Cuba Travel: Experience Cuba With a Local

Do you really experience Cuba by vacationing at an all-inclusive resort? Is it safe to travel to Cuba? How to Travel to Cuba from Canada? Become inspired to travel to Cuba with Citizen of the World. To experience Cuban Culture, I had to get off the resort. Travel to Cuba to experience a country’s vibrant culture by bonding with the locals, walking the streets and going beyond tourist areas. A Citizen of the World wouldn’t find joy in an all-inclusive resort because we strive for authentic experiences to really connect with the local culture. Learn the locale for a truly Cuban experience in Varadero and Havana, Cuba. Is Cuba safe? Absolutely!

Travel to Cuba 

Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean Islands, receives 1.2 million Canadian tourists a year, yet how many of those tourists take the time to learn the Cuban locale? Do travellers have an ethical responsibility to learn about the locales in which they are visiting? How many travellers travel without actually seeing the world? What I’m talking about, is taking time to learn from the locals about the daily life of that country. See for yourself “Is it safe to travel to Cuba?

Really Experience Cuba

How many Canadians traveling to Cuba take the time to experience life under communism? There are massive economic and social hardships that Cubans experience on a daily basis. When Canadians go to Cuba, what we typically hear is how beautiful the beaches, we don’t hear about the local situation. For a local experience in Cuba. When booking a vacation to Cuba, say no to all inclusive resorts, and YES to local experiences.  A real visit to Cuba involves leaving the compounds of an all-inclusive resort, and truly experiencing the culture of Cuba.

Live like a Local

havana experience cuban culture

There are countless benefits from living like a local. Immerse yourself into the Cuban way of life and see how Cuba is safe. You’ll be able to answer the question “Is Cuba Safe?”, honestly because you stepping outside of your comfort zone and saw for yourself. You’re able to explore new areas, meet new people, take risks, eat things you wouldn’t normally eat, and just live life by whatever you’d like to do. When you are traveling and living like a local, it’s completely outside your comfort zone.

Real Cuban Experience

After a while, staying on a resort ends up feeling like I’m institutionalized. And, in every way the resort does institutionalize you. Yes, you can leave. But, when you are in the compound of the resort, you feel like they control all your actions, and when certain activities can be performed. Only clients of the resort are allowed within the compound, so night after night, you are interacting with the same people. My heart was craving a real Cuban experience. It is safe to travel Cuban and do your own thing.

Is it safe to travel to Cuba?

cuban experience author kathleen parisien

One evening, after countless Cuba Libre’s, I found myself walking around the resort with nothing to do. I ventured out to the local 24 hour cafe/bar. My plan was to just get a cheese sandwich as I was hungry after a night of drinking. When I got to the bar, there was this blond Cuban boy with spiked ice tips. I couldn’t help but think that he reminded me of a member of a boy band from the 90’s. He invited me over to join him and his friends, who were drinking red bull mixed with beer. Instead of asking myself “Is Cuba safe?”, I became one with the locals.

Citizen of the World

One of his friends with big green eyes and the perfect tan asked me where I was from. Having traveled everywhere, but now back in Canada, it did not seem accurate to simply say I was Canadian, so I replied, I’m a Citizen of the World. That night Keny really surprised me, as not only was his English superior to most Cubans I had previously met, but he knew his history pretty well. When I told him that I had studied in Israel, he proceeded to talk to me about his opinion of the conflict. We started talking about politics in Cuba and had a debate about Marxism. While studying in Marxism in University, it sounded reasonable on paper. Yet, I hadn’t experienced Cuba like I was about to. 

Citizen of the World Kathleen Parisien

Fast forward to 2020, Citizen of the World is published and available on Amazon Worldwide. Read a thought provoking adventure of self discovery through travel. Explore South America and the Middle East with Citizen of the World, by Kathleen Parisien.

keny and kathleen experience cuba in havana with a local

Real Cuban Experience

Of course, compared to Kenny, I am naive and because of that Keny wanted me to have a real Cuban Experience. Keny said that if I think communism is good, then I need to spend 24 hours living in the true conditions of communism. He repeated to me countless times, “To know a country, you need to see a country. Not just be a tourist”.

Experience Cuba: Don’t be a tourist

This is the same mantra that I tell people all the time, to go off the beaten track and explore. Here I was in Cuba, getting called out by this person that I had just met. Of course, I accepted his offer, however deeply down I was averse to it. My mind raced with thoughts of me spending the night in a shack without running water, in the middle of a desolate community. The next evening, I met Keny again to discuss the details of my “Cuban experience”. He announced that we would be going to Havana, and I was suddenly relieved. 

Is it safe to travel to Cuba?

