise you I have never argued so much during a trip! It took me a good two years to get over that experience and manage to write a bit more positively about Cuba. Did you know that I started this blog in order to vent about that trip and in a very ambitious attempt to inform everybody about the real Cuba? I was so annoyed by the sugar coated versions of it that I had read online, that I made it my mission to say things as they really are.

    Had you written me before actually going, I would have trained you on the scams and on how to make the most of it. If you go prepared and knowing what to expect, it is more manageable.

    I don’t think the government has anything to do with the Cuban attitude towards foreigners. It all boils down to people trying to make a buck or two extra under the table. I had to argue fiercely with cashier at Duty Free at the airport (of all places!!) to have a receipt for the bottle of rum I had purchased – which I needed so that I could show I had bought it after passing security, just in case. She didn’t want to give me a receipt. Why? Because then she could put whatever amount she wanted in the register and keep the rest to herself.

    Other things I could have told you, in preparation: never leave any belongings unattended. Always lock your stuff in the suitcase, and count whatever you are leaving, including the t-shirts (yup, they steal that stuff too! – my friend saw the owner of her casa walking around with HER t-shirt on!!) and even more so money. I counted the money I was leaving in my suitcase (locked), made a note of it, and recounted as soon as I was back. Nothing ever went missing (I was lucky in this sense, at least) but I was ready to say I’d call the police in case it did (and I know that things would magically reappear at the word “police” as for whatever reasons Cubans are really afraid of that).

    One day you will be able to laugh at this, I promise you!

  72. Wow, Claudia. I read all of this (including every single comment) and it felt like I could have written it myself, our experiences were so similar. Like you, I’m tired of reading the sugar-coating of Cuba, because I met plenty of other travelers there who felt the same way I did. Where are they? Why aren’t other boggers writing about the real experiences they had?
    I was already somewhat tired when I arrived in Cuba, and I think this didn’t help me deal with the circumstances, but by the time I left 5 weeks later I was thoroughly exhausted by everything. It was not a relaxing trip, and the first time I’ve ever actually been glad to be leaving a country. I think the people who ‘adore’ Cuba are generally the ones on organized tours or staying in All-Inclusives, so they aren’t exposed to just anyone on the street who might wish to take advantage of them.
    I also don’t think poverty is an excuse, because I’ve also been to plenty of other very poor countries and not been treated like I was in Cuba. But it’s a different kind of poverty – because they have enough food, health care, and education (although I’m not actually sure that they do – how many people told me that the food rations didn’t actually cover their needs?) but there are serious problems when a doctor can make more money scamming tourists than working in a hospital. And poverty doesn’t account for your tour guide telling your friend he was going to have sex with you. I can’t even believe that – when he knew you could understand! I think this is a product of their probably somewhat limited (by TV and movies) view of foreigners, as well as assuming that the rest of the world is as sexually liberated as they are.
    I also had trouble avoiding the tourist areas, but when I did I actually met some wonderful people, so I know they’re around. I think if I could pack lighter, so I could easily take the public transportation (which we aren’t technically allowed to) I might be able to visit smaller villages more easily, and perhaps meet more of those lovely Cubans.
    I’m worried for Cuba, because this attitude of taking advantage of tourists doesn’t make for a sustainable tourism industry in the long term. Although it is already getting a huge influx of tourists and will get more with Americans being able to go, sooner or later the hype will die down, articles like yours and mine will get spread around and there will be more of them, and word will get out that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Understandably, right now Cubans are looking after their short-term needs by getting money any way they can, but how will this develop into an environment tourists want to step into for years to come?
    I’d like to go back too, one day, because Cuba is a beautiful country and I know those good people are out there. It’s too soon now and I really haven’t gotten over it yet, but with time and some mental preparation I think I would like to try again. But until then I know there are lots of other countries that are just as beautiful with amazing people too! (Sounds like I need to go to Nicaragua!)
    Oh, and I don’t remember even once having anyone tell me it was their birthday!

  73. Give yourself time. I took me a good two years to get over the anger I felt whenever I heard people talking about Cuba. And all those people on organized tours that see the real Cuba… everything is so staged, including the improvised visits at bars etc. Having worked as a tour leader, I know this as a fact!

    Aaaand the hype to see Cuba before it changes: suuure, go there, be scammed 😉

  74. Oh…I planned to go Cuba this late August… I am little bit scared now to go. It will be my friend and me going there for the first time and we will be going Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Varadero. Any tips/wisdom that you could give me? Also, should we reserve the Casa before we leave Canada? Thank you in the advance!

  75. Also, we do not speak Spanish :(….do you think we will have hard time, because we don’t speak Spanish?

  76. Hello Irene, you will be 100% FINE! I am sure you will have a blast if you know what to expect. Head over to my Cuba destination guide. It has a lot of tips on how to make the most of it, and also indicates all the casas where I have stayed. Feel free to email me again for more tips!

  77. I feel so similarly to you!!! I always approach people and places with an open mind and heart and I have met some amazing people this way, the best people I have met are those who do not have a lot; they have been so genuine and would give you the shirt off their backs asking nothing in return. With Cuba , I do not feel the same way, from men professing undying love after 2 minutes of conversation, the overpowering aggression, the assisted deception from other women and locals. I find the whole thing rude ,annoying and so strange. The country is beautiful though and I will visit again once I have suffered enough amnesia regarding my first visit.

  78. Having visited Cuba for 3 months at a time for the last 4 years my realistic, mistaken as cynical, side agrees , my yearly amnesia is overtaken by my desire for a warm climate (I’m Canadian)
    The Spanish Culture has a lot to answer, from the Inquisition and brutal and empirical suppression of the Caribbean, Meso and South American cultures.to the present day.
    So, a large pair of skepticals is needed when reading Granma.

  79. Too bad your trip to Cuba wasn’t the way you expected. I am planning on visiting Cuba for the first time next month with my girlfriend and I had been doing some research for that is the way I love to travel. We are also both fluent in Spanish. She is better than me since she is from Madrid and with her blond hair and blue eyes she could be from most countries in in Europe.

    My girlfriend had been to Cuba, also alone, and the way she described it is totally different from your experiences. Sure the scams are there but she knew when to avoid them and who to talk to and when to walk away. She is not shy or worry if anybody will be offended it she has to say “no” or “adios” since nobody is going to attack her for doing that. She also felt that Cuba is the safest place in the planet and didn’t need anybody holding her hands. So why did you have to have someone “protecting” you at all?

    I love traveling across America and the best and safest places I had been are: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic. The least safe American nation, and where I lived two years attending school, is the USA, also Brazil, Venezuela, Honduras and Guatemala.

    Then here in Europe, like in many 3rd world nations, you will find scams in many countries. In Italia, and my girlfriend is fluent in Italian, I always need to be on guard 7/24 since each time I visited there someone tried to steal something from me or my girlfriend. A pity that, my last trip there 2 years ago, in more than one restaurant food items that we never ordered and were never placed on our table were added to the final bill. Then when we complained the restaurant’s owners were not even apologetic at all. Same with the taxi driver who wanted to charge a lot more than the normal ride fare.

    We also noticed many Italians who were not happy at all and would be complaining. Probably has to do with the bad economic there and corrupted government. Then in Spain things were much better all the way around and people were happier and friendlier and always willing to help.

    Lastly, I don’t really understand these few lines: “I told her I’d eat there the day after and suggested that the family, as well as the salsa teacher, should eat with me. I suppose I took them by surprise. But I think they were not surprised when the day after I did not show up as there was no way I would accept an invitation to then have to pay for everyone’s meal”

    So you are saying that you invited the family and the salsa teacher to eat all together at this lady’s home, but the day of the dinner you didn’t show up at all. So why would you do that? We all know that most people in Cuba don’t have much, so imagine if they went to the trouble of having the best meal ready for everybody yet you didn’t show up at all? It would had been better saying, “thank you but I would eat somewhere else.”

    Also you are from Italia yet you wrote this: “I like to think the way I felt when I travelled to Cuba has a lot to do with my personality. I consider myself to be a “social introvert” – I like socializing, but I need a lot of alone time. I like observing, but from a distance. I don’t always want to be surrounded by people and I don’t necessarily want to talk all the time. In my experience, Cubans are the opposite of that: they very open, they like meeting people; they like to talk and they don’t have as much a need for privacy as I may have. Cuban homes are a mirror of Cuban culture and personalities: they are always open and people go in and out, often unannounced. I need people to ring my bell and ask permission before I can open up.”

    So if you’re that way and prefer to be alone, why travel to a super open culture like Cuba where everybody wants to talk to tourists? That is exactly how Italians are, so I am a bit lost by your comments. Maybe the problem, as you wrote it, was you been a “social introvert” and approached it the wrong way.

    As a final note, while doing research for my upcoming trip to Cuba I found a blog from another woman who traveled there recently and also have another experience.

    Very glad I found your blog and I hope my first trip to Cuba is a lot different than what you experienced. I will keep you inform and hope than when you return it will be much better for you 🙂

    Admin note: I removed the link as my comment policy doesn’t allow to insert links to other websites. Thanks for respecting this rule.

  80. Gregor,
    I love how egotistic you are and that will surely help you in Cuba!

    I am a Spanish speaking extroverted Latina whom has traveled the world including dangerous Honduras and El Salvador and I gotta tell you…I share in Claudia’s sentiment.

    Cubans were by far the most manipulative people I’ve ever encounter. The reason for this statement is because they disguise themselves as friends, knowing very well they will try to con you in some way or the other. I’ve also traveled through Italy and I had a normal experience. If you encountered an angry Italian than you knew to stay away because something was making them mad. They weren’t friendly sharks like the Cubans.

    I traveled there with my boyfriend this year and we could not wait to get out.

    I really hope you have a better experience given that your girlfriend is a pro Cuba traveler but understand that bad experiences are more common in Cuba than not.

  81. Thanks for your comment Gregor. For sure, speaking Spanish fluently helps a lot when traveling to Cuba. I have also been to the rest of Central and South America (only countries I haven’t been to are Venezuela and Paraguay, and the smaller Guayanas and Suriname). What I have experienced in Cuba hasn’t really happened to me anywhere else in the world but I must say since traveling there I have learned a lot. It was a good training.

    As for Italy: actually, thanks for raising this up. It gives an idea of how different countries are perceived by foreigners and that scams can really happen anywhere! I am from Sardinia and I know that some places in Italy aren’t exactly friendly towards tourists and scams do happen. Having said so, I think I will soon go back to Cuba and see if having been trained and now speaking fluent Spanish would help. It is a gorgeous country and I am keen to go back!

  82. Hi Claudia,
    I have just returned from a holiday in Havana and I wish that I had read your blog before making the trip. Some forewarning of the culture would have allowed me to relax more and enjoy the city better. Instead, I learned pretty quickly after me and my family were lured into an ‘intimidating’ bar by a ‘very friendly’ cuban due to visit the UK soon!!! After paying for a round of overpriced drinks and buying a few knock off cigars we made our escape. Lighter some CUC’s but now aware that we were nothing other than ‘walking wallets’ to the locals.
    I, like yourself think it is important to get to know the people of a place in order to fully get to know the place. I am sure that there are decent Cubans who are being treated rudely by tourists as a result of the actions of these types.
    My advice to anybody about to visit would be to go without any hesitation whatsoever, but, do not go in any building on the advice of someone you have just met and realise that the local people are only being friendly in order to extract money from you.
    Havana is a beautiful city and I hope that the Cuban people’s fortunes improve in the near future as this will be the only true way of addressing this problem.

