Cuba is an exciting, engaging destination for solo female travellers – but it pays to take some precautions. Here’s how to stay safe and enjoy your adventures
Pack breathable clothing like maxi-dresses, midi skirts, shirts, vest tops and long shorts – in cotton, tencel or linen for maximum comfort. You can dress up more for evenings out, otherwise do as Cubans do and keep it casual.
Humidity can be high, so carry a fan, hat and sunglasses. Trainers and comfortable sandals work best on the uneven streets, and a kaftan or cardigan helps on cool evenings. Bring an umbrella and raincoat in the monsoon season (May-October) and beyond, as downpours are sudden and intense.
All women, whether Cuban or visitors, experience catcalling and wolf-whistles – known as piropos – from men. This is normal and usually non-threatening, and it happens whether you're wearing shorts (which are perfectly acceptable in most places) or a full-length dress.
Either ignore comments, or respond in Spanish: 'no me moleste' (pronounced 'no mee mol-ES-tay') which means 'don't bother me'. Don't take offence; the catcalls are an irritating side-effect of machismo culture, but they're nothing to worry about.
Solo travel isn't big in Cuba yet, and women travelling on their own is even less common. That means you'll be more noticeable to the tourist touts, jineteros or jineteras, in search of covetable CUC (tourist currency) cash. For example, they might offer to show you around or take you to their favourite bar, and they'll expect a hefty fee for doing so. They're often linked to the black market. Just walk away and don't engage with them.
Instead, take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour in Havana, Vinales or Trinidad: much cheaper than the clichéd classic car tour, and you can learn to navigate the streets without being pestered. Alternatively, take a walking tour, where you might meet like-minded solo travellers. Should you get lost, retreat to a café or shop to consult your map. Learn some simple Spanish phrases to feel more independent, and carry a phrase book for back-up.
Stock up on tampons, sanitary towels, shampoo and toilet roll before you arrive, as all are scarce here. Leave any leftover toiletries at your accommodation – they'll be appreciated by local women.
Cuban women are proud of their grooming rituals and tend to have immaculate hair and make-up. They are, however, experienced at waiting in line for things, so visiting one of the country's slowly emerging beauty parlours can take a long time. Should you crave a cosmetic fix in Havana, visit Habana 1791 and treat yourself to traditional handmade Cuban perfume, as women from across the country do.
Take precautions with your handbag: if nothing else, to avoid losing holiday time to Cuban police bureaucracy. When you're out and about, carry only as much money as you need, possibly in a travel wallet, and use a secure, zipped bag with a sturdy strap.
Cuba is a largely safe country, but petty theft is common in areas like the Malecón (Havana's photogenic seaside strip) and in the resort town of Varadero. After a tiring day sightseeing, hail a coco taxi, which looks a bit like a tuk-tuk, and is safer than walking alone at night in those prime tourist areas – especially when you've had a few daiquiris and you're not part of a group. Taxis are relatively cheap and your safety is far more important than saving a few CUCs.
Polly Allen is a travel-loving freelance journalist and blogger. Check out her blog: travellingcalavera.com
Follow her at twitter.com/misspallen
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