Solo traveling to Cuba was by far my most precious solo travel trip to date. As a solo Black woman traveler, I felt the joy of being able to blend in, be invisible and still be cared for.

Whether on cross-country bus rides or in the plazas in Old Havana, Cuba was good to me. Even still, there were certain things that I wish I knew before solo traveling to Cuba.

Cuba is so much more than Havana

Photo by: riangkrai Thitimakorn

Havana has a special kind of magic, I am not here to debate that. Undeniably, it cannot be likened to any kind of city I have ever visited, and this is coming from a city girl. However, it definitely isn’t the only precious part of Cuba.

On a whim inspired by my frustration of trying to connect to the Wi-Fi as well as feeling bolder having just turned 24, solo and in my new favorite city, I walked into La Inglaterra Hotel and booked a day trip to Viñales. I had no idea of what to expect of the Cuban countryside, but it didn’t disappoint and made me curious.

I also wish I knew about Santiago, known among Cubans as ‘La Tierra Caliente’ or the hot earth because of the intense sun. I’ll definitely be adding Trinidad or Holguín to my list for my next trip because of the many waterfalls and national parks. In all honesty, what I’ve realized is that these locations are easily reached from Havana with national buses, the only thing is stepping out of the intoxicating clutches of La Habana Vieja to ask the questions and book the trips.

Save yourself the 3 hour bus trip to Varadero, there are dreamy beaches in Havana

Havana’s own Santa María beach

To be fair, this is a slight cheat because my Airbnb host (now aunty) put me on this on my first day arriving. I had planned to visit Varadero’s gorgeous blue waters as a treat to myself. What I didn’t know was that it would cost me over 3 hours each way, while Santa María beach was right there, a local bus trip away.

I can confirm that the Caribbean beach settings don’t disappoint, and I indulged heavy in the vintage tropical-beach-getaway vibes.

Forget about your veganism

Veganism is a cute thing that vendors wave out of existence in Havana. Being a traveling vegan isn’t always easy, but in Havana it was a nutritional nightmare.

If I had the opportunity, I would prepare myself to eat the tuna toasted sandwiches guilt-free because, unbeknownst to me, it would be my main and only source of protein outside of my rice, salad and beans diet.

With the blockade and social state of Cuba, the vegan trend hasn’t arrived in full effect like it has in countries globally. The poverty in Cuba also means that the privilege to choose what to eat and what not to eat, also isn’t a widespread thing for Cubans. While there were some meals I was able to veganize, vegan or plant-based cuisine often wasn’t available or common knowledge.

So, vegan travelers, make your adjustments or do your thorough research of vegan spots before arriving.

The real Cuba has been romanticized, heavily

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Tourism typically glamorizes Cuba by only portraying some few buildings in the center that have been maintained and so aren’t dilapidated. You usually see this image with a pristine looking car from the 50s strolling by, convincing you of Cuba’s promise of a trip to the old world for travelers from the West.

I learned that the poverty in Cuba is closer to the center than ever. I stayed in Centro Havana, where the poverty is tangible and yet the community keeps things running. The romanticized aspect of a Cuba that is willingly, happily stuck in the past is a false Cuba.

The Cuban spirit of resourcefulness is what actually keeps the country alive. Knowing this before arriving could really change where you choose to spend your money and how you manage your expectations when visiting.

If the malecón sucks you into its magic, let it

There are several piers in Latin America, but none compare to the malecón habanero (Havana’s pier), which happens to be the longest running in the region.

As a solo traveler, it is always good to know the free things that are available in the city, bonus if they are the locals’ favorite way of enjoying the city.

I underestimated the glory of Havana’s malecón, it proved to be much more than a place to overlook the salty sea. The malecón is the perfect place to dance or admire reggaeton dance moves from the many stereos blasting music, it is a good place to enjoy your pre-lunch platanos, it is your fishing spot, your date spot, your go-to people watching seat all for free.

I felt my absolute safest solo traveling to Cuba as a Black woman

Traveling solo as a Black woman is not always the easiest of processes. There is always a long list of things to consider, in terms of personal safety, comfort, access, social circles and on and on the list goes. I think that by far Cuba has felt the most right for me.

Being in a space where I could navigate Havana without being stared at, even being confused as Cuban was refreshing, new. I enjoyed the familiar Caribbean environment, the behavior and mentality that even during hardship there is music and there is dancing. I enjoyed being in a space where I could go out late, come back in the early hours of the morning and still see people of all ages in the streets, enjoying the entirety of the night. Mostly, I enjoyed the invisibility to enjoy the country without feeling like an impostor, instead I felt seen which allowed for a whole new standard for future solo travel trips.