  83. Hi Mark! You are not the first one who comments on this post by saying “I wish I had read it BEFORE going”!! What can I say? Well, I am sure we can both go back and have a great time the second time around. I surely know I want to, and this time I will be much more prepared 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it regardless!

  84. Yes! I visited in Cuba in March and was so excited but honestly it was the most disappointing travel experience of my life. I didn’t feel like I got scammed so much, as soon as people started to make their sale I would just brush them off, but I definitely found it impossible to shake that ‘walking dollar sign’ feel. Most upsetting was the Casa hosts who would become particularly rude because I didn’t want to eat dinner there every single night. Made me feel more unwelcome than anywhere else I have travelled, like I wasn’t worth an ounce of human decency if I wasn’t offloading all my cash. And like you, almost everyone I met there was not enjoying it. BUT everything you read online preaches Cuba to be the greatest place on Earth haha. Thanks for a refreshingly honest post!

  85. It’s about time the people who write actually say how things really go. Some countries still deserve to be visited, despite some negatives. Cuba is one of them, for me. But I don’t want to describe it as a paradise, which it isn’t!

  86. Como sabes español prefiero escribir mi opinión en español, si no te importa.
    Llevo buscando una opinión como la tuya desde que volví de mi viaje en Octubre de este año, 2016.
    Y digo esto porque la sensación, respecto a la gente cubana, que me llevo para España es frustante.
    Es curioso como en webs como Trip Advisor hablan de hoteles, playas, localizaciones,…pero no hablan de sus habitantes. Ojalá hubiese encontrado un blog como el tuyo antes de ir a Cuba porque probablemente no hubiese ido. Puede que en un futuro, ahora no. Y no lo digo por la pobreza sino por la gente. Me siento totalmente identificado contigo. No es cuestión de añadir más historias de timos (conté 14 intentos de timo en 14 días, de gran variedad) pero, Cuba no es un país para todos los viajeros, al menos el viajero que quiera conocer toda la isla y no sólo los resorts, acostumbrado a mezclarse con la gente.
    Enhorabuena por tu opinión franca y sincera, no existen muchas cómo estas en la web. A veces la verdad duele, pero sigue siendo verdad.

  87. Que pena. Yo de verdad regresaria a Cuba. Ahora que se como es la gente allà, ahora que hablo y entiendo espanol perfectamente (lo siento que no lo escribo bien, pero no tengo teclado espanol), yo iria a ver si me queda mejor. I think Cuba deserves a second chance!

  88. Oana,
    Please go to cuba with an open mind and heart. I am from the United States and just got back from ten days in Santa clara, havana, Trinidad and vinales. Cubans are sweet and warm and helpful. You have to remember the poverty they endure. If you are humble and polite and thoughtful they will treat you likewise. If you come off like an entitled , spoiled tourist your experience will be less wonderful. Yes taxi drivers will ask to drive you and men are fascinated by foreign and local women. I think people sometimes mistake friendliness for the attempt to start a scam. I had an amazing time , I lovedon’t the country aND it’s people. Go a mm d have a blast!

  89. I have just returned from Cuba this week and really wish that I had read your blog before we left. We are not shy or newbie travellers and have travelled extensively throughout the world. However, Cuba, or rather I should say Cubans killed any hope that I will return in the near future.
    We actually cut our trip short by 2 weeks and blew a $5000.00 sailing trip and an additional $3000.00 in airfares to get home.
    The first Casa owner we stayed with took great delight from trying to perve on my wife getting dressed by looking through the shutters and when she saw him he slammed the shutters and ran away. God knows what he was doing.
    Or the guys in Trinidad who picked up a stray dog and shoved it into a plastic bag to kill it in the middle of the day.
    Or the lady at La Habana airport who tried short changing by 10 CUC for 2 coffees and then proceeded to argue with me about it or the the lady at the cambio in the same airport who tried short changing us 20 Euro after converting our remain CUC back, then argued with us that we were lying.
    In all I found Cuba a very bland place to visit, no doubt the scams and the way we were treated tainted our experiences.
    Would I recommend Cuba to others???? Yes, but with caution, because I believe need to find their own experiences.
    Would I have gone to Cuba, even if I had read your blog first? yes of course, but just maybe with a bit awareness of what I was getting into to.

    This experience will not deter me from travelling in the future, but it did make me very tired from trying to guard myself all the time.

  90. What you describe is exactly the kind of experience I had there. It did not deter me from traveling (here I am, now, with my own travel blog), but it did put me off. I actually opened this blog after my trip to Cuba, out of frustration for having read how wonderful the people were to then go and actually have a completely different experience. You will see that most people will continue to only share the positives about a place, and never the negatives. I think it is our duty to also mention the bad experiences – to warn others, and also to push for change. I would love to go back to Cuba and I think that, being ready for it, I would have a much better experience the second time around. I am sorry you didn’t come across this post earlier, perhaps you would have prepared for it in a different way! All I can say is that to me it was good training: I went to India last October, everybody telling me to prepare for the scams, the touts etc. It was a piece of cake compared to what I experienced in Cuba!!
    And what you say about being tired of having to guard yourself: I hear ya! I remember one afternoon in Trinidad, when I cried myself to sleep, my sister (who was traveling with me) trying to cheer me up (although she felt the same as I did). We were exhausted from trying to avoid the touts, the scams, fighting to get proper change etc.

  91. You may also want to read the other comments on this post: have you noticed how many there are? All of people who have had the same experience as we had… So, it was not you: it was THEM!!

  92. Hola Claudia!!! Mucho agradecimiento por tu blog! I am originally from El Salvador & live in Canada . I have travelled to Cuba on several occasions now as I find it harder to go home because of security but love to travel to learn. Recently I visited an area of Cuba so lovely it makes me yearn for everything I miss back home…but I also returned extremely frustrated by feelings I imagine are similar to what your experiences evoked in you. Speaking Spanish I felt helped to connect more with locals, which was what I wanted most (ie. they were willing to open up more about the positives & negatives of their lives..especially in light of Fidel’s life & death; some said although tourists are not allowed of course I could take the local workers’ buses to see nearby towns, etc.)…I appreciated the kindness & warmth, but overall the majority of experiences left me with a sense of “was anyone really sincere?” that hurts more than anything. I agree with Ana’s comments, as well as your own, about..having lived in or visited other countries with extreme poverty in my life, living it in El Salvador & other Latin American countries at points in my life, it is harder to accept this behaviour as being born only out of poverty, & it certainly leaves a bad taste..moreso because one wishes to believe in people & it gets so hard to trust anyone that even the slightest acts of kindness or beauty are questioned. Like you said, you return exhausted when it should be the opposite. I much appreciate not only your blog, but everyone’s comments on here for opening my eyes & heart. Gracias!

  93. Hi Kay, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, and for taking the time to read not only my post, but the rest of the comments. You are right: it is a sad occurrence that people living Cuba would have to leave with a sour taste in their mouth. I have been yearning to go back, to at least see if the second time around I can have a better experience.

  94. Think its bad in Cuban, wait till you get to Miami!!
    Cubans are known all over the Caribbean for this behavior and have always been. They have been called nick names for this.
    Yes, there are warm and kind people but they are also very practical minded. Life on the island is hard and many are eager to get out of that. but then life in Miami is hard also. Just look at the real estate scams that go on in Miami for a sample of the bad tourist experiences that visitors complain about.

  95. I have never heard of such scams (real estate scams) but perhaps you may want to describe them for other readers, just in case? That would be really helpful!

  96. thanks for your great blog post. I was actually married to a Cuban woman for 16 years but I had my troubles dealing with Cuba. On my first visit in 1999 I had very similar experiences to yours. Having travelled to many countries, also poor countries in Central and South America I was quite shocked about Cuba with its scams. If somebody is in a difficult situation I can even understand that they might rip you off or steal. I would probably do it too, but I would still feel bad about it. But in Cuba people do not seem to think there is anything wrong with it, even when you point it out to them. There seem to be low moral standards. I think poverty is not the sole reason for this problem, but rather the combination of a very good (theoretical) education, economical problems, bad future propects and little hope for change no matter what you do. This leads to great frustration and loss of moral. I also think that more experienced travellers/backpackers will enjoy Cuba less since the usual approach and open mind does not work. So why do we want to go back? Maybe to prove to Cubans that they should treat us nicely because we are so lovable 🙂

  97. You know, you are right. I will go back to prove them that I am lovable. Even my ex boyfriend says I am adorable. He tries to hate me, but he can’t because I am adorable! Hahahah thank you for your insights Stephen!

  98. Hi Claudia,
    Just came across this blog and thread after researching trips to Cuba. I am thinking to go in February for a couple of weeks, alone, as a single woman. I have always wanted to visit Cuba and was just about convinced, until reading this. It’s the first negative I’ve encountered (but seemingly very “real” and honest and I appreciate that). I do speak Spanish, and have traveled before, but I must admit, after reading this post, I am now a bit apprehensive. I can picture myself having the same experience, as I am usually more of a “trusting” person. Not sure I should go now, curious as to your opinion…..

  99. Hi Laurie, you should totally go! I encourage you to do some readings about scams in Cuba (there’s some of my posts around the web with those keywords) and just go. Expect the best, and be prepared for the worst. You will have a blast!

  100. Hi Laurie,

    I would also not hesitate to return to Cuba, but with a more ‘guarded’ approach to the local people. It is the ‘lonely planet / BBC’ type of advice that leaves you with a feeling that you are walking into a bygone era of friendliness and hospitality that can leave you unprepared for the reality of the economic situation.
    If in doubt say “No” and walk away.
    Happy Travels

  101. Thank you for that Mark – yes, sometimes these publications like to perpetuate a romantic view of a place, that is far away from reality!

  102. Thanks so much! That’s what I thought. Just needed some reassurance. About to book my ticket! 🙂

  103. Glad i came across your post. I’ve been in Havana for 5 days now and been counting the sleeps until my departure outta here. The majority of people I have encountered have been cold, unfriendly and rude. Airport information attendant, wait staff, tourist office worker, museum staff just a-holes. I’ve never been a fan of compounds and prefer to experience arts and culture but I can see why some might stick to the resorts in Cuba. I suppose I’ve realized some other silver linings. It’s been a good reminder to treat others as I would like to be treated. Also, I’m thankful I don’t live here and get to leave tomorrow. Only 17 hours to go.

  104. Hello! I am so sorry about your experience. I always wish people read my post BEFORE going, then travel with a full warning and come back to say their experience was amazing instead. I think if you go back there, knowing what to expect and a little bit more disillusioned, you’ll have a better time. That’s what I am hoping for myself!

  105. I have never been to Cuba, but had exactly the same feelings you are describing when I went to Morocco, especially Marrakesh. But then I am a social introvert too and I am also from Sardinia.. 🙂

  106. Haha – si ho sentito dire che in Marocco ne capitano di ogni, e pure in India. Non sono stata in Marocco, ma in India si e tutto sommato dopo il training a Cuba non ho avuto difficoltà. E’ stata una scuola di viaggi 😉 E comunque il mare come da noi… insomma 😉

  107. Having just arrived back from a three week cycle tour of Eastern Cuba I have to say I had the same experience. Of course I met a lot of lovely people but there were also times I felt that extra charges were added on sneakily and some people were downright rude. We found we were ignored in small shops and restaurants or when we tried to buy from the food stalls. People seemed to walk at you and expect you to move for them. The country is stunning and I too would still recommend people visit but with open eyes.

