I daydreamed of traveling to Cuba for as long as I could remember.
It solidified while studying the Cold War and President Kennedy as a history major in college. I’d fallen in love with the idea of a country filled with passionate people who took a drastically different approach to government and life. A country that was painted as left behind in time.
There are so many reasons to explore Cuba. Whether it’s walking the streets of Havana, meeting the people and learning from them, taking in the colonial history of Trinidad, getting out to sightseeing in Vinales, or sipping on a mojito while watching the sunset.
In 2016, when the United States announced it would be issuing airlines authority for direct commercial flights to Cuba, I knew it was time for me to go.
I began to stalk the Southwest Airlines website and find a space on my calendar where I could fit the trip. While I was open to traveling with a friend, I wasn’t going to wait for anyone else to get their act together and delay my trip.
So in early 2017, I booked a flight.
But who was I going with?
Once I pulled the trigger, I was excited to share it with just about everyone I met. Most people were excited when I mentioned Cuba, but the first question was always, who are you going with?
It isn’t an uncommon question when you are planning a solo trip, especially as a woman, but the amount of concern was much greater and from a much broader audience for Cuba than past countries I’ve visited. The assumption in much of the United States is that Cuba is not a safe place to travel to, especially as a solo woman traveler.
Coming from the United States, there are many negative assumptions we make about other countries. These assumptions may sometimes be founded on a small bit of truth, but are more often than not misconceptions. Many of these assumptions paint Cuba an unsafe place to visit.
We assume that poverty-stricken Latin American countries are filled with crime. Then you throw in the communism factor, and our doubts of safety only increase. I don’t mean to say that these conceptions are entirely untrue, but rather that they also don’t paint a truthful image of what Cuba is actually like.
Cuba may be a country high in poverty, but it is not a country high in crime. It is a misconception that these two things come hand in hand.
In reality, it is much safer in Cuba than many other popular countries — and even many cities in the United States. The Overseas Security Advisory Council of the US State Department give Cuba a “medium” crime rating. While, on the other hand, major tourist destinations in the Caribbean like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are on the “critical” list.
As the world continues to travel and explore Cuba, many of these assumptions will begin to fade and take shape into something that accurately represents the country.
What is it like as a solo woman traveler in Cuba?
Traveling in Cuba as a solo American woman did make me stand out.
Many people I met asked who I was with and why I was traveling by myself. But at the same time, I was free to do what I wanted, go where I wanted, and see what I wanted (even if on a night or two what I wanted was to go to bed early!).
Overall, being a solo woman traveler in Cuba felt like just about anywhere else. I felt safe, didn’t feel that I was limited in what I could or couldn’t do, and had a great time exploring the country.
There are few things that did stand out during the trip:
You’ll get asked why you’re single. A lot.
Whether it was the host mom at my casa or a guy on the street, the Cubans were constantly asking me why I am single. I’d try to explain a bit how I could be happy single at 30, but it didn’t always take.
You’ll get some catcalls.
Whether it was daytime or night, whether I was out in a fun dress or a casual outfit, I got catcalls. Very rarely were they aggressive or more than innocuous comments like “you look beautiful.”
But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed the attention. A few times there were guys who wanted to keep chatting. Thankfully, after ignoring them, they’d get the point.
You might get invited out for the night.
Beyond the catcalls, and especially in Havana, there were a few men who offered to take me out for the evening, show me the town, and such. While flattering, it wasn’t what I was looking for. In my experience, Cuban men are very friendly to tourists, and will come up to chat with you if you’re a woman traveling on your own. At the same time, none of them were too offended when I said no thank you.
The relative ease and safety of traveling in Cuba.
On the other side of safety is the logistics of traveling in Cuba.
Once I started the actual planning of my trip, I was surprised by how easy it was to set up and travel safely while in Cuba. While traveling in Cuba can be quirky, it is still easy and — even more importantly — easy to do safety.
While hotels are limited and expensive, there is an extensive network of casa particulars, or guest houses, that you can stay at for as little as $10 USD a night.
While some will book these as they go, as a solo woman traveler I appreciated the ease of booking ahead through Airbnb. The top reason for this was the customer reviews offered. Here I was able to figure out if I was staying at a place I would feel safe as well as the neighborhood it was based in. Additionally, booking ahead let me cut down on the cash I brought with me.
A cash economy.
Even when traveling, I normally try and keep as little cash as I can on me or in my belongings. That doesn’t work in Cuba. As an American, you have no access to credit cards or ATMs. And even if you’re traveling from elsewhere, you’ll need cash on hand for just about any transactions.
While there are some pickpockets and scammers in Cuba (just as there are in most countries), for the most part, you’ll find far fewer than most tourist destinations. You will want to abide by standard travel tips, such as keeping money in different places, which will prevent it all from being stolen if any of it is.
Do not plan on having constant communication when you’re in Cuba. Wifi exists, but it is in limited locations and expensive. While most phone providers have service in Cuba, it will run you a few bucks per text and minute. You’ll want to be sure to communicate where you are to your home base from time to time, but don’t rely on being connected as a part of your safety net.
Cuba has a few different ways to share transportation with fellow travelers even when you’re traveling alone. You can either take the official Viazul buses while getting from city to city, or book a collectivo, a shared taxi. It’s a great way to meet other travelers and safely get from place to place.
Many people travel to Cuba to enjoy the live music, dancing, and mojitos. Traveling as a solo woman doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these things. While you should stay aware of your situation and know your limits (as you should in any city), you can dance the night away. You will likely find some “friendly” men out, but they’ll usually get the hint if you’re not interested.
Is there crime in Cuba? Yes, of course. There’s crime everywhere.
Are there some people looking to take advantage of tourists? Yes, of course. That happens everywhere.
But does that mean you shouldn’t visit? Not at all.
After over a week in Cuba, I am happy to say that I was never in a situation where I felt unsafe.
As solo women travelers, we do need to keep our guard up a little more and stay smart and aware of what’s going on around us as we travel. But we also shouldn’t let others’ concern and misconceptions stop us from exploring the beauty of the world.
Book your flight and casa and take off! You’ll love to chance to meet Cuban people, explore Havana’s streets, see the natural beauty of the country, and more.
Do you want to travel to Cuba, or have you already been? Share in the comments!