Holiday in Cuba is wonderful, but as a foreigner in a relatively poor country, most of the local merchants will see you as a cash machine. First tip: always negotiate prices. If you are taking a taxi, buying a bike, browsing souvenirs or renting a casa particular; whenever you request a price for a product or service, vendors will immediately throw out a high number. Do not feel shy about making a low counter offer. You can sometimes save 50% or more. Most importantly, don’t worry about walking away from a vendor if the asking price for something is too high. This tactic will almost certainly sway the seller to become more reasonable, as most vendors hate losing sales.
Second tip: clothes. If you act like a tourist, you will be treated like a tourist (gringo). If you walk down a busy tourist street wearing a novelty panama hat and Che Guevara t-shirt, speaking English loudly and carrying a large SLR camera, every jinetero in Havana will approach you to strike-up a conversation. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you will be hounded by money-seekers constantly. Regardless of your color, nationality or language, you are far more likely to blend in as a local if you simply dress modestly, similarly to how you would dress on a daily basis in your home country.
Tip number three – be safe. The best way to do this is to exercise caution and common sense. A general rule is that if you would not do something in your own country, then you should not risk doing it in Cuba either. For foreigners, the risk of running into trouble increases dramatically when heavy drinking is involved. Moderation and good judgment will help you avoid most hassles and ensure a problem free trip.
Use moneda nacional – this is the fourth tip! Most Cubans receive their salary in Moneda Nacional and this is the most common currency used. There is no reason that you cannot use it as well. For some goods and services you will have no choice but to use Cuc (Peso convertible). This is especially the case in a large city like Havana. But this should be the exception and not the rule. If you make an effort to only buy things which are priced in moneda nacional you will save a lot of money. Furthermore, you will immerse yourself in the Cuban lifestyle, since you will be visiting the same stores and shops as locals.
And finally – treat yourself to a good, sit down meal every day. While you can survive well in Havana by simply eating street food, it is a good idea to have something slightly more fulfilling at least once per day. A full meal at a restaurant only costs about 4 cuc, and the generous serving of healthy food will give you the energy that you need to explore every inch Havana. Despite being delicious, most street food in Cuba is simply filled with empty carbohydrates and provides little nutrition.