  108. Hi Cadi, thanks for your comment. I am sorry your experience wasn’t better than mine. I am still hoping to go to Cuba again and prove myself wrong. But your comment and all the ones before you makes it hard to believe so!

  109. I’m so glad that I read your website before I went to Cuba and not after, like so many people here.

    I already had a nagging feeling that I would be a walking ATM machine and that the picture that was painted on the internet about the extremely friendly people was too good to be true. That’s why I googled for websites about scams in Cuba and found yours. I must say that your website is by far the most honest I have come across!

    It must have taken you a lot of courage to write about this negative side of Cuba and I can image that you felt a bit nervous when you posted it, as it’s not uncommon to be severely attacked by anonymous readers when you dare to give a not so political correct point of view.

    I, for one, am very glad that you did and it helped me a lot! It’s only a shame that it is necessary though :-(.

    Iris (from the Netherlands)

  110. Hi Iris, thank you for your comment. Yes, publishing this post was nerve wrecking but I feel ever so rewarded when people read it and they are happy to find an honest opinion. I think it is better to go to Cuba fully prepared for what may happen, and hoping that it will not happen. I am sure you will have a great time there, especially now that you know about all the scams!

  111. Thank you for this post! I came across it today, after I recently returned from Cuba and needed to know that someone else had a similar experience. I actually cut my trip short because I never let my guard down and could not relax. The cat calling, the scamming and the aggressive taxi drivers were enough to make me leave early. Also, as a female traveler I felt very unsafe and objectified in Cuba. When I told my air bnb host my concerns, he looked puzzled and in shock. He told me that all the other female guests that he has had, have never complained and some were very “young and pretty”. All 158 reviews I read on air bnb of the neighborhood and the city itself were positive. No e spoke of the snakes lurking at every corner. So thank you for keeping it real! Perhaps I would go back….but many years from now. Cheers to us for being strong women that can voice their right to say NO to pushy locals and walk with our heads high through crowds of slimy Cuban men. Travel on my friend!

  112. I finally got round to reading the full post after you had talked about it at your TBEX speech. I find posts like yours most refreshing in their acknowledgement of the more “real” experiences tourists are likely to have than the glossed over “everything was wonderful / it was paradise” posts more commonly found in travel blogs. I too loathe feeling like a walking target and having touter after touter besiege you constantly is very draining. Thank you for posting and I hope you have better travelling experiences soon!

  113. Oh dear, I am so sad to find out you haven’t had a good experience. When I was there, all girls I met were saying the exact same things, having the exact same experience as the one you (and I!) described. I don’t think people there even realize how bad they make it for visitors and it is sad…

  114. Girl, thank you for reading the full post and thank you for coming to my presentation. There were few of us there, but I hope you guys enjoyed it. Yeah, I am all about being real. You know, it is funny: this post does keep getting comments. I got 3 more comments just today!!

  115. Pingback: 7 Cuba Travel Tips of Wonders for First-Timers to the Island
  116. Thank you Claudia for this great post. My husband and I with my sister and brother-in-law will be traveling to Cuba in October. Now I know what to look out for. Hopefully because we’re traveling together we won’t get accosted. What other tips can you give? Thank you in advance.

  117. Hi Rosie, have you read my post on “things to do in Cuba”? That’s where I give the best tips on how to plan a trip there 🙂

  118. nice honest write up, this is definitely a unique country that is not at all user friendly, in an environment like that peoples experiences are going to vary widely

  119. My initial reaction is…. what do you expect when traveling to Cuba? Cuba has been isolated under communist dictatorship since the 1960s. Would you travel to North Korea (another country under dictatorship that has isolated their people from the world) and expect their people NOT to try to get some extra money out of you?? These people are poor. A Cuban makes less than $20 a month. Any foreigner is rich to them. To Not anticipate being swindled for money whether directly or through a scam is naive. Cuba is not a vacation destination, Cubans are not used to the new influx of tourists. It’s a communist country where the government owns and controls everything. Meaning no one can succeed there, a doctor makes the same wages as a laborer and doesn’t have the option to achieve more or move up in life. Perhaps if you understand this, then you’ll see how Cubans “have been hardened by poverty” as there is no way out, unless you’re lucky enough to get to leave the island. Also, Cubans will not talk poorly about Cuba, Fidel Castro or the system, as they will be jailed for doing so. A friend of mine was in Cuba coincidently during time Fidel Castro died, not a soul was out on the street, not even in the promenade that was packed the night before. Why? Out of fear of being arrested for “celebrating” the death of their alleged great leader Fidel Castro. So perhaps this gives you insight on how the Cuban people live: in fear, impoverished, without an option to even TRY to succeed in life, and just surviving with whatever is left of old Cuba. Please try to have some compassion for the Cuban people, it’s not easy to grow up and live there.

  120. Hi,
    Being poor and having a hard upbringing is no excuse to an immoral way of life.
    I have visited far poorer countries where culture and civility is a pleasure to experience.
    As to “Cuba is not a vacation destination” Duh
    I have visited Cuba many times and,, as a tourist, understand my privileged life and enjoy the quiet towns that are not so marred by hoards of tourists such as myself. Their sense of family is, as is common in poor countries, a great strength for them and they have welcomed me into their lives many times.

  121. Unfortunately my experience in Cuba was just as I described it. I’ve been to far poorer countries where I never felt like a waking dollar sign. I’m glad your experience was different!!

  122. Hello Claudia,
    I probably misled you. I was commenting on the previous reply from “Peace and Love” who, I am sure is a Cubano and yes, he is quite right, Fidel is held in awe by most. but not so Raul. I have seen school children of only 7 or so years old with their hands out and “dame un CUC” (dollar) never a please or thank you (note that the Cuban government has an advertising campaign to say “gracias y por favor” to combat that rudeness factor). It seems a cultural education in begging and deception that is an epidemic taught at a very young age and perfected with age.
    However once I was settled in a Casa or small town, the locals got to know me and they would refrain from begging because I set rules and then I could talk to them one to one and find many quite charming intelligent people who have a great understanding of their captive predicament with no great chance of advancement through hard work, only through Party Politics and in pandering to Party officials. Mostly they live in fear, not respect ,of the Police and Military State. They are quite understandingly reticent to talk any kind of Politics to a stranger but will privately “open up” once they know you are not a threat. Perhaps, in time, through contact with our capitalist influence via tourism and their need for change that the Internet has shown them, this will improve. I suspect that their government has only changed at all because of Tourism and the Internet, two unstoppable influences. Their underground economy is enormous and this you only see if you spend time outside the Tourist Hotels. I could buy almost anything underground ,that was at higher prices and lower quality in the government stores. The Cubans have a disdain to Cuban built anything because of the poor quality. Almost all their clothes are underground, brought in from Ecuador by Cubans on holiday with large suitcases. To most, the equivalent of a Lottery win is to move to to almost any other country, although family ties defer this wish to some extent.
    By the way, in common with many other Canadians and USA citizens, I also send money to a large family in Pinar del Rio in preference to world wide charities via a Canadian Bank Travel Card that has no charges because most any other method of money transaction is stupidly extortionate . Every penny I send goes to feed, cloth and help but in the back of my mind I also know I am propping up a corrupt regime. It’s a paradox.
    Hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

  123. There was no misunderstanding at all. Mine was also a reply to Peace and Love! The whole point of my post is that I felt dehumanized in Cuba. People only saw me as cash and on just a very few occasions they were interested in me as a person rather than money (which I don’t have!)

  124. Thanks Claudia,
    You are spot on with your view of Cuba. Great postings that can help tourists. I met many “green tourists” in Cuba who were being fleeced . Your Blog will help Tourists and perhaps influence the Cubans, just a bit.
    ken

  125. I am Cuban and when I see comments like that I feel shame. Is a sad reality that in Cuba as a tourist you will encounter a lot of scammers people who only want to rip off foreigners. I don’t justify those people who blame the difficult economic situation and poverty in Cuba and scam tourists, it is not right. I rather prefer to die of hunger than scam people. In Cuba are welcoming, caring and friendly people, but you would not find them approaching foreigners on the street. We are more reserved with outsiders because we are aware of the bad reputation we have earned for all the things you perfectly describe in your blog. That’s why you hadn’t met them yet. I hope in the future you have a better experience and could change your mind.

  126. Yenni, yours is not the first comment I receive from a Cuban who came across this post. And you all say the same thing. I hope to go back to Cuba one day, and when I do, I will make sure to let you know, and hopefully we can meet!

  127. Omg thank you for this post! Me and my boyfriend have just returned from our Cuba vacation. Before coming there we spent 4 months in Mexico so we did not suppose to experience such cultural shock as if we would go straight from central Europe. During our stay in Mexico we met hundreds of people who lived in HORRIBLE conditions. But none of them treated us as bad as Cubans. 90 % of the people we met in Cuba just tried to scam us and saw us as a walking ATM. I have really never experienced such arrogant and false attitude. In the end we were so annoyed we would just walk the street not watching anybody and not answering anybody. This is the first time in my life I was really looking forward to coming home from vacation. I really believe that those great reviews on Cuba come from people who stay in all-inclusive resorts or buy those package holidays.

  128. Hi Anna, thank you for your comment. I always wish people would read my post before going to Cuba, and not after – at least they’d be psychologically prepared! I am sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. Yes, Cuba is the only place I have visited where I couldn’t wait to get out. So sad 🙁

  129. Pingback: 7 Cuba Travel Tips to Avoid Scams and Have a Great Time
  130. I think the big point that is missing here about modern Cuban society and the reasons why morals seem to have flown out the window and everyone’s mindset is to hustle; is because of the oppression and perpetual slavery Cubans are under. You mention you’ve been to many other countries with worse “poverty” than Cuba and this is true in the sense that there are poorer people. You must understand Cubans are given many basic things for basically free such as housing, education, healthcare, food etc…but in return they have no freedoms, no aspirations for a future, this is a land where a brain surgeon makes more during his night shift being a Taxi cab driver in Havana than he does operating on someone’s brain during the day. This situation does not happen in any other poor country on the planet, as there will always be those who manage to study and become professionals in their developing countries and are able to live better. When you have no outside knowledge of the outside world, and you know that even if you work your 40 hours a week as a doctor or lawyer, that its barely enough for food, you then see these white foreigners who in their respective countries could be just a cashier at a department store and have so much more economic power and personal freedoms than you…well you’ll do w.e it takes to even the playing field. Cuba is a very special case unlike any other “poor” country, its really a big social experiment that failed miserably and has created a whole generation of people who literally are slaves in paradise, a “revolution” that has lied and hustled them for their children’s futures. If you don’t try and scam foreigners for CUC’s, well those CUP’s you make at your job will never afford you anything even if you are at the top of your field. I don’t want to make excuses for people who act wrong in this world, but in Cuba’s case it has to be noted that this isn’t a regular poor country and the peoples psychology has been molded by the regime and its decades of oppression and destroying of dreams.

