Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

yoga jewel paradise cove resortAbout 25 percent of travelers say they bring workout clothes on vacation but don’t use them, according to a travel trends survey conducted earlier this year. The reason? They’re pressed for time, or too tired.

I’d also venture to say they’re bored by the workout offerings at their hotels. Who wants to waste valuable vacation time in a bland, windowless hotel gym when you can be out having fun? Fortunately, some interesting options are available to ensure you actually don your workout gear during a trip.

Here are seven of the more unusual vacation workouts you may want to try:

Skipping lessons: Yes, you read that right — skipping, like you did as a kid. “Intense” skipping lessons are included in the boot camp-style workout on the Isle of Wight in England through a company called Wildfitness. The four-day itinerary also includes boxing in the woods and leaping over rocks on the beach.

Nude yoga: Try it on one of several clothing-optional cruises to the Caribbean, Europe and French Polynesia organized by the tour operator Bare Necessities.

Desert ice skating: In Dubai, summer temperatures can reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit. But at the Hyatt Regency Dubai, you can learn how to ice skate in the desert from a professional trainer at the hotel’s in-house rink.

Heel workout: The Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian in Las Vegas has a foot-focused workout for women who wear high heels. After finishing the “Fit for Heels” class, you can get a complimentary analysis of the biomechanics of your feet.

Soca dancing: Jamaica’s Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort & Spa offers soca dance classes at its fitness center. Originating in Trinidad and Tobago, soca is a dance involving jumping, waving and hip swaying.

Ironman training: The Thanyapura Sports Hotel in Phuket, Thailand, has an elite Ironman triathlon coach on staff to provide private training to triathlete vacationers. The hotel also offers rugby and track and field training, in addition to lessons in the usual sports you’d find a resort (like tennis and swimming).

Spoga: The all-inclusive BodyHoliday Resort on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia has a glass-enclosed treehouse studio where you can do spoga (a spinning/yoga combo class).

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

world odyssey semester at seaOn September 13, Semester at Sea unveiled its sixth ship, the World Odyssey. Since the inception of the program in 1963, Semester at Sea has offered a unique “university afloat” program for college students and lifelong learners. The debut of the World Odyssey — a new breed of ship for the program — will include a more traditional and upscale cruise setting within its hull. Onboard public spaces include a pool, fitness center, library and outdoor dining area.

Semester at Sea is not about a single ship; it is about a voyage around the world — and a voyage of profound personal and global discovery. As a past participant, I carry with me a deep respect for foreign culture and an understanding of how language, history and sustainable living impact our lives on a global scale. Notable past SAS participants who have gone on to create globally minded enterprises include Jessica Jackley, co-founder and board member of Kiva; Po Chung, co-founder of DHL International; and Adam Braun, founder and executive director of Pencils of Promise.

9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

The Semester at Sea program caters to college-age students but also offers a lifelong learning program for past participants or travelers interested in an academic and cultural experience that is as deep as it is wide. The ship sails approximately 100-day itineraries departing in the fall and spring each year, visiting up to a dozen countries on each voyage. In the past, participants have enjoyed one-of-a-kind opportunities to meet key public figures such as Mother Theresa, Fidel Castro in Cuba and Desmond Tutu.

Would you consider a trip with Semester at Sea?

— written by Vicki Flores

Seville may be romanticized as the vibrant jewel of southern Spain, but for me it’ll forever be remembered as a dusty, hot and overcrowded tourist trap. My only vivid memory is of being drenched in sweat walking up the never-ending ramps of the Giralda bell tower.

Ditto for Florence, Italy, which was overrun with American tour groups and so lacking in lodging when I visited that I had to sleep in a shabby hostel where the roaches congregated at night by the drain in the shower.

There are cities that you’re supposed to fall in love with, that you’re supposed to dream of visiting over and over again. Seville and Florence weren’t among them for me, and I don’t ever think I’ll go back. (To see more staff picks for cities not worth a second trip, see 12 Places You Only Need to See Once.)

Where will I return? Most certainly these five places:

lima peru

Lima, Peru: I must admit, I wasn’t impressed during my first visit to Lima nearly a decade ago. But the city has improved — traffic seems less frenetic and neighborhoods less run down. Lima is worth the trip for its foodie scene alone; some of the world’s most noteworthy restaurants are there.

