What to Expect in Cuba: 5 Things that might Surprise you

Our trip to Cuba was a truly humbling experience. It felt like we went back in time. We were astounded at the things we personally saw versus what we saw on social media. In this blog post we’ll share with you what to expect in Cuba.

We often see the popular vintage car posts from Cuba. Which are great! One of the things we were unaware of is that most of the time if you take a photo next to a vintage car, you must tip the driver. Yes, even if it is just for a photo, always tip!

What to Expect in Cuba

A Guest Post By Jay Salinas

Although these vehicles feel vintage to us, they are the everyday vehicles for Cubans. The reason classic cars continue to be in Cuba is due to former communist leader Fidel Castro and the ban placed on foreign vehicle imports.

Cuba is slowly updating their economy (but there is still a black market economy in Cuba). So you will find that they are very low in resources. We wished we could have seen more coverage on this on social media. So besides the classic diesel-fueled cars, here are other things to expect when you travel to Cuba:

1. Stray Animals

You will see stray dogs and cats just about everywhere you go in Cuba. I guess because I am from from a Latin American Country (El Salvador) this did not surprise me much. Stray animals are very common to see in our streets. This may alarm the average American when visiting Cuba. But one must think about the low resources Cuban citizens have and how they struggle to survive on their own. It will be impossible for them to also cater and care for an animal. I tried to give snacks to the animals and pet them (always carry hand sanitizer). So If you ever visit Cuba and see stray animals, give them some food or some loving!

stray animals

Luckily there are organizations such as: Cuban Animal Rescue. Their organization has a shelter for stray animals and allows for the adoption of animals rescued. Visit their page here: http://www.cubananimalrescue.org/index.htm

Read More: Is Cuba Safe?

2. Children Beggars

 My friends and I were alarmed at the amount of children who followed us just for a coin or two. This was something we wished to have read before we traveled to Cuba. Perhaps we could have bought coloring books or crayons for children.

what to expect in cuba

We visited Callejon De Hamel (Hamel’s Alley) which is a small neighborhood in Little Havana filled with beautiful mosaic art and murals. A young boy named Davie climbed over three walls to get to where I was standing. He asked for a coin and I gave him two pesos ($2USD). I was able to have a small conversation with him. So please be aware that children will approach you. Have a minute or two to engage with them.

Read More: Documentaries about Cuba

3. Broken and Crumbling Buildings (with tenants)

Buildings and houses in Cuba are literally falling apart. Yet, you will still see people living in them. Some live there because they are owners and others…well because that’s the only choice for them. However, you will still be able to find the beauty in these buildings. Most still preserve vibrant colors and beautiful big doorways. Try your best to notice the details in the buildings and of course, respect the people who live there. You can find a strip of buildings near El Malecon.

4. No toilet paper

Bring your own toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

what to expect in cuba

This was something we barely did research on before we traveled to Cuba. Luckily we are always prepared! Don’t be alarmed. This is due (again) to lack of resources. It is a culture shock for some to experience this. If you are staying in an AirBnB or renting a house, be mindful of how much you use. Also, the water pressure is low in some areas. So again, it helps to carry baby wipes and hand sanitizer when you are not able to wash your hands.

Read More: Best Places to Visit in Cuba

5. Restaurants run out of food and supplies.

We experienced this in two restaurants during dinner time. It is common for restaurants to have limited choices on their menus. So don’t get upset or angry. Be understanding and hey, maybe the restaurant has a dish you have never tried before! There’s a first time for everything! Restaurants also run out of other supplies such as, straws, ice, napkins, and utensils.

Please understand there is so much beauty behind the poverty and the sadness. There is still salsa dancing, wonderful art scene, yummy food and friendly people! The scenery and culture is truly incredible. Despite the lack of resources, you will still be able to have fun. One thing they never run out of in Cuba is…cigars and rum! Cheers!


Hi! My name is Jay Salinas from AmigaGoals. My best friend, Suly Reyes, and I created a travel, art enthusiast and adventure page. We are two Latinas empowered by the love of travel and experience. We love going on trips together but most of all we love the reward in learning from our trips. Feel free to follow us on Instagram!

What did you expect in Cuba? Were you surprised? Let me know in the comments.

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