  131. Hi Adam, thank you so much for your insightful comment. It is important that we keep the debate going on such topics. It is human nature to want more, to be ambitious and to want to have a better life. And you are right, this nature is being curbed completely in Cuba and is causing a lot of suffering 🙁

  132. I must agree with everything about society in Cuba .. sex is past time because of the oppression and the neccesity has caused moral and faith to be of almost past .. we all have needs in the world .. I’ve been around the world .. I thought I give Cuba the biggest opportunity.. however , I met very few Cubans truly honest .. and there are some ,, cubans between Cubans are in for survival and Cuban among Cubans are not to quick to sacan each other but they do a little wsys but as sooon as they see a tourist .. they have been taught to scam and steal from tourist .. as oppose to other countries.. other countries have scams and prostitution.. but in Cuba the government sadly has changed the people .. Cubans have education , food and their homes represent what really happened thus technology has helped .. I’ve heard hundreds of foreigners say it will be another 50 to 60 years to change the mindset .. and even then it will have lots of , if scars .. I married a Cuban lady and I travel 10 times a year and I know the ins and outs ..
    been to almost every place in Cuba .. and there are parts in Cuba that people are genuine.. but in Havana it’s not happening.. they all learn from each other how to scam a tourist .. that’s why tourist are so well protected .. Cuba as a country is beautiful like many Caribbean countries,, and Cuba and its history is one tio learn ,, but everyone is individual of their own actions and I learnt that Cubans are nice, people to talk to .. friendly .. like many other parts in the world .. but there much need for change and it will take sometime

  133. For sure I need to go back. Perhaps it is better the second time around 🙂

  134. Glad you find it useful! Feel free to browse the rest of the blog for more posts about Cuba 🙂

  135. I’m going there in 5 days and I have to admit it’s VERY last second. The plane tickets have been bought, but that is it. I really appreciate your honesty!!! It helps me have realistic expectations which was NOT the case when I visited Spain. I also speak passable Spanish so getting the necessary info has never been the issue. I will keep reading comments, but being warned about specific scams sounds excellent. I had also been torn about gearing the trip toward beach or city more and now I wonder if it would be less emotionally exhausting to focus on smaller towns. . . . or is the con just as aggressive everywhere? Also, if we’re on scooters would we be prohibited from going to certain places? The non-tourist vs tourist areas is a bit unclear to me.

    The trip will be me and 2 other girls, 5 days starting in Havana then Jibacoa. We like biking a lot – I was wondering if this is something easily done on the spot. In Spain it was easy to rent from a shop, but we had issues with the kiosk to the point it was maddening. I also saw that motorized scooters were not expensive. Seems relevant to say we are attractive, we love to salsa dance, and one person is fluent in Spanish. I am curious how the transportation is- it’s next on the list for research.

  136. Hi Jessica, if you go prepared it’s easier to manage, and I think you will be fine. I don’t know about renting scooters. To be honest I have never even heard of someone doing it. Bikes are easy to find in some places – ie Vinales, which you really should visit! As for scams… they are worst in big cities for sure, but keep your eyes open anywhere. For anything else, head over to my guide – you should find some useful information there as well!

  137. Greetings, my name is David Haro, my English is not so good, but I will try. I tripped accidentally with your Blog and to tell the truth I have not been surprised by the things that you say has happened, because they are certainly true. I am Cuban, I live in Cuba, I am the father of 3 beautiful children and I live with them and my wife. If I have decided to write to you publicly, it is because it hurts me that things like this are the real impressions that people who love my country take for the beauty of their surroundings and who travel here hoping to find a warmth in people they do not find.

    I will not assume the role of victim in this case, but I will try to explain some details of Cuba today, I am 42 years old, I was born in 1975 and during the years I lived before the special period (1993- onward) I assure you, people They were not like that. However, since 1993 we can say that there is a before and after in the way of life and thinking of my compatriots. Many years of deprivation, hunger and needs have brought out the worst in people. Havana, is not what it was before, people who are harassing tourists are the worst of society, the jineteros and all those vultures who expect to live at the expense of tourists are people of very low scruples. Taxi drivers and private and corporate taxi drivers live in a brutal competition process, I do not justify them, but if tourists do not fall down, they simply do not take money home, therefore, they go hungry.

    Did you know that Cubans perceive an average of around 30 USD per month as wages? The minimum wage is 9 USD per month in Cuba. What forces people to work on anything that reports money, legal or illegal.

    Certainly, scams, and all kinds of tricks are on the table everywhere, specifically if tourists are involved. The same with men as with women. Look, I’ll give you an example, 95% of Cuban women, who live in Cuba, who are on internet dating sites, ALL, all they want is to meet a prince charming (they do not care about color) foreigner, yuma like They say here, that can take them out of here from this country and take them to live anywhere, even Cambodia. But that is their decision, on the other hand, many women do not even think about it, they live their lives as professionals or workers with their sights set on something else. You won´t find these people harassing tourists, but living their normal lives.

    These people have to be total insolent to ask a stranger to go to eat and drink or show you the beauties of the city and then charge commission for that.

    But I add, not all people are equal, not all Cuban men and women are equal to these people who do these things. The main indicator is that you WILL NOT FIND A PERSON OF GOOD falling behind, harassing tourists through the streets of Cuba. These people ALWAYS have displeased me and unfortunately I’m SICK with their attitude.

    These people can choose between working and getting what they can with their sweat or simply prostitute themselves, harass tourists or enrich themselves through various crimes.

    I at least do not do such a thing, nor do I teach my children that either, and my wife does not either. I beg you to answer me because I want you to change the way you see us Cubans.

    I am an IT professional, I currently work as a consultant for a foreign company and I advise an IT management office in an NGO. My salaries are still incomparably low to what I would perceive in any developed country, but I don´t see any tourist, man or woman as a Rara Avis, ready to drained out your money or as sexual objects. That´s the opposite of me.

    A warm hug for you, with the real cuban spirit of love and friendship.

  138. David, what a warm, thoughtful comment this is! You have just made my day. No pasa dia sin que pienso cuanto me gustaria volver a visitar Cuba. Por supuesto lo haré y ese dia, fijate, yo creo que voy a tener una experiencia completamente diferente. A ver si podemos seguir en contacto. Aqui tengo tu correo y me encantaria encontrar a ti, tu mujer y tu ninos. Un fuerte abrazo!

  139. Greetings again!
    Please, write whenever you want, if some day you are planning to visit Cuba again, just let me know, my family and I live in Santiago de Cuba, it´s about 969 km from Havana. Acá la esperamos con amor y con deseos de mostrarle nuestra Ciudad. Sinceramente y sin ningún tipo de compromisos, trucos o estafas. Solo déjeme saberlo para planificar y atenderla, si me envia su e-mail le envio fotos de mi familia.

    Gracias por responder,
    David

  140. Siiii, conozco y ya visité con mi hermana. Hacia un calor loco! Bueno, seguimos en contacto 🙂 encuentra mi correo aqui en ese sitio

  141. Hi Claudia! Obviously something in the Cuban reviews was missing on the net… I’ve never came across so many “bad” ones all together, so you definitely hit the nail in the had. Let me ask you something, when you said “Each time I plan to visit a new place, I spend hours on the web reading about it. Travel blogs, online magazines, guides, travel diaries and what not.”, what sites did you check online? Because I’m an old (very old) member of some of the most known travel sites, and there are plenty of warnings about scams and about how Cuba is for tourists and what to expect and so on…

  142. Remember we are talking years ago (5 years now) and I was reading only Italian travel diaries!

  143. Hello there. Since I am a Cuban myself, I would like to add something that will put in context why Cubans are the way they are, from what I know from firsthand. I wanna make clear that I don’t justify vulgarity, scams or any kind of debauchery against innocent people such as tourists or other Cubans; I just wanna throw some light in the why.
    Cubans are not “just” poor in the sense of lacking food and clothes and household items; they are also systematically oppressed by police, functionaries and the authority in general, with no way to escape from this situation. We have had to deal with hardships that I doubt any poor person elsewhere would ever have to deal with. For example, one of my grandmothers had a neighbor with terminal cancer and his relatives had to go to the hospital with a bucket filled with water, taking several trucks full of people across 33+ km from countryside to the capital, because the hospital didn’t have current water functioning. You can think right now about what a great myth is that widespread belief of Cuban healthcare system being “of quality and free”. It isn’t.
    The same goes with education. I don’t remember having any good teacher in my years of being a student in Cuba. In all honesty, they were all quite bad; mainly because a non-widely known politic carried by Fidel himself to form “maestros emergentes” (“instantaneous/emergent teachers”), which were “teachers” formed in 2 years of college and sent to classrooms to deal with students slightly younger than themselves, and a lot of these teachers were from marginal neighborhoods. The best teacher I’ve ever come across was a mature math teacher in later high school, who was good, but not brilliant. Of course, there never was a lack of tons and tons of indoctrination in every grade.
    But the thing I think has damaged our society and culture the most is the economic system itself. All Cubans, with no exception except those who receive money from abroad, are forced inescapably to the black market in the streets. As it was mentioned across other comments, the State monopoly, which is maintained by force, pays Cuban workers an average wage of around 22 USD/month, which is less than 0.13 USD per hour worked. The retirement pay is 8 USD/month. No one in the world could survive with this, and certainly not in Cuba. How do you make a living in such a situation? Selling goods you’ve stolen in your State-owned workplace and increasing their price in the black market. This is the ethic that most Cubans have been dealing for 50+ years, and sum up that they haven’t had any other source of ethics since they’ve been isolated by newspapers and media for that same amount of time (the State even has “wave-cleaning” technology to avoid foreign radio transmitters –such as Radio Martí –being heard by Cuban citizens).
    People are also deprived from police and lawful protection because what they’re doing is considered illegal in the first place, and police is indeed their main enemy… In this environment, people adopt the ethics of survival of the fittest, where nothing matters more than oneself: no respect for the others, no empathy.
    This whole abomination is the true legacy of Marxism and Fidel Castro: an island destroyed economically, but more disturbingly, sociologically, humanely and spiritually. Is this damage reversible? I have no other choice than expecting a yes.

    I hope this has bought a more nuanced perspective about why it’s not merely poverty what drives such a high proportion of Cubans into behaving the unique way you’ve encountered. There are another key situations which has contributed to it, but it’d take too large for a comment to put them all here.

  144. Wow, thank you so much for your insightful comment that adds to the discussion on this post. I can only imagine the daily suffering of people in Cuba. Lately I have grown a desire to go back, and see what happens now that I know way more about the country than when I first went!

  145. My experience of the Cuban people has been both positive and negative. I have been to Cuba four times. The first two times were in the year 2002. The third time was in 2011. My most recent visit was in February 2018.

    The mother of a long-time friend of mine is from Cuba. My friend and her mother both live in California now. Before I went to Cuba the first time, I called my friend and asked if she had relatives there to whom I could take anything for them. She checked with her mother and they put together a backpack filled with all kinds of things scarce there. I met my friend’s relatives there and liked them very much, one of her cousins in particular and his wife and son. Through them, I have experienced the best of the Cuban people. They and their friends are wonderful people and have made every visit worthwhile.

    If it were not for my friend’s family, I probably would not have returned. I completely relate to your experiences there. Other than those Cubans who are now my friends, and their friends, almost every Cuban I have met there has invariably hit me up for money or things that cost money. It can be extremely disappointing to have that happen over and over. Now, when someone smiles and speaks to me in the street, I know what’s going to happen sooner or later. I know I am seen as a financial opportunity, not a human being.

    It gets easier. I have learned to handle it by firmly saying “no” as respectfully as possible and immediately. Sometimes that’s not enough. It can be like telemarketers and you have to hang up on them fast or they will take all of your time. But as soon as you hang up on one the line is free for another to call. And it’s more difficult for women there, I understand, as the unwanted attention from men in the street is relentless. When I was there in February, I met two young Italian women who could hardly wait to get out of there and leave behind the heavy sexual harassment.

    People should know in advance to be prepared for it. I’ve tried to tell other experienced travelers how it can be and usually they tell me they’ve been to India, or wherever, and don’t need my advice before going to Cuba. They want to be open-minded and form their own opinion and it probably seems to them like I’m being bigoted so I don’t say much. But I am well-traveled, enjoy experiencing other cultures, and have a love of the Cuban culture. There are many hustlers and scammers in Cuba, and it isn’t easy to get beyond it to enjoy the good stuff, but it can be done. By not sugar-coating it, you are deterring the people from going there who know they could not get past it and you are preparing others for the reality of it.
    Your post was a timely reminder that the Cuban people can be very tiresome. Thank you. I was planning to be there for 46 days beginning in January 2019 and today, after coming across your honest and accurate assessment, I cut it back to 30 days.

  146. Ha! India to me was a piece of cake after having being trained in Cuba! I do like the idea of being open minded. But in this particular case, it also means being open to scams! Thank you so much for your comment 🙂

  147. I have been for one month and I agree with every word you say. I, too, have travelled extensively and I have never visited any country in which I felt so uncomfortable and objectified (as a man). If it wasn’t for the salsa, I would definitely not return!

  148. I was just back from my vacation for one week in Cuba. This is the ugliest country I have ever been till now. I always have willing to go back to those countries where I have travelled, even to visit the same city again or to visit other places, Cuba is the country, where I will never ever go back. On my last day in Havana, I was really in bad mood for everything I have experienced in this country. I put a very very negative comment on internet to share it with my friends. A friend who has travelled widely asked me “how come this is totally different from what we read on internet or from other medias?” I explained her do not trust any travel guide 100%. All travel guides describe every country beautiful, lovely. And a man and a woman could have different experience and different perspective about this country. Besides, even for those normal travelers like you and me, they wanted to be a positive person. They’d like to tell their surroundings or the world that they are the person who only pay attention to the good things and overlook the ugly angle. They don’t share with people the real things. The result is that we don’t see the negative comments about this country. Like a girl I have met in Havana, she also got annoyed a lot by the merchants on the street. She said “I even said to a man “go away!”. This is the only once I have reacted so rudely. But he was so persistent.” Finally the girl said “anyway, I still enjoy my travel here. ”. I don’t.

  149. There aren’t really, there is always an interest; I have been there twice even had a bf from there for few months and hang out with locals. I could not go out on my own otherwise i ll have guys chatting me up and bothering me as soon as I step out. Maybe only if you meet white cubans who have family abroad and money you can be slightly more relaxed, otherwise forget about finding someone who is interested in spending some genuine time with you. They all want to leave Cuba if they ahve the chance and you are a wallet with legs 😉

  150. How sad that you didn’t have a good time. What can I say, other than I understand how you felt!!

  151. Hello Claudia very nice to read your article and see some unpleasant but still true things about Cuba. I went there last summer and, even though an experienced traveler having been in the great majority of European and Asian countries, I was very much surprised by what is demonstrated succinctly here as the friendly shark pattern of behavior. Just some examples, people very often tried to charge me wrong price or give wrong change, were expressing their disappointment very clearly when we were not ordering the most expensive items of the menu or going somewhere only for drinks or only for food and not both. We were in some cases very pushed by casa owners to eat in the casa or make excursions through them (at a higher price than with government agencies as we discovered later). One casa owner in Vinales even told us food in town is not fresh and dangerous and we might get stomach problems if we don’t eat in their casa 😀

    Overall I was really disappointed by Cuba, even though there are some wonderful beaches and Cubans know how to make the best cocktails and live music is everywhere – which I enjoyed a lot.

    Somebody has to consider some reasons behind this since as you said there are much poorer countries in the world where people are lovely with tourists and opportunistic behaviors are way less – Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India some examples.

    What happened to Cubans is that they really trusted their political leaders and were greatly deceived by them, along with poverty and the huge difference between CUC and CUP prices and perhaps other factors too made a lot of cubans opportunistic with tourists at the level of being almost nihilistic too.

    Of course we met some lovely cubans, like the family of our casa owners in Trinidad for example who were very discreet and very lovely and sharing people but we were so much “bombarded” by friendly shark attacks during our two weeks there that after the first couple of days we had to be on guard all the time, and this made us enjoy our holidays way less.

    Thumbs up for sharing the truth, I hope things take a better turn in the future!

  152. Efhairsto Angelos, I appreciate your comment. I think all in all, the thing with Cuba is going with a very very good understanding of what to expect. If you know that scams are just around the corner, you will know how to react to them quickly. If not, you will spend days fighting off the sharks. I was certainly naive the first time I went! I too hope that things take a better turn in the future 🙂

  153. Hi Claudia, thank you for sharing your experiences which mirror my experience in the summer although I am going back again next month to give it another chance. I speak passable Spanish which helped me argue against the obvious overcharging vs more latino tourists. I have always been fascinated by Cuba and enjoyed interacting with the locals but soon realised they were more interested in selling things, talking about how difficult life is and never interested in our experience or life or us as people just cash machines. The constant bombardment of ‘taxi taxi’ was exhausting not to mention the varying toilet standards. Also very disappointed with the food variety and quality (I’ll be bringing food with me this time) and while part of me was impressed at the arrogance and the unwillingness to kowtow to tourists (the pride in being Cuban is very strong), a little bit more customer service and the occasional smile wouldn’t have gone astray. Having said that I am going again although as a lone traveller this time which will be interesting, at least knowing what I’m letting myself in for should hopefully reduce the frustration.

  154. Yep, that is how I felt when I go back, and precisely why I’d like to go back and see how it goes the second time around. I’d love it if you left me a comment to let me know how it went once you come back from your second trip!!

  155. We went to Cuba this year with kids. I agree, the people of Cuba are generally warm and nice. Also people working at tourist service providers, banks and shops and really nice. You just might be disaapointed when a guy on the street offers you a cheap taxi ride from Trinidad to Varadero and in the morning when the driver comes to take you from your casa particular, you discover the car is a wreck 🙂

  156. The last of my worries was having to put up with an old car. It was everything else that wasn’t really that great at all!

  157. I wish I would have seen this before going there. I had a similar experience, left a salty taste. As you said people are definitely sharks and everyone had a same script given by the government about them being poor. Living in a developed country, I guess I can understand but belonging to a developing nation (India) I have seen worst.
    I was quite taken aback by the desperation of Cubans and scamming anyone in any way they can. I was trying hard to find so called good people of Cuba but failed in my findings. I planned a trip for 15 days was back in 7. It was quite an experience.

  158. Somesh, if you read the other comments many people say the same things – they wish they had come across my post before going. All I can say is that I am deeply sorry. I think Cuba is better when you go fully prepared knowing what to expect. I am sorry about your experience. 🙁

  159. Hello David I absolutely loved your comment! It felt so genuine truly speaking from your heart with nothing but love and compassion..thanks for taking the time to write this..I am planning a trip to Cuba and I am excited about visiting Santiago for the Afro Cuban scene and to experience that part of the country..I would love to possibly connect with your family while I’m there if you have time..bonding with locals is priceless!! The same offer extends to you and your family if ever in New Jersey..all are welcome!!

  160. Hey Claudia… I just got done reading all of your blog and most all the comments wondering where all the lovely friendly Cubans are?!? Insightful and eye-opening is what I found and I’m so glad that I could have a chance to read it. My wife and I have done very extensive traveling in most all of Europe – especially Eastern Europe for months at a time. It’s always been my dream to travel down to Cuba while it’s open and I chose first to read about the people, scams and deceit that you found down there in Cuba. I secretly hoped to unlock a hidden treasure in the island prior to being inundated by tourists but I think that might be hard to do. My wife and I planned to spend two weeks down there exploring the island with a couple of backpacks and staying in Airbnb/VRBO‘s. The reading took some of the wind out of my sails but I seriously think that it’s definitely good to go in to a country with your eyes opened in a snapshot as to what to truly expect. The AMAZING highlights of previous trips have been meeting the people on the train and having hours long conversations… Taking them out to dinner for a gourmet meal that costs $6.50US per person and developing friendships to see people come back over to the United States to visit in our home. Sounds like that might not happen down in Cuba.

    My wife and I have downgraded our initial plans to about 10 days on the island. Planned on booking an Airbnb prior to leaving in a couple of different strategic locations. Planned on traveling by bus around and bringing money for the time there and having that upon arrival to Cuba. Keeping my eye out for all of the scam/hustles and having a polite, nice but firm “No” when these arise. Also plan on downgrading my expectations of having the most beautiful interactions with the amazing and warm locals that we found before in Poland, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary.

    Does that sound reasonable and any encouragement that you might have would be ever so welcome! Thanks for the time and hope you have a great day!

    Sincerely,

    Jeff (and Pam) Jones
    Prescott, AZ

  161. I think that the combination of knowing what to expect and yet not having a lot of expectations is bound to guarantee a great time. By all means, let me know how it goes once you are back!

  162. Me and my husband had quite a hard time in marrakech. I became angry at the locals trying to rip us off any chance they get. I have traveled to many places but a handful of individuals ruined my perception of Morroco. It’s a beautiful country, but I will think twice before going back. It was emotionally straining and made me stressed.

  163. Hi Claudia,
    I just returned from Cuba 5 days ago and have not been able to shake the uncomfortable feeling and sour taste left by the experience. I have traveled widely, lived in different countries, speak several languages, and am very open minded to new and different experiences. My favorite part of traveling is meeting the people and those serendipitous moments that happen along the way.

    Returning from this trip, I have been feeling disappointed by the whole experience and taken advantage of. I have been trying to quiet my discomfort telling myself I was being a terrible person, incompassionate, and close minded. But I have traveled to places with more poverty and worse quality of life, and have always found kindness. This has been eating at me for the past few days, so I decided to Google it and I came across your post. Too bad I did not read it before going.

    My husband and I could not let our guard down for 8 days. We were stressed and tired by the end, and could not get out fast enough. Out of the hundreds of interactions we had, about 98% were negative. A scam at every corner. It got to be so stressful, my husband and I ended up arguing on several occasions taking out our frustrations on each other.

    I also wondered if Spanish speakers are easier targets because they can engage you in conversation or if it is the same for everyone. Can English speakers just pretend not to understand? We assumed because we were Latin Americans and spoke Spanish they would see us differently from other tourists – they did not. We felt even more vulnerable not being able to ignore them. If we tried to ignore them, they would get offended.

    The trip is over. I am left to lick my wounds and let some time pass before I start planning the next one. Please share your recommendations for the place with the nicest most honest people in the world.

  164. Oh my gosh I am so sorry to find out this happened to you too… but yes, it is a common thing and no, I don’t think not speaking the language helps at all. It’s just plain bad.

    I have found some truly kind people in many other places. Argentina on a very recent trip, Bolivia and Peru, even Nicaragua! Keep traveling 🙂

  165. i have only ever been to resorts in Cuba, which offer a level of protection against locals, however, even at the resorts, some of the more brazen workers would admire something that you owned and then ask if you would give it for them when you leave.

    I think that many tourists perpetuate an expectation with Cuban’s that has made visitors ‘cash cows’ in their eyes. Many tourists take gifts to give to random strangers; to maids, waitresses and even go to schools and take hoards of crayons and colouring books etc. We ‘tip’ in a week more than the average Cuban makes in a year. I fell for this on my first visit, as from all the reading that i did, it seemed like it was a helpful thing to do and almost shameful if you didn’t.

    Other tourists I’ve heard of and seen go there specifically looking for sex in exchange for money or favours, they hook up with their ‘Cuban of choice’ at the beginning of their vacation and spend their holiday with them, having them stay in their rooms and bring them food from the buffet, some try to be more covert about it than others. There are even some resorts that are well aware of this practise and have made their business based on this kind of sex tourism.

    We must be partially responsible for this behaviour, single and possibly married men and women go there to fill a void in their lives. Others might just feel guilty for being a ‘have; in ‘have not’ country or we might ease our conscience by over compensating when such poor people clean up after us and wait on us. We might feel that this type of benevolence is helpful, but really how many dollar store bottles of shampoo does a Cuban maid need?

    I feel that most people the world over who are involved in some kind of tourism customer service are friendly because they know that you’re supporting the industry that pays their pay cheque, I live in a city that is revered for being friendly, but as a resident I see quite the opposite and I haven’t always found resort Cuban’s to be particularly friendly; if you don’t meet a certain demographic they don’t bother with you enough to even give you a polite smile for free. You can tell that I don’t suffer fools lightly just by my demeanour and I’m not young and always travel with my husband, so there’s no flirty men trying to get into my good books, my wallet or my bed, We’re both a little asocial, so don’t develop those annoying ‘friendships’ that a lot of holiday makers profess to. Most of those more sociable people, seem a bit naive to me and don’t realise that they’re being taken advantage of, they come home raving about the high light of their trip when they were welcomed into a Cuban household for dinner which, yes they had to pay for and they don’t see that they’re just one of many who fell for it. I’m with you, I would find this particularly uncomfortable, even with my husband in tow and so would he.

    Many of us have been on tours where tour guides steer you to ‘preferred’ hotels, shops and restaurants so that they can take advantage of kick backs for directing you there, even in lovely Iceland en route to an excursion we were bussed to a shop that sold overpriced merchandise. This really isn’t any different from what the Cubans are doing, except their brash enough to ask you for the clothing off your back instead of packaging their assault on you and your money in bright shiny packaging and attractive trinket shops.

    As tourists, they see us coming and are rubbing their hands together, whether it’s part of an organised tour company excursion or an enterprising individual, this is the side of tourism that I don’t like. For my own personal experience, I’m OK if folks aren’t friendly towards me so long as they leave me alone. I always do my homework before selecting a resort and always pick a small resort- I just want a low key relaxing holiday and so far that’s what I’ve had, luckily.

  166. I think the “leave me alone” bit is what I missed the most in Cuba! Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  167. I came across your blog as I typed ‘are Cuban people friendly?’ it was just like that on Google, maybe because you have put in your share of experiences in a simpler way, without any twist of phrase. Wonderfully written, was going through the comments too..
    Few things I felt like mentioning, I was actually searching for some information on Cuba and one of my relative wanted to travel a few places, among those was Cuba and that’s how I reached your page..
    1. What you wrote about scams, I feel it is common in developing countries and the techniques might be common too, probably ‘it’s my birthday today’ could be an all time classic(my birthday is on September 5, once every year). Surge pricing if there is any demand for vehicles, bad weather, renting a vehicle at night time, people pretending to be nice, eventually worse than the other one, guess travelers do face such things, guess it’s common than to be called ‘rare’
    2. Being a man, I shall never feel what women shall feel and it’s not possible too I guess, especially the objectification part, in many places it could be the same scenario..do have an elder sister and a niece too, so I can sense a feel a part of it, even as a man and not ashamed to admit that sometimes I do feel ashamed as a ‘Man’, that I know it’s real..
    3. In case of a person belonging to a developed country, it is the finer things that they may think or worry about and it could be a disgust seeing or going through some experiences in a rather poor or developing countries, people sleeping on pavements, governments twisting the “SYSTEM” for their own benefits, false promises made, tax money stolen and stashed away, almost no healthcare for the poor, although claimed otherwise, wastage of resources, illegal immigration, especially in border areas(not citing any particular country/place). I have almost witnessed an incident, where small child who died because he didn’t got an injection(already in that hospital’s bed only), it was worth INR 5,000 or roughly $71 at present conversion(estimated). Without deposit, the hospital won’t inject, the father was asleep just outside the main building. I was just outside that hospital as my mother was in ICCU and someone had to be there, I was having tea in my friend’s car when that child just died, probably around 3 a.m., all because he belonged to a poor family, just for $71, that’s how harsh the world could be for some..I cursed myself, as I was so close, yet I didn’t knew, I would and should have paid and I could..I am not mentioning this incident to justify anyone’s scam or cheating, just shared a harsh reality for many unprivileged ones across the globe.

    One major reason as indirectly pointed out by you or by some other person, implying that if you or they spent some time with people who are rather richer, financially at least, experience could have been different, it’s awkwardly true, since hardships does actually change people to an extent, may not be an excuse but people do act weird due to immense pressure or frustrations for not being able to make up to.. Since you already visited India, probably in October 2016, don’t know which places you visited, I am from Kolkata only and I can say this much that tourists do get cheated, not just ‘foreigners’ or ‘white skin people’ so to say, it happens to fellow citizens belonging to some other state(s) too, I have faced it myself and could relate to your words.

    4. It’s a common perception, although gradually changing probably due to internet and social exchanges via Fb, Instagram, including Orkut(till 2008 I guess) and so on, still in most developing or rather ‘poor’ countries, it still is a common perception to many and especially semi educated/illiterate and some over smart literate crooks, people related to hotels,travel agencies and so on to believe that a ‘white skin man/woman should always be rich’, which may not always be true. I know ordinary middle class Germans, Australians, some from US etc., living here, some studying, some for cheaper treatments and so on, but the perception is there, it’s changing, probably shall take some more years. My cousin brother, an UK citizen having an UK passport, lives in London, visited my place back in Jan 26 to Feb end, 2019 only, we were having a discussion on such things while having dinner as a family.
    One example: He preferred to stay at a 5 star establishment initially and surprised us that he actually came, i went to meet him on jan 27, Sunday evening. He was ordering for some snacks, a non alcohol drink and wanted to have some Kiwi with watermelon, the waiter started giving free and unsolicited advice that ‘it’s not a good combination’, instead he shall have this and that..We both laughed, as all three of us knew by that moment that the said 5 star establishment couldn’t serve that combo, although it was mentioned on the menu..
    Lastly, I would share your blog for sure and let’s see what he decides. I thank you again for such a blog, written with simple words, describing things as they were experienced and/or felt by you, somewhat felt a woman’s perspective too as a traveler and you as an individual person sharing your thoughts.

  168. Sayantan- the difference in Cuba and other poor/“third world “ countries is that in other countries, you visually see poor children picking up trash to sell in order to eat. You can see people sleeping on the streets and people without shoes.

    You won’t see this in Cuba. Everyone is well dressed, have free housing, free healthcare (however limited) and not once did I see a child without shoes.

    The country is rich in natural resources, tropical fruit and fish in There is no poverty in our sense of the word, only suppression to express feeling toward government.

    Most families get a government cow that they can use for milk. I met a cow that was 300 years old! How did this happen? The owner explained to me that when the cow has a new calf they kill the cow and pass the new calf as the old cow.

    I know an engineer makes about 28USD a month but if you look at all the government things they get-it’s a calculated trade.

    Im currently living in the United States and ever since the Cubans started migrating to our city (houston) you will see the county jails full of them for stealing (everything from cars to televisions) in their limited know-how they don’t realize we are a high surveillance country but they are learning the hard way that their habits won’t go unnoticed here.

    I planned to be in Cuba for a month. I got out in 8 days as they were sharks. That’s how I came to this blog because I was in disbelief as I have travelled extensively to poorer countries and I also spoke Spanish!

    Just tell your friend to be careful. It’s not worth going because of the people. The country is incredibly beautiful!

  169. Keran, yet another person in disbelief for how things really are there… makes me so sad, but glad that I wrote about it!

  170. Claudia, this blog of yours is surely helpful to all, especially women, lone travelers like myself. I also got interested about Cuba too, reasons being silly like for those colorful old cars, which I would love to drive and a desire to see the place from a local’s perspective, which I guess won’t be possible. Wherever I went as a traveler, have always to blend in, meet locals as they are with their daily lives, have a beer or two, have food together if possible, see places where tourists usually don’t go, have that inclination since I was probably 8 or 10.

    I didn’t consider myself ‘great’ to pity on someone else’s circumstances, as I mentioned about that child dying for just $71…just wanted you to know the hardships people might go through, resulting in change of behavior or something, which eventually may lead to ‘cheating or deception’. If I knew, I had much more than $71 in my wallet, would have easily helped..may be his father also had but he was asleep when that emergency was announced and that hospital, part of a big group of companies(diversified multinational businesses), as per my knowledge, they won’t even inject a tetanus unless paid for in advance. A manager cited an awful reason, he said unofficially that in many cases relatives of politicians and other powerful people often book cabins with insane number of privileges, which are actually not needed and the management need to recover the costs of the same so they charge the commoners heavily, even with false diagnosis and tests and so on.. I completely understand what led to where and how, it was the father’s responsibility to provide for the minimum of the needs that a 4-5 year old child may have, else shouldn’t get married or shouldn’t be a father. Pardon me for saying that way but I do feel so, don’t know whether I am right or wrong but I believe so.

    I don’t know Spanish, would certainly learn a bit if I have decided to visit a place where people speak Spanish and Google translator is always helpful. May be I shall visit Spain, guess that would be a better choice. As I traveler, I know that it’s my hard earned money that I am willing to spend to have some memories which will go with me when I die so for locals in tourist business, it might be ‘just another day’, not for the person who is traveling.

    @Keran: I have already spoken to him, shared Claudia’s blog, let’s see what he decides. It may somehow be a bit different for him, as he may not have to go through all that Claudia experienced as a woman, as a ‘white skin person’, invariably considered as rich. Both me and my friend are somewhat ‘brown skin’ people, as they might call in West, might work in favor, knowing that he is from India, not US or any developed nation, don’t know, just a guess, but surely warned him. Cuba certainly is a beautiful place, no doubt about it, all we can do is hope things change in a positive direction..after all, what more a commoner can think of in this world? unless he/she can achieve something substantial, may be only then people might listen to what he/she might be saying.

    It’s good enough as on date, that we could at least share our experiences and thoughts without any barriers, don’t know if this will also get stolen by govt. intervention or any change in ‘laws’ Keep sharing travel blogs, we would keep reading for sure. Good luck.

  171. Hi Claudia, I chanced upon your blog while planning for my trip to Cuba. This post is really helpful. I’ll definitely keep it in mind! But this makes me a little worried because I had wanted the local experience but don’t want to expose myself to all these possibilities of scam or the annoying pestering from people around me. When I was in Peru, I had a great time, I met great people, but I also met shop owners/cashiers that would short change me, from a few cents up to 50 pesos! I kind of felt insulted, like I was too dumb not to notice. People I met in Chile were rude too but my experience in Bolivia was great. I think it really comes down to luck. I’m going to prepare for my Cuban experience so I don’t leave with bad memories! I was wondering if the accommodations you recommended on your other posts ones that you vouched for? Usually hosts are the people I get recommendations from and it would really be a nightmare to stay in a place that tries to rip you off instead of help you!

  172. Hi Cece, and thanks for your comment. I am sure you will enjoy Cuba. Re. the accommodation, these are the ones I have stayed: in Havana, Abalidia; in Santiago, Maruchi; in Baracoa, Nelson y Mileidy (or something like that); in Camaguey, Caredad; in Trinidad – sorry, the house had no name but I think I gave a detailed description and address!; in Cienfuegos, Olga y Eugenio; in Vinales, Casa Dovales. Hope this helps!

  173. Your article makes me question my experience in Cuba – I went with three American guys, and while I can DEFINITELY see that we were always on the verge of being scammed, I definitely did not feel unsafe, or bothered by it immensely. I found that speaking Spanish helped a lot, and most locals either didn’t care about us being there, or were quite enthusiastic about having tourism grow in their country. Really does depend on individual experiences.

  174. You were with three guys – that is a whole different experience, just as you say!

  175. Where you in Havana? people in big cities are no that friendly, I visited Cienfuegos, and some rural towns. It was encouraging and wonderful, to be well received in the Cuban homes, Cuban people are so friendly, loving, caring and welcoming.

  176. I’ve been all over, really. Havana, Santiago, Camaguey but also Baracoa, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Vinales. Since you mention Cienfuegos, I have to say that the owners of the casa where I stayed there were absolutely lovely. However, I faced a few scam attempts in town.

  177. Hey there. I just wanted to add my experience traveling to Cuba. I read extensively on Cuba before I went the first time and doing much planning and making some contacts in some cities before traveling there. I have traveled to 34 countries and Cuba did require more effort in planning than most. My first trip I traveled from Baracoa to Vinales stopping at different cities along the way. I found that there is Havana, and then the rest of Cuba. I met people in Cuba I still keep in touch with. I brought all kinds of things with me to Cuba to give away. All kinds of things… safety pins, sewing thread, toys cars, tape, clothes, reading glasses, etc, etc. When walking through cities, if I saw someone with a sewing machine, I would offer them things related to sewing and then strike up a conversation. If I saw a family at home with kids, I would offer toys. Many seemed to not trust me at first, but then some would open up. My Spanish is very broken, just good enough for some basic conversations. It was a huge plus when they spoke English. Some people I met learned English via apps on their phone or computers. It gave me hope I may learn enough Spanish one say to have meaningful conversations. Many times they would send someone off, only to return with someone who could translate for us. One time in Baracoa, a man who stuttered was brought in to translate. It really was a moment I never will forget as he didn’t let a speech impediment stop him from learn multiple languages. Some times, people didn’t even want anything to do with me when I offered them something. I found this true with people who seemed to be in their 60’s-70’s. My heart melted many times when I met many Cubans and heard their stories. I was lucky and only got scammed once by a taxi driver outside of Santa Clara. It was 2AM when a bus I was on headed to Havana dropped me off at a gas station on the highway and I had to find my way to town. They gave me my change in CUP. I got scammed for $8, but I was thankful for getting where I needed to be in the middle of the night. I took some families I met out to eat without being scammed, and really had a great trip. Yes, the jeneteros are out in force, especially in the larger cities, but I would just say in Spanish to them “Hey..just stop it, my wife is from here, I know whats up”, and give them a smile. It does get really old with the offers of cheap cigars, amazing celebrations they want to take you to, etc. I did feel alone at times, and had to remind myself to enjoy this time to myself. When I left the first time, I wanted to go back. In less than a year later, I took my 85 year old mother for a week before heading to Panama to visit my brother. We stayed at a casa Particular in old Havana and I could not have picked a better place as they babied my mom and made her feel like a queen. She got spoiled. I found on this trip how well Cubans treat senior citizens. Almost everywhere we went, Cuban people made sure my mom was ok. Many places the Cuban people would ask for her to go to the front of the line. I totally understand where you are coming from, and I have friends who have gone and said they did not enjoy it. I have others who went and said they loved it. I think my secret was approaching and talking to people who seemed uninterested at first.
    I found the Cuban people reserved more than most I have encountered around the world. Not as much as I personally experienced in China, but about the same as in Japan where people stare at you as you walk by, but you have to initiate the conversation, and then this may lead to a cold shoulder, or a good friend. As far as all the scams, a “No thank you”, “I have it already”, “Enough!”, or something more elaborate will do the trick. Again, I really only experienced these in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and a little in Trinidad. Even if they get upset, it is just part of their MO, don’t let it get to you. I am also hardened to scams as I live in US major city and walk downtown to work everyday. I have heard it all, and when they know you have heard it all, they usually leave you alone. Also, I can’t stress how important it is to do your research before you travel to Cuba. You will learn all kinds of things that you would have never thought you needed to know.

    I plan to go again next year, but want to get even more off the beaten path. Cuba is not for everyone, and the people there have serious struggles that we can only begin to imagine. For me it is an adventure as well as education. Sorry for the long post.

  178. Thank you for such an insightful comment. I surely hope to go back to Cuba and take my time there to experience the country in a different way 🙂

  179. I recently returned from Havana and I had an utterly miserable time there. While I traveled extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean, so I have witness high levels of poverty, there was an arrogance to Cuban’s poverty in Havana that completely turned me off. They felt entitled to your change in restaurants even after including a service fee. My casa host charged me 3x the costs of water than at a neighboring bakery, at every turn they try to replace CUC with pesos. The Cubans that I interacted with were very cold and/or bitter and I speak Spanish so it wasn’t a lost in translation issue.

    I personally have no empathy for their plight, they prey on tourists, the city is polluted, it smells of trash, there are diseased cats, dogs and chicken that live in close proximity to Humans and there is water that gathers in the street that is clearly contaminated and there is really no internet. But at the same time Cubans boasts about how educated they are and walk around with knock off designer clothing and Lebron James Jersey.

    This is the first time I have ever written about my travel experience good or bad, but I just thoroughly disliked Havana and the people I interacted with, I had to share my experience…there was nothing interesting about that city other than witnessing how a communistic society brainwashes its people into thinking that they are exceptional in some way but the harsh reality is that they can’t generate enough economic output to maintain any real quality of life they have to resort to one of the lowest forms of piracy, stealing from their guests!

  180. That is so sad, right? Tourism is a resource for Cuba, but what you, I and many others have experienced is so off-putting!

  181. I am cuban and you guys talk like here in united states theres no place for scam, fake people or racists. At least no one in cuba is going to get shot. There is all this bad things all over the planet not only in cuba. You think like if Iam going to another country i am going to trust in some locals. I don’t think so. More bad things happens to tourists here in the states and all over the world but you guys dont talk about it.

  182. Hi Jose, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. First of all, let me say that I am not based in the United States and I am not American. Secondly, as you correctly say there are bad things and scams happening to tourists anywhere in the world. However, this is a post about my experience in Cuba, so it is inevitable that the comments are going to be about Cuba. Perhaps you may want to search posts about scams in the US where everyone will be commenting on how bad things happen to tourists in the US. Hope this helps!

  183. I mean, you went to a place as politically and economically interesting as Cuba, a place that has managed to isolate itself from capitalistic nations trying to force them into falling in line. In a way, your whole dynamic as a “traveler” who wants to “meet locals” is in its own way exploitative and selfish… What, really, are we trying to say is worse: regular wealthy tourists who are able to pour money into tourism (which is indeed a way local people can be supported with actual material) or, maybe, a budget traveler who demands a “unique” personal experience and expects locals to put on display the “kind” and “caring” stereotypes we “woke” travelers expect them to offer us during our 3 week stay, oh, and for FREE?

    Both sets of travelers come from a background of material means in a way that regular Cuban people themselves have not had the privilege of having. It doesnt even matter what your income happens to be – whether you saved for the trip for years or didnt have to – the fact that you are there means you have a lot more privilege than the locals you demand free kindness from. Then trying to say the locals inherently suck because poverty shouldnt be an excuse, well, is usually what people say who have never had poverty happen to them.

    At a certain point I would be asking myself, could it be that my demands that these people be on their best behavior to serve me and be nice to me or leave me alone when i want them to are a bit exploitative, and not the other way around? To be able to enjoy visiting a place whose leadership has worked hard to shield itself from an imperialistic capitalist-frenzied nation (ahem, the USA) takes a lot of re-structuring of your own mindset, and shedding those cultural blindspots that are there due to a lifetime of privilege.

  184. I am – indeed – pretty convinced that kindness comes for free. But hey, we each have our own ideas.

  185. I agree, kindness is free. When they seek asylum, they are not charged.

    We don’t want anything free but no one likes being bluntly taken advantage of. It’s a character thing, not a social economic thing.

    The way to solve it is for everyone to boycott Cuba and not travel there. If no man is an island, it would harm them greatly if people stopped coming over to be “rapped” by their immoral and corruptive practices. Let’s hope they perish along with their ill wills.

    I’ve myself prevented a group of people and whoever will listen from going there.

    Most travelers there are European and not Americans, either because they can’t travel there or because they are smarter than the rest of us.

  186. Spoken like a true capitalist…”random people in Cuba should be kind to me and be overjoyed that privileged people like me are invading their spaces to tell them how to be better humans aka if they would just be more like me…”

    Anyways, you want to go back to Cuba (as you wrote several times in the comment responses) but you thank Kara for her comment, agreeing about her ideas to boycott Cuba. Hmmm

  187. You really are making a huge effort to put words in my mouth that I never spoke, aren’t you? Yes, I want to go back to Cuba and see how it feels like the second time around. Yes, I agree with Kara when she says that she agrees with me about kindness being free. I never wrote a word about boycotting Cuba – not sure where you read that.

    Finally, I am a firm believer in being nice to others, regardless of their social status, political opinion, ethnicity, gender, etc etc. And I get angry when people gratuitously mistreat (and scam) others. I find there is no excuse for that.

  188. Anna,
    From my extensive travels, I’ve learned that people are generally good and kind. No matter what the perception is outside of that country, people will surprise you with their hearts and mind. It’s the sharing of the ‘human element’
    This was not true for Cuba (which was odd), that’s all we are trying to say.
    I don’t expect people to be kind everywhere-but if you came to my country-being as poor as it is-people will be kind to you. They have nothing and they will still go out of their way to help you if you are in trouble. It’s not about capitalism but rather curiosity and the thirst to explore the human element to its fullest.
    “Travel is the demise of ignorance.”
    Have you been to Cuba yet? If so, tell us your experience and why the overwhelming majority should change their perception.

  189. Claudia,
    Freya 18/October 2016 wrote: “like I wasn’t worth an ounce of human decency if I wasn’t offloading all my cash.” This Is the truest statement of what we have been trying to get across. It’s not about having someone bending backwards because we are travelers but just to treat us like fellow humans. Because we like them (otherwise we wouldn’t be there) so just treat us respectfully as one human to another.

  190. In cuba is illegal talk to the tourists, if the police catch you, you can be taken to jail, honest peolpe dont talk to the tourist, if some cuban try to talk to a tourism, of course, can be scam, they are trying to survive

  191. I am not sure where you read this? What I know is that Cubans can’t ask foreigners spend the night at a private house (obviously not for casas particulares) without permission, and that they can’t give rides to foreigners (unless it’s a taxi). If you have an exact law to show us, please do 🙂

  192. Not sure if this is relevant but I had a not so great experience in Miami this past weekend. My expectations were way too high thinking I would get to see Cuban culture, experience the festive vibe, and enjoy authentic Cuban cuisine. To my disappointment, I was ignored in boutiques and shops, given unfriendly stares on Calle 8, and at a popular Cuban restaurant the rude hostess spoke Spanish so obnoxiously fast to me, to which I replied to her in perfect Spanish ( I’m from Houston bi-atch)
    I suppose since I’m Asian they either discriminate against Asians, or perhaps Cubans discriminate against anyone who is non-Cuban. It was a vibe I got in Miami and I hope my theory is proven wrong some day.

  193. WOW. That is not nice. What can I say – I think my experience as reflected in my post was not really that great, and the majority of comments here agree with what I say. Some are luckier – usually men. Women though are the biggest target of (attempted) scams.

  194. Thank you for sharing your experience. Perhaps such hostility is justified by a low standard of living, by the post-communist regime of F. Castro, people simply do not know how to be hospitable?

  195. So interesting to read this. The whole time we have been here (we’re still here, unfortunately!) we’ve been assuming that our pasty white complexions and poor Spanish we’re making us larger targets. I guess everyone is fair game. I hate to say it, but we’ve basically committed to staying in our hotel in Havana until we leave—it’s just too stressful to get harassed every time we go outside.

  196. I Iive in Miami and the Cubans that have a little bit of money are terribly rude. No manners or social courtesy- rushing into elevators before allow people getting of to exit, etc.

  197. I’m Cuban, born in Cuba but raised in America. I’m sorry this was your experience, but it does not surprise me at all. I haven’t been to Cuba since I was 15 and I remember people following us trying to get us to pay for their random service off the street (that we had not asked for). I remember being told by my family not to speak (because I had an accent) and they would assume I was a tourist and try to charge more. I remember being approached and asked if I was a gringa. It makes you feel very on edge with people. I’m an introvert too so like you said that may play a role. But yeah the Cuban people have not been the same since the revolution. I just hope that doesn’t make you think we’re all like that.

  198. The only problem with Cuba, is Cubans. And Claudia, your post is 100% accurate. There’s always some stupid scam of some sort going on, maybe that’s why Cuba is so messed up and not the other way around: some may say that “the conditions of the country made the people the way the are”, so “desperate” or whatever. I think that thesis is wrong. The people; being as s****d, rude, selfish i****s as they are, made the country what it is today: a s***h**e.

  199. I just returned from Cuba again (See my original post on here from July 2019). This time keeping in mind the opinions here and think I may hay some more insight as to why people are wondering where the friendly Cubans are. This time I was only in Havana with a side trip to a small town close to the Bay of Pigs. I will begin to say that the state workers at the airport are some of the unfriendliest you will find in Cuba. This is also the case of most state workers who have to deal with tourist in all of Cuba. The saying is that “They pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay them”. On the other end of the spectrum, Cubans employed in private businesses are some of the friendliest. Also people on the streets and on balconies people watching love to engage, but you have to start the conversation. One joke(actually a fact) is that the street gossip is faster than the Cuban internet. One thing I must mention is the situation is Cuba is getting bad since the US embargo against Venezuela(their main oil supplier). Fuel is scarce and some factories are closed and things such as toilet paper can be a challenge unless you have a back channel to procure them. Even the Cuban beer Crystal is not available everywhere right now. If you dare to rent a car, be advised that if you leave Havana, there is a good chance you will not find gas. On the highway in and out of Cuba you only see maybe 3 vehicles in both directions. People are holding cash in their hands on the sides of the roads for hours with the hopes of getting a ride. Much has changed in the 2 years since I have been there, but not for the good. There are some newly completed EXPENSIVE hotels in Havana, and the Capitolio is finally completed (it took 3 years to build, but ~15 to renovate). Old Havana is depressed too as cruise ships from the US can no longer come and expect around 50% of the menu items at restaurants to not be available. For me personally, I am going top have to wait until the situation improves to return and as it is also difficult to travel there from the US unless you are engaged in activities to help the Cuban people. I love Cuba and it’s people and potential and hope their government as well as the US government can one day work out their differences as it is the people who are suffering. Sorry for getting off topic, but to sum it up I am still amazed at the strength of the Cuban people to endure and if you give them a chance, you will see that Cuba smile you see on the brochures.

  200. Bill, thank you so much for such an insightful comment! I really want to go back, and see it again 🙂

  201. Your experience is absolutely normal and they want you about it in guide books. All you are to them is their opportunity to either get smth out of you or to get out of the country for you if they seem to fool you and you believe in their love. There is a phrase for it, they call foreign women gringas, a chance to get “gree card” to get out. So many women got out by pretending to be in love. I love Cuba as a country in terms of it’s beauty, music etc. but their culture is disgusting and yes we can justify it by poverty. There are very little morals, they are locked up and will take any opportunity to get out.

  202. All in all I think I want to go again. Perhaps the second time around, being prepared for all of this, I will have a better time!

  203. Hey Claudia!

    I found this post supperrr interesting and really well written. I’m British but now I live in Cuba (I married a Cuban) and we have a small tourism agency in Viñales. Everything you wrote really hit home, and really is exactly why I started the agency. I remember the first time I travelled to Cuba. I was a solo female in search of adventure and authenticity, i.e. meeting and hanging with the locals, not other tourists. It was SO hard. I had NO idea about the level of scams and hustles at that point – who would? I started my agency when I found the next level of Cuba, away from the scams and the traps that you and so many others experience, as a way to bridge that gap and help fellow frustrated Cuba travellers like me have a better experience.

    It seems from this post of yours that you’re pretty clued up about the scams for the most part, and I genuinely feel sorry you have this outlook on Cuba. It is SUCH a gem of a country, but you’re right, you really have to know where to look.
    Through our business I meet so many tourists, the same as you and many of these people who left comments, who are just so frustrated and disappointed. And you know, I don’t even have an answer, for it apart from the sheer desperation of the people because of obvious reasons.

    When tourism started to blossom here, the Cubans went mad for it, and I don’t blame them. An island that previously had everything taken away, and then suddenly, ‘rich tourists’ come in their thousands – the culture went crazy and the greed in these repressed people took over, which I think is only natural, it’s hard to know.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your blog, how I understood every word, but how I genuinely urge you to come back and try again. If you know the right people in the right places, it’s a whole other ball game. It makes me genuinely so sad when people have a bad experience here, because I know exactly why and it makes me detest the Cuban people. They just don’t understand it yet, they’re too new at the tourism game, and they seem to be ruining it for themselves. It’s such a pity – but as you said, it certainly doesn’t apply to them all!

  204. Thank you so much Cassie – you have nailed the issue. With such attitude, people in Cuba are doing more damage than good to the industry.

    I’d certainly love to visit Cuba again. I will definitely get in touch with you once I do!

  205. Claudia, thank you for your informative and candid article. It’s difficult to find real travel stories and information not viewed through rose-coloured lenses.

    I’ve had the privilege of traveling many countries and have been humbled by all I have seen & experienced. That said, I have zero interest in ever traveling through Cuba. My parents divorced shortly after a Cuban vacation and immediately my Mother started dating a 30yr old Cuban (39 years her junior) she met while on holiday.

    During her first visit he arranged a large to-do “welcome to the family” party with his entire extended family. His parents are a lot younger than my mother and from what I can tell, I believe the family are in on the scam. When she visits, he arranges all the accommodations, transportation and even meals ahead of time. This has included a $130 USD dinner at local restaurant, this seems outrageous considering most Cubans make $20 – $30 a month. I assume he is making a large commission off of her.

    She has purchased him appliances, clothing, furniture and has paid for home repairs etc. He has even reached out several times claiming a sudden family emergency or unexpected medical bills. At this point, there are too many red flags to count. They are already discussing marriage and there is no reasoning with her. Still she sees nothing odd about the age gap and truly believes their relationship is real.

    Living in Cuba cannot be easy. You could argue that my mother is allowing the scam and therefore making that choice and all that comes with it. The whole situation just seems so intentional cruel.

    I am sure, just like everywhere, there are good & bad in Cuba. Based on all the above though, Cuba has already left a sour taste.

  206. Hello Nicole. What you describe is an ordeal I have heard of so so many times, and I am sad it is happening to you. Your mom is in for a major heartbreak, I am afraid. Next thing she will be married, he will be able to move to your country, and you can figure out the rest. This ordeal is poverty-driven, but I fail to believe that poverty can turn you into such a cruel person. There are countries that are way poorer where such things don’t happen on a regular basis. You have done anything in your power to warn your mom. All I can say is to brace yourself for what’s coming. Be selfish and take care of yourself first of all, and try to secure all your assets and – if you have a chance – your mothers’ too. Talk to a lawyer!

  207. Hi, I am from Cuba and I am ashamed because of the way people treated you here. I did not know that tourists felt that way when they visited Cuba, it is a shame. I hope you all can give us an opportunity and to know good Cuban people. Also, I want you to know that not all of us are like that.

  208. Hey Claudia,

    I travelled to Cuba back in 2010 and occasionally look back on my time there. Your writing brings back the exact emotions I have about the country. The locals I met were untrustworthy, and after so many attempts at being scammed, I had my back up at anyone who approached me. Although, it seems those I did brush off would have been hustlers anyway.

    I think the rule for Cuba is – if they approach you, they’re up to no good. Ignore them, and be abrupt if necessary.

    Funnily enough, I had the same experience in Morocco. But, at least that country had SOME decent locals. Everyone I met in Cuba was awful. Everyone.

    A country I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy.

  209. Thanks Gary. Wow, I am sorry to hear about your experience. In a way I thought that women were the favorite target of scams and hustlers, but it looks like men are too. An interesting thought – this hasn’t actually put me off from wanting to go back. I still do, indeed. I am curious to see if the second time around, knowing what to expect, and now actually fluent in Spanish, things may be better 🙂

  210. I just visited Cuba recently and the people were so kind. Just as a comparison, the wait staff in Canada react extremely poorly if you give them a buck as a tip. In Cuba, you give them one Canadian dollar, and I have never seen people so grateful. We need to learn some humility where I live in canada, the entitlement is something else.

    I am sorry you had a poor experience, it is most unfortunate.

  211. It’s amazing the diversity of experiences we all have. I had a horrible experience in Portugal, but I would still go back, it was a beautiful country. In France, I also had a good experience when visiting. It’s always good to know the good and negative experiences, everything is a learning experience.

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