10 Best Peru Experiences

golden gate bridge san francisco

San Francisco, California: I don’t think of the City by the Bay merely as a U.S. city. San Francisco belongs to the world. Of all the cities I’ve visited, San Francisco is, hands down, the most beautiful. I never tire of the view, especially if the Golden Gate Bridge is within sight.

vigeland park oslo norway

Oslo, Norway: The two days I spent after a cruise to Arctic Norway weren’t nearly enough time in the pristine and pretty Norwegian capital. Oslo is expensive ($12 for a cup of coffee? Seriously?), but worth another visit merely for an extra day strolling through the incredible sculpture garden in Vigeland Park.

The Best Cities to See Cool Public Art

toronto skyline

Toronto, Canada: This is where I first got hooked on traditional afternoon tea (at the Fairmont Royal York) and on ice hockey (at the Hockey Hall of Fame).

segovia spain

Segovia, Spain: I’ve visited several times, always visiting the cathedral and walking along the aqueduct walls. Segovia is the Spain you imagine. Sorry, Seville.

Which places could you visit over and over again?

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Heights: You either love them or wither at the thought of them. If you fall into the phobic category like I do, you’re probably not apt ever to ride a glass-bottomed hot air balloon or swim in the glass-bottomed swimming pool that a British developer recently announced that he’ll construct 10 stories up, spanning two London apartment buildings.

I don’t see those activities in my future. But maybe one day I could stroll across a high-in the-sky glass skywalk. Here are six skywalks I’d like to cross, in order from highest to lowest, if I ever find the nerve:

tianmen skywalk

Tianmen Skywalk, China
Before you jaunt across the glass-bottomed walkway hugging the cliffs of Tianmen (“Heavenly Gate”) Mountain in the Hunan Province of China, you must wrap your shoes in protective booties. This ensures the glass stays clean, so that you can clearly see all 4,700 feet down. (But is it slippery?)

grand canyon skywalk

Grand Canyon Skywalk, U.S.A.
Run by the Hualapai Nation on the western side of the Grand Canyon, the Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped glass walkway that juts 70 feet from the edge of the canyon and 4,000 feet above the riverbed below.

shanghai world financial center observatory

Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory, China
The observation deck of this skyscraper contains a 180-foot-long glass-bottomed walkway that soars more than 1,400 feet in the air.

glacier skywalk jasper

Glacier Skywalk, Canada
In a horseshoe shape like the Grand Canyon skywalk, this walkway overlooks the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies. It’s only 918 feet to the valley below. Only.

dachstein glacier skywalk

Dachstein Glacier Skywalk, Austria
This alpine walkway sits aside a glacier 820 feet up the side of a sheer rock-walked mountain. You have to take a steep gondola ride to get there, and there’s a gut-churning suspension bridge too.

tower bridge glass floor

Tower Bridge Glass Floor, England
It sits a mere 138 feet above the River Thames in London, but looking down on the zooming-by bridge traffic below you will make you feel dizzy. One of the coolest times to be there is during a bridge lift.

If a glass walkway is too much for you, maybe you could instead handle a peek through a glass floor at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Skytree in Tokyo or CN Tower in Toronto.

Or, if you’re extra bold, try the glass-enclosed boxes that jut out from a ledge at the Willis Tower in Chicago or the side of Chamonix Peak in France. I know I won’t be.

Photos: 9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Photo of Tower Bridge Glass Floor used and shared under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. Original photo copyright Flickr user Bex Walton.

Maybe you’re sick of summer’s heat and humidity. Or maybe you’re blissfully reading this from an iPad on the beach. But whether you love it or hate it, summer’s days are numbered — and that means it’s just about time to look ahead to fall.

Where will you travel in the coming months? Here are four fall trips to consider, depending on your interests.

lake district autumn

Looking for leaf-peeping? Consider a jaunt across the pond to England‘s Lake District, whose forested hills come alive with color in the autumn months. There are plenty of places for a stroll in and around Lake District National Park.

lighthouse prince edward island

In need of a little relaxation? Combine lobster, lighthouses and laid-back charm on a road trip around Prince Edward Island, Canada. Famous as the setting for the “Anne of Green Gables” novels and miniseries, the island’s rolling farms and red sandy beaches are the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the simple beauty of the landscape.

grand knip beach curacao

Not ready to let go of summer? Head down to Curacao, known for its pastel-colored capital and peaceful white sand beaches. As one of the ABC islands (along with Aruba and Bonaire), Curacao is far enough south to miss most of the hurricanes that plague other Caribbean islands this time of year.

Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

oryx namaqualand south africa

Want to watch wildlife? Journey to South Africa for a taste of spring south of the equator. South Africa made it into our list of 12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season for several key reasons: Safaris are often a little cheaper this time of year, temperatures are a little more comfortable and wildlife watchers can partake in an annual Whale Festival in Hermanus.

Photos: 10 Best South Africa Experiences

Where are you headed this fall?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

As a couple of street cats look on, we ascend a narrow staircase until we reach a ledge overlooking the whole of Istanbul’s Golden Horn. There, at the somewhat precarious top, our guide has placed pillows for our small group to sit; we’ll be picnicking in the open air, with the spectacular Yeni Cami (New Mosque) behind us and the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in front.

“Welcome to the best view in Istanbul,” said Benoit Hanquet, his longish gray hair blowing in the breeze. Our group of eight murmured appreciatively as Hanquet passed around slices of pide, a pizza-like flatbread created right before us a few minutes earlier.

istanbul view

If you’re tired of tours that bring you to the same old places, it’s time you gave culinary tourism a try. Food tours are about more than stuffing your face with local specialties. Rather, the good ones give you an insight into a city’s culture, allowing you to see how local people eat, drink and spend their free time.

Food tours have taught me more than a typical city stroll. For example, on a walking tour with Frying Pan Adventures in Dubai, I learned how diverse the emirate really is by eating Palestinian falafel, Egyptian pastries and Syrian ice cream as we walked through the Deira district. Many of these foods are cherished by foreign workers, who aren’t allowed citizenship, we were told — which made what we were eating seem far more compelling.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

In Istanbul, I took on the Grand Bazaar with Culinary Backstreets, a food tour company that has now expanded to 16 cities. Founded in Turkey, the company originated as Istanbul Eats, a food guide that first came out in book form, Benoit told us. The authors received so many requests from tourists to help them find the small mom-and-pop stalls and stands in the book that they decided to start offering tours.

doner kebab istanbul food

In Istanbul alone, Culinary Backstreets runs six tours a day. Topics range from a cooking class held in Kurtulus, a neighborhood well off the beaten path, to an authentic meyhane, or night out on the town, complete with raki (Turkish liquor) and live music. While the company keeps the skeleton of the tours the same, the guides do some of their own improvising; Benoit tells us that our picturesque ledge is one that only he visits.

Taking a food tour can require some fortitude, both on your feet and in your stomach. Both my tours in Dubai and Istanbul stretched out over six hours; in Istanbul, we left Benoit after being together 7.5 hours (the Belgian expat was still going strong; he informed us that our “early” departure would keep us from coffee at a restaurant with another great view). Come hungry and pace yourself!

Food tours are not for the squeamish. Although Benoit told us that customers with food allergies or preferences are given options, many of the world’s cities aren’t well suited to picky eaters, particularly when you’re visiting places that specialize in just one thing. In Istanbul, we were coaxed into having kokoretsi, lamb sweetbreads that have been roasted for hours. Served on a toasted piece of French bread, the pieces of offal were melt-in-your-mouth delicious — and even those people on our tour who questioned the stop ended up liking them.

istanbul breakfast

Culinary tours also tend to be bonding experiences. Our Istanbul tour included three lively Australians, three Americans (my husband and I included) and a couple from Pakistan. We listened, enthralled over our bulgur and lentil soup, as Shireen from Islamabad shared the hardships of being an art critic in Islamabad. I still follow the Frying Pan Instagram feed, posted by Farida, a University of Pennsylvania grad who returned to the U.A.E. to start her business. Turns out breaking bread together is an intimate act around the world.

Learn More About Food and Travel

At the end of our Istanbul tour, we exchanged email addresses with our new friends and headed back to our hotel. We were tired and full, but also upbeat; suddenly the streets seemed friendlier and more familiar, now that we had drunk the same sweet tea as the Turks. At the hotel I called up the website for Culinary Backstreets and immediately booked another food tour for next week, when I’m in Athens. I’ve visited there before, but I know that by exploring the city through its bakeries and markets, I’ll come away satiated.

— written by Chris Gray Faust

Yesterday was International Kissing Day, which got us thinking about some of the world’s most romantic and pucker-producing places. Check out the list of our top picks below — and let us know your additions in the comments!

couple eiffel tower paris romantic

Paris, France: This one’s a given. Whether you’re strolling hand-in-hand down the Champs Elysees, cuddling up at night to watch the Eiffel Tower’s twinkling lights or staring into each other’s eyes over lunch and macarons at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, Paris practically screams smoochworthiness.

Samana, Dominican Republic: An off-season trip to a resort in this cheerful town in the DR can be a great experience, particularly because the crowds are thinner (or, in some places, virtually nonexistent). That means you’ll be able to snag more alone time with the one who matters most. Sleep in, find a secluded beach or watch whales breach from your private balcony — which, by the way, is a great place to pucker up.

Living Like a Local in Samana, Dominican Republic

New York, New York: Ironically, there’s nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps to make you and your significant other feel like you’re the only two people in the universe. Jog through Manhattan’s Central Park, experience the craft beer scene in Brooklyn or meander down lesser-known side streets to find a divey pizza joint you can call your own.

bora bora tahiti french polynesia couple romantic

Bora Bora, French Polynesia: Imagine waking up next to your sweetie in your very own hut in the middle of crystal-clear turquoise waters. Even if thatched roofs, colorful fish and open-air sleeping arrangements aren’t your thing, we’re sure the relative seclusion won’t hurt your chances of snagging a peck … or 50.

10 Best French Polynesia Experiences

Venice, Italy: How can you resist a kiss in a city full of historical palaces, playful Carnevale masks and romantic gondola rides along peaceful, winding canals? Have dinner canal-side, and just try to stave off the feeling of la dolce vita that’s sure to follow.

Savannah, Georgia: As if unique shops, restaurants full of atmosphere and stunning architecture aren’t enough, Savannah has a colorful history that includes plenty of rumored ghosts and spirits. Sign up for a nighttime ghost walk, which will force you to keep your loved one close. Then prepare to plant one on him (or her) — or have one planted on you.

cologne love lock bridge

Cologne, Germany: We dare you to find a holiday (Valentine’s Day excluded) that sparks more warm, fuzzy feelings than Christmas. The perfect way to spend some holiday time with your snookums is at one of Germany’s many Christmas markets — and Cologne’s is one of the biggest and best. When you’re done snogging between sips of gluhwein and bites of gingerbread, you can venture to the city’s well-known love lock bridge to further profess your feelings.

Datong, China: Supported by stilts on the side of a mountain, the Hengshan Hanging Temple appears to be “hanging” — hence its name. Explore the roughly 40 rooms that make up this impressive monastery, which dates back more than 1,400 years. The remarkable warren of passageways is great to experience with your partner, especially so you have someone’s hand to hold if you’re afraid of heights! (Note: Out of respect you may want to hold off on locking lips until you’ve left the monastery.)

12 Spots to Fall in Love with Travel

Which destination is your favorite for puckering up?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

On my last trip, I traveled nearly to the ends of the earth.

My destination was Svalbard, a remote cluster of islands located approximately halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It’s a land where polar bears and reindeer roam, and where the only ways to get around are by air, sea, snowmobile or dog sled.

svalbard polar bear

I traveled with polar specialist Quark Expeditions, which offers small-ship cruises in Antarctica, Greenland, northern Canada, Norway, Iceland and even the North Pole. My itinerary was the “Introduction to Spitsbergen,” a Svalbard cruise that sails roundtrip from Longyearbyen with a focus on spotting polar bears, walruses and other Arctic wildlife.

Over eight nights aboard Sea Adventurer, Quark’s oldest vessel, I discovered a few of the qualities that make this itinerary special — plus a couple of little things that didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Wildlife: Every part of a Svalbard cruise is designed to get passengers as close to the wildlife as possible. When a whale surfaces or a polar bear is spotted in the pack ice, the ship veers off course to get a better look. For more intimate encounters, smaller Zodiac boats bring passengers right up to the shoreline for views of nesting puffins or grazing reindeer. In the most incredible moments, the animals came to us — as when a polar bear padded directly across the ice to within about 50 feet of our ship, lifting its sensitive nose to scent us every step of the way. The wildlife is the number one reason that most people book a Svalbard cruise, and it didn’t disappoint.

svalbard reindeer

Staff: Led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable expedition team, Sea Adventurer’s crew kept us safe, well fed and well informed. Naturalist guides piloted the Zodiacs and offered insight about the animals and birds we saw along the way. When viewing wildlife on deck, they helped passengers spot the animals (which were often quite far away and difficult to see, even with binoculars) and positioned the ship’s telescopes to give us a better glimpse. In the evenings they gave talks on everything from walruses to glacial geology.

Beyond the expedition team, the rest of the crew greeted us with smiles and provided efficient service in the dining room, bar and cabins.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

Food: Sea Adventurer may not be a massive cruise ship with food around the clock, but we certainly never went hungry. From early-morning munchies in the lounge to tempting desserts at both lunch and dinner, the food aboard the ship was plentiful and usually delicious (if not always particularly healthy). The highlight was an Arctic barbecue, held on deck one mild evening when the ship was anchored in a fjord. Dining alfresco on burgers, ribs and corn on the cob with a stunning view of a glacier? Yes, please.

Shore Landings: One of our scheduled hiking outings was called off because we spotted a polar bear on shore — obviously not a creature we wanted to encounter on foot! Another landing spot was inaccessible due to ice. In the end, we boarded on Monday afternoon and didn’t set foot on land again until Friday afternoon. That didn’t mean we were twiddling our thumbs in our cabins — Quark filled our days with Zodiac cruises (including some amazing close-up viewing of the polar bear that would have been such a danger to us on land) and nature lectures. Fortunately, we did end up with four landings over the last three days of the cruise, all of which were excellent. But passengers on any Svalbard cruise should keep in mind that all landings are subject to the whims of weather and wildlife.

svalbard hike

Staying in Touch: While Internet access was available on the ship (via Wi-Fi and two computers in the Internet cafe), it often didn’t work in the remote regions where we were cruising. Even when you could get a signal, it was extremely slow and might boot you off between emails. Considering the lofty prices ($20 for 10 MB of data, $50 for 30 MB and $130 for 100 MB) and the fact that the access cards are nonrefundable, most passengers simply didn’t bother.

9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

Are you interested in traveling to Svalbard?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

singers cuba el tanqueRecent changes from President Obama mean that it’s gotten significantly easier for Americans to visit Cuba, but they must still travel under one of 12 categories mandated by the U.S. government. A research trip or a visit to see family? No problem. A beach vacation or simple sightseeing? Those are a no-go. (For the full list of legal categories, see Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How.)

For those of us who aren’t journalists, professors or baseball players starring in an exhibition game, the easiest way to get to Cuba is with a company operating “people-to-people” tours, which fall under the umbrella of Educational Activities as far as the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is concerned. These trips focus on cultural exchange by putting American visitors directly in contact with the Cubans themselves — often in ways that would be difficult or even impossible to arrange on your own.

I recently traveled on such an itinerary with smarTours, which arranged numerous people-to-people activities during our four days in Havana. One highlight was a visit to El Tanque, where an abandoned water tank that used to service steam trains has been transformed into a bustling community center where neighborhood kids can learn painting, music, ceramics, dancing, theater and filmmaking. Several of the instructors gave us an impromptu musical performance before answering questions about the project, giving us insight into how economically challenged neighborhoods in Havana are supporting themselves from within.

5 Things You Need to Know About Traveling to Cuba Now

cuba photographer artist lorenzo lopez sheningThe interactive experiences continued throughout the trip. We ate lunch one day with a local magazine writer, the next with a retired pitcher who’d played for various Cuban baseball teams. We were treated to a private concert by Ele, a dynamic singing group, as well as a performance by incredibly talented children who were studying acrobatics and other circus skills as part of an after-school program called Angels of the Future. (One child swung from the ceiling; another contorted herself into painful-looking poses; still another stood barefoot on his friend’s head!) On our last day in Cuba, we were welcomed into the home of a local artist/photographer, who generously spent an hour answering our group’s questions about his life, his work and the future of Cuba.

While I loved strolling the streets of Old Havana and watching the Buena Vista Social Club perform at our hotel — activities I could’ve done easily on an independent trip — it was the people-to-people aspects of the itinerary that proved to be the most informative and rewarding. At this pivotal point in Cuban history, it was important to hear the voices of the people themselves, expressing their hopes and fears about what’s ahead. (“After the embargo” was a phrase we heard over and over again.)

Yes, group trips have their drawbacks, especially if you love wandering and prefer your schedule to be your own. And I support the right of all American travelers to visit Cuba independently when it’s legal to do so. But I hope that even after all the restrictions are gone, there will still be companies offering people-to-people itineraries in Cuba — because there are few better ways to understand and appreciate this unique culture.

Read About Other Travelers’ Experiences in Cuba

— written by Sarah Schlichter

havana cuba classic carI returned last week from a trip to Havana, Cuba, where I discovered a country on the verge of potentially drastic changes. Since December, when President Obama announced his intention to begin normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, it’s become easier for Americans to visit Cuba legally — and interest in travel to the Caribbean’s largest island has skyrocketed.

Fortunately, there are numerous tour operators offering opportunities to American travelers. I was part of a small group on a people-to-people itinerary arranged by New York-based smarTours. A spokesman for the company tells us that “online inquiries and phone calls have more than doubled since the historic announcement in December 2014, and we are almost sold out of spots for Cuba for 2015.”

With further political and economic maneuverings on the way, including the removal of Cuba from the U.S. state terrorism list, it’s clear that the country is on the brink of tremendous change (much of it welcomed by the Cuban people). If you’re one of the thousands of Americans planning a trip in the coming months to see the country as it is today, here are five things you need to know.

Bring plenty of cash.
MasterCard has said it will allow its credit cards to be used in Cuba, but that’s not a reality yet because the banking system simply isn’t in place. This means you can’t withdraw money from ATMs either — so you’ll want to bring more cash than you expect to spend during your trip to allow for emergencies. (As a guideline, Cuba isn’t a bargain for travelers the way Southeast Asia is, but it’s generally more affordable than traveling in the U.S. or Europe.)

If you can get a good exchange rate — or you have some left over from a previous trip — consider bringing euros, Canadian dollars or British pounds instead of U.S. dollars. When changing money from the greenback to the Cuban Convertible Peso (known locally as the CUC, which rhymes with “fluke”), you’ll have to pay an additional 10 percent fee that doesn’t apply to other currencies. The good news is that you don’t have to pay the fee when converting CUCs back to dollars at the end of your trip; if you turn in 40 CUCs, you’ll receive $40 in return.

And speaking of CUCs…

Keep an eye on your change.
The CUC is one of two currencies used in Cuba. The other one, the peso, is worth significantly less than the CUC, and the bills look similar. Someone in our group was given a three-peso note as change instead of a three-CUC note, which meant that she got only about 11 cents back instead of three dollars.

Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How

Prepare to be out of touch.
You won’t be able to call or text from an American phone in Cuba — though you can use Wi-Fi when it’s available. Internet is offered at some hotels, but it tends to be both slow and pricey. (I paid about $7 an hour at my hotel, Havana’s Melia Cohiba.)

Eat at paladares.
Cuba’s privately owned restaurants, known as paladares, tend to offer better food than those run by the government. Expect to see a lot of rice and beans, as well as fish, Caribbean lobster and ropa vieja (shredded flank steak). Vegetables and fruits vary based on what’s in season; due to the U.S. embargo, Cubans have trouble importing certain foods, so the menus won’t be as varied as those you might see back home.

Keep small change on hand.
If you want a photo with one of the colorfully costumed locals brandishing flowers or cigars in the major squares around Old Havana, prepare to hand over a CUC or two for the privilege. More importantly, you’ll also want to have anywhere from 25 cents to a CUC to give to the attendants at many bathrooms around the country. Yes, paying to pee can be annoying — and you won’t be barred from the restroom if you don’t offer a coin or two — but in a country that’s struggling economically, what seems like chump change to us can make a big difference to the locals.

Cuba Trip Reviews by Real Travelers

— written by Sarah Schlichter