Cuba has certainly been making headlines over the last few years. It’s a country filled with intrigue, history and a 500-year old culture. If you’ve been on the fence about a trip to Cuba, I can honestly say it’s worth a visit. I left this curious little country wanting to spend more time exploring. That’s a true sign of a good vacation. Here are some insights from my trip:
Can I still go?
Yes! Despite all the political talk, travel to Cuba is still legal and open for Americans. The only stipulation is that we plan your trip with a licensed company that does not use Cuban Government owned hotels, restaurants or tours. This isn’t a problem because most of the experiences we naturally recommend are not government owned.
Is it Safe?
Despite the conflicts between our governments, the people of Cuba are warm and welcoming. In all of my travels, people are people. You will be greeted with smiles and waves throughout the city. While Cuba is relatively new for Americans, over 4 million people travel to Cuba a year from places like Canada and Europe. Crime is minimal and the only caution is to watch out for pickpockets which are typical in most tourist destinations. As for the mysterious sonic attacks aimed at the US embassy, there have been no reported cases involving tourists. Tourism is the top revenue source for Cuba and the primary focus for economic recovery. In a country where the average monthly income is $25 (for day laborers and doctors), the most affluent job you can hold in Cuba is being a tour guide. We were told the only sound guests will need to worry about is the loud salsa music.
What can I expect?
If you’re looking for a warm weather, Caribbean getaway with luxury resorts, Cuba isn’t the right choice. The reason to visit Cuba is to experience a country with an intriguing history that is trying to find its path forward in this changing world. Travelers will see the everyday struggle and ruin next to renovation and hope. Cuba’s history goes back nearly 500 years (founded in 1519) with influences from Spain, France, England, Russia, China and the U.S. It truly is a melting pot of cultures.
The common image associated with Cuba is the vintage 1950’s cars. I was curious if this was more of a touristy pitch or if it’s a common occurrence. To my delight, you could not miss seeing 1950s cars on the roads. Truly a sight to be seen.
When you’re short on parts, creatively starts to kick in. What might look like a 1957 Chevy Convertible on the outside, holds Chevy, Audi and Ford parts on the inside.
There are parts of Havana which clearly fit the mold of Russian, communist architecture. Heavy on concrete and propaganda, Revolution Square is home to many political gatherings.
The Cuban people are very proud of their heritage and independence. When constructing their nation’s capital, it was modeled after Washington DC. Except the