When thinking about what the people of various countries around the world tend to wear, it’s important to not think in stereotypes. There are probably many people around the world who still think that Australians dress like Crocodile Dundee. French people don’t walk around wearing a beret as they furiously puff on a cigarette (OK, so maybe a few of them do that last bit). Germans don’t ordinarily wander the streets in lederhosen with a jaunty hat (although interestingly, even mainstream fashion stores will start to sell these outfits before Oktoberfest – about the only time when dressing like this is acceptable). What comes to mind when you wonder how people dress in Cuba? Men wearing brightly-colored shirts while chewing on a big fat cigar? Yes, there is some of that, but that’s another stereotype. When you go to Cuba, you should endeavour to dress like the locals in some respects. Sometimes this shows respect, and in many ways, it’s just pretty darn practical!
On the Beach
While Cuba was politically isolated for many years, it’s still quite a western country in a lot of ways. This means that you don’t need to dress modestly when you hit the beach. Bikinis are perfectly acceptable for women, just as speedos are fine for men. It really just depends on your personal preferences. Please remember that public nudity is not officially permitted in Cuba, so you should not remove all your clothes at the beach. There are supposedly a number of clothing optional beaches on Cayo Largo and Cayo Santa Maria, but these are places where public nudity is tolerated, rather than officially permitted. It should also be said that beachwear is strictly for the beach. You should bring something to wear over your swimwear if you need to do something else afterwards while enroute to your accommodation. So basically, don’t go shopping or dining while you’re still wearing a bikini. Cubans are a tolerant lot in many ways, but you will attract a few curious glances if you try to go into a restaurant when you have literally just come from the beach.
In the Day
Yes, it’s going to be hot. Even the Cuban idea of winter is gloriously warm for a lot of people. So in the daytime, dress for comfort instead of style. Don’t forget to bring a hat to protect you from the sun, but other than that, chances are that you’ll mostly be wearing shorts and a tee shirt during the day. There’s not much in the way of prints or patterns on clothes that might be taboo in Cuba, but it’s said that you should avoid army camouflage prints since this is considered odd in the country. Leave the military style clothing for the actual military. And of course, you’re going to need a very comfortable pair or walking shoes. You will see a lot of tantalizing treats when Locally Sourced Cuba shows you around, and many Cuban cities (even Havana) are best seen on foot. A lightweight jacket can be smart, but you might never need to use this. It would only be to keep the rain off if you happen to be caught in an evening shower. It’s highly unlikely that you would actually use it to keep warm! You can keep things basic if you happen to go to a bar or restaurant in the early evening, and jeans and a tee shirt will be more than enough. But what about when basic doesn’t quite cut it?
In the Evening
Cuba is not a particularly formal society, so you don’t need to bring anything too fancy to wear. You might go to an upmarket restaurant, and while an actual dress code is rare, you would feel out of place in jeans and a tee shirt. This is why men might want to pack a collared shirt or two, and a pair of actual trousers. A lightweight dress can be a good idea for women. Don’t forget to bring matching shoes as well, since your sneakers or hiking boots probably won’t go well with your slightly more refined look. Having said that, you don’t need to bring a whole selection of different looks, but instead you need to bring something appropriate so that you have the choice if needed. Make sure that your evening clothes are made from natural fabrics (such as cotton or linen) as this allows your skin to breath. Synthetic fabrics can quickly become uncomfortably hot on your body in Cuba’s humidity. While street crime is rare in Cuba, you should leave your flashy accessories at home. Overt displays of wealth are really not the done thing in Cuba. So now you know the basics of how to dress like the locals. Now if only you could salsa dance just like them too…