From traveling to Cuba from Canada since I was in University, Cuba has always been a safe place. Are you wondering, “Is it safe to travel to Cuba?“. My answer is, what are you afraid of? Of course it’s safe to travel to Cuba. Something “bad” can happen to you in your home, yet you still leave the house. I would ask you what are you afraid of? Learn to face your fears head on, acknowledge them, then move on. Remember, you are not your thoughts. Yet, look what I experience while travelling… Still, I don’t let my fears hold me back.

Anxious to Travel

Have you ever felt anxious to travel? That night, I could not sleep. There were so many emotions and thoughts running through me. There was a cold front coming into Varadero, and the wind howled loudly the entire night. I was anxious, scared, but really excited. I wanted to cancel. If we were back in Canada, and I would have had cellphone reception, I would have texted Keny telling him that I didn’t want to go. Of course, this was not Canada, and there was no cellphone reception. In Cuba, it’s very traditional, in the sense that when you tell someone you will meet them somewhere, you actually have to stay true to your word and meet them. I appreciated this in Cuba, as with modern technology, I feel that there is a lot of text messaging for nothing. In Cuba, conversations are straight to the point and forward. Being anxious to travel is a normal reaction to something great coming our way. Feeling anxious is a normal emotion when learning the locale of a new place.

Havana Experience Cuba

Before taking off to Havana, I met Kenny in front of my hotel with two cappuccinos in hand. When we arrived at the bus station, the plan was to take a collectivo, meaning a taxi with strangers for 10 pesos a person. Since this was just after New Year’s, there were a lot of travellers heading from Varadero to Havana so we had to wait. One bus went by, and I asked Kenny if we could take that one and he responded, “That bus is only for Cubans “. Is Cuba safe? Yes, as this means of control to create a divide between us and them. Cuba is safe, even with its discretionary policies. Continue reading!

Then, a taxi was going to Havana with other tourists but refused to take us together because I was a foreigner, and he was a Cuban; the other riders were foreigners. Finally, we found a bus with other foreigners that would take both us. He charged us 20 pesos each, and after asking Keny if he had ever gone to Havana with a tourist before, he responded, “Yes, but this is the most I have ever paid”. To put things into perspective, for a Cuban to travel to Havana on their national buses, it costs 1.50 pesos. People talk about apartheid governments, usually in respect to Palestinians and South Africa, but the media never reports on what is happening in Cuba. The next 24 hours of my life made me realize this.

Benefits of a Local Guide in Cuba

For the next 24 hours, I walked the streets of Havana with someone who knew every street, alleyway and turn like the back of his hand. I felt like I was in a movie or something. It’s truly magical to travel with a local as I felt safe and secure. I am used to traveling, but normally it consists of me holding a map and walking around aimlessly. With Keny, it was different as he always had a plan and followed it thoroughly. Keny took me places, and told me stories I would have only seen in movies, but now life was suddenly much, much better than the movies. I learned every Cuban goes to military service for at least one year, however from listening to him describe his service, it sounded more like a service to the government, than actually a sophisticated military service focused on security. For example, Cubans can choose to live in barracks or to live independently. While he got to meet Cubans from other parts of the island, it was not even comparable to the military service that Israelis fulfill.


Talking to Kenny gave me a whole different perspective on life, and specifically communism. Taking the time to learn the locale meant that I learned what life under communism was like. Keny told me that communism is like, “treating humans like chickens and trying to put people into cages and making them all do the same thing”. This does not work. It’s definitely safe to travel to Cuba as Canadians and other foreigners bring in billions of dollars each year. Is Cuba safe for the local people? That’s the real question.

Che Guevara

experience cuba havana citizen of the world

The famous Argentinian war hero, Che Guevara, has his face appearing on endless t-shirts, posters, murals and even statues all over Cuba. Tourists really believe he liberated the Cuban people from oppression, however this is not what history reveals. Che Guevara was responsible for mass killings of Cuban people, and was the fundamental promoter for Communism in Cuba. He implemented what Americans refer to as “labor slave camps”, and many Cubans were arrested if they did not agree with Che’s teachings. The degree in which propaganda has been facilitated by the Castro dictatorship is bewildering. Most Cubans believe that Che was a national hero, because this is what they are taught in schools. Cubans are also only allowed to three television shows, which of course when controlled solely by the government, who decides exactly what it wants its citizens to watch. Is Cuba safe?

Wi-fi in Cuba

learn the locale cuba havana

What I found remarkable about Keny is he did not accept what the government told him as genuine, rather he took his own initiative to uncover the truths. Obviously with internet now, it is not difficult to find this information, but Wi-Fi was only introduced to Cuba a few years ago. Sadly, the Wi-Fi is only available in very limited locations. Kenny does not have internet in his home or on a 3G network, like Westerners take for granted. Rather, he has to walk down the street to the nearby hotel to purchase internet that may or may not work. Experience Cuba to see how life is totally different.

Experience Cuba With A Local Guide

Anytime I had a question to ask, Keny, my personal local guide was right there beside me. I felt so alive and at ease with him to learn the locale. We had only met a few days ago, but I felt comfortable enough to ask any kind of question that came across my mind. I was so excited, that I did not even notice that I had missed eating breakfast and lunch. Walking through the vibrant streets of Havana was exhilarating, but when we sat down for drinks, or food, this was when Keny really opened up. I was continuously surprised by the wealth of knowledge that he has. I often asked how he knew everything, and he responded with, “the internet is not just for Facebook”. In an age where social media can be a tool, it is more often than not a distraction. This is an individual choice on how one spends their free time, they can choose to read about gossip through social media, or they can take the initiative to use all the tools at their disposal to educate and inform themselves. Instead, being a lifelong learner leads to more freedom.

Travel to Cuba

Can you experience Cuba just through reading about Cuba? Immersing yourself into the culture, experiential learning is the best way to truly learn the locale of a new country. Travel cuba to really live a whole different world.

Experience Cuba: Cuban Politics

Naturally, I was curious about Cuban Politics. Especially, how the Cuban government allocates food to its people. He told me that there are special “stores” where Cubans can purchase specific quantities of sugar, beans, rice, bread and a very small portion of meat. He advised that most Cubans only have water and sugar for breakfast. He told me that it’s a good source of energy. I, being an advocate for nutrition and proper eating, knew that this was not sufficient source of nutrients for children growing and getting an education. Learn the locale to learn about global injustices. How can we make the world better for everyone?

drink beers with local cuba

I couldn’t help but remember what I learned in Brazil. In Brazil, there are thousands of children that die of starvation each year, therefore there are lots of social initiatives in order to get food to families and children. One social good initiative that was thriving in Brazil in 2014 was non-for-profit organizations that allocated food to those in need from supermarkets where it was no longer sellable. I asked if there were any initiatives like this in Cuba, and Keny noted how much food is wasted in the hotels of Varadero, yet no social initiatives were in place to allocate proper nutritious meals to the Cuban people. I asked Keny “Why not?” His response was simply that the government only does what is best for the ruling interests, not for the Cuban people. We drunk beer all night as we continued to talk about politics so I could learn the locale. 

Life under Communism

The next morning we took to the streets again, where I could see life under communism. We walked outside the tourist area, and into areas where Cubans actually live. Now I was really learning the locale. The difference is immediately evident. Stores exist, but the shelves are empty. It was a Monday morning, and while Cubans were walking somewhere, I kept asking myself where they were going. Streets were lined with any legitimate businesses or high rises like one would expect to see in a capital city. Instead, we saw run down shops with several people inside them, maybe 10-20 Cubans all working together on fixing some kind of old machinery. I saw people sleeping on sidewalks, a lot of people smoking cigarettes as if this was their only task that day, and I saw lots of garbage, to the extent that there were decaying dead dogs on the side of the road. Houses were falling apart, I was surprised that they had not fallen apart already. This is life under communism? How could this be?! Warming, learning the locale can be emotionally draining. Is Cuba safe?

“I am Cuban, I cannot own a sailboat”

I was sad. Just by waking a mere five minutes away from the tourist centre of Havana, which is sponsored by UNESCO, I saw true poverty and struggle. I was disappointed. I was full of distressed emotions, I was distraught. Why is it, in 2017, people are struggling to live? We have an abundance of resources (technology), and yet Cubans have nothing. Keny told me that he has dreams of sailing the world, and my question was, “Have you ever sailed?” To my ignorance, he said, “I am Cuban, I cannot own a sailboat”. I should not have to feel ashamed for asking such a regular question, and he should not be forbidden from realizing his dreams. Is Cuba safe? I hope this blog has put this question into a wider perspective.

no boats for cubans in havana citizen of the world

In retrospect, I am so glad that I did not let my emotions get in the way, as the experience I gained with Keny was life changing. Taking the time to learn the locale and to experience Cuba is thought provoking. Before something great is about to happen, we often feel reluctant. It’s like our minds want us to stay in our comfort zones, it’s almost like our egos try to control our behaviours. We must always choose the more difficult route, by learning the locale, because again this is where we grow. By learning the locale in Cuba, I truly experienced Cuba. Do you really experience Cuba? How can you experience Cuba to learn the locale?