What’s not to love about Cuba? It has a culture infused with salsa dancing, mojitos, incredible food … and not just a little historical intrigue. On the 20th March 2015, decades-old tensions between Cuba and the USA were put aside and President Barack Obama visited the island (the first President in 80 years to set foot there). As the highest profile person in recent history to visit Cuba, travel insurance was probably not a responsibility of the Prez. For everyone else however, given the country’s ‘interesting’ profile, it should be a no-brainer.
Where do we start? If you love a bit of celebrity talk, think of the famous people who hail from there.
- Cuban celebrities - Grammy Award-winning singer Gloria Estefan was born in the capital, Havana. Desi Arnaz, star of I Love Lucy and husband of Lucille Ball was a native, as was beloved entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. New York-born Hollywood beauty Rosario Dawson is of Afro-Cuban descent while actress Cameron Diaz’s father is Cuban. Academy Award-nominated Andy Garcia of The Godfather fame was born in Havana and others such as actress Eva Mendes, rapper Pitbull, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos were born to Cubans.
- The coffee - Yes, if you’re a coffee lover, you’ll be in your element. Coffee is a socialising potion in Cuba. Instead of grabbing-and-going with a cardboard tray of lattes to transport to work, you would sit and chat over coffee. If you like a latte, order ‘café con leche’ (coffee with hot milk) or a ‘cortadito’ (espresso topped with steamed milk). But be warned; Cubans prefer their coffee strong. They take it at any time of day and it is served in tiny espresso cups
- The cars - Think retro low riders. Think colourful, massive, boat-sized cars with incredible leather upholstery and no roof. They’re an iconic symbol of Cuba and add colour and style to the streetscape.
- The music - You’ll hear salsa music everywhere and you’ll probably see salsa dancers strutting their stuff on footpaths outside bars. There’s often a singer on any street corner you care to visit, serenading the passing parade.
- You can wear a cool hat - Have no fear, you can absolutely pull out that fedora and rock it on the streets of Cuba without anyone calling you a hipster. It’s just the way things are done there.
Some things have a reputation in Cuba for being tourist hazards. Knowing what they are can help you avoid becoming a victim.
- Mopeds - Though a popular way to get around, mopeds are notoriously dangerous. If you do hire one, remember that your Cuba travel insurance will most likely not cover you for a liability that arises as a result of your custody or control of a motorised vehicle. Always check the PDS of insurance documents and rental agreements before purchasing or signing. Being run down by a moped can get you injured – or worse – so be watchful for them. Your insurance policy may cover you for injuries sustained in such an accident.
- Theft - As a poorer nation, there are many people who need to rely on tourists for money. Theft, pickpocketing and muggings occur regularly in Cuba. Guests have reported theft of small amounts of money from in-room safes or from bedside tables; not enough to be instantly noticeable, but enough from each room to be worthwhile. Keep a close eye on your camera when out and about and also be sure not to flash your money around where people can see. Keep your wits about you, avoid heavy intoxication, pay attention to activities in your vicinity and never leave possessions unattended. Depending on the terms of your Cuban travel insurance policy, you may not be covered for theft if it is deemed that you left your items without supervising them.
- Scams - Best to avoid buying anything that is being offered to you by a person who doesn’t seem to be associated with a shop or market. Whether it’s jewellery, clothing or a new watch, you don’t want to be caught with counterfeit goods, or have the police chase you for being in possession of stolen property. Also avoid being directed to tourist attractions by characters who may actually take you to less desirable parts of the area.
- Counterfeit Money - Becoming more common, counterfeit pesos will literally be good for nothing if you try to exchange them for goods or services.
- Taxi rip-offs - Never believe a taxi driver who says you have to pay the tariff rate, taxi rate and kilometre rate. Paying passengers are only expected by law to pay the metered rate. Ask the driver to confirm the rate before the trip begins. The more you seem to be on to any scams, the less of a target you’ll be.
Cuba is, for the most part, a safe tourist destination. Drug trafficking through and out of the country is a reluctant industry because the penalties are so high. In fact, Cuban laws are extremely strict whether you’re a local or a foreigner and authorities are unlikely to be sympathetic. Committing a crime also means it’ll be unlikely that your travel insurance will cover you for losses that occur as a result of unlawful behaviour.
One of the most endearing aspects of Cuba is that, aesthetically, it seems to be stuck in a 1950s time warp, complete with the cars, architecture and even some of the fashions of the era. That gives it a sweet touch. On the other hand, it is gradually forging its way forward, now that the 47-year financial and commercial embargo has been lifted.
Go to Cuba for your next holiday and experience a laid-back lifestyle, music everywhere, fabulous food and the most luscious mojitos you’ll ever sip. Get your travel insurance squared away and read the PDS so you know what you’re covered for.
Then, get your dancing shoes on and look forward to living it up on this energetic island in South America.