So you want to bring home a little something to remember your trip to Cuba, but not sure what's a good idea and what might be asking for trouble? Here's how to bring a taste of the Cubana life home with you and avoid any airport questioning. A note: You can legally bring back $100 in cigars and/or Cuban rum, so choose wisely.
If you ask Cubans why their cigars are superior, they'll tell you it's the tobacco, and the rich soil that makes for a better crop. Or that it's all about the rolling of the cigar and the talent that has been passed down through generations. Whatever the reason, Cuban cigars make a great exclusive gift or souvenir. One of the most popular brands is Cohiba, which you can find for sale on the street, or in souvenir shops and high-end hotels. For the best rates, get them direct from the cigar factory and go for a tour while you're there.
In the land of mojitos, rum is more accessible (and often cheaper) than water. Havana Club is the standard in bars and restaurants, and is beloved among Cubans. Known as "The Rum of Cuba," it's basically the only acceptable brand to have in your cocktail, and you can only get it in Cuba. Pick up a bottle in gift shops, hotels, or at the airport duty-free shop.
3. Dance Moves
If you have any interest in salsa dancing, Cuba is the place to learn. Dancing is an everyday thing in Cuba, and can be found everywhere — clubs, restaurants, or just in the streets. It's also a fun way to mingle with the locals. Instructors here are the real deal, so just a couple lessons will give you a really good foundation if you want to continue taking classes or just impress your friends once you get home. Check out La Casa del Son in Havana.
Coffee is an experience in Cuba. It's a standard in the morning, as well as in the late afternoon as a pick-me-up. Walk into any café and order a café Cubano, and you'll get a perfectly smooth, dark-roasted espresso shot balanced with hints of caramel sweetness and topped with a layer of thick crema. Basically, it's a piece of heaven in a pocillo (demitasse) cup. Luckily, you can buy a bag of beans for when you need a taste of Cuba in your own kitchen.
Besides the coffee beans, the other ingredient that makes a café Cubano so memorable is the sugar. Demerara sugar is light brown, with course granules and a light molasses flavor. It's added to the espresso as it's brewed, and creates an evenly sweetened, thick-bodied espresso shot without the need for added milk or sugar. Bags of raw demerara sugar can be found in open-air markets and gift shops, and make a sweet addition to your pantry.
(Image credits: Megan Fawn-Schlow; Megan Fawn-Schlow; Megan Fawn-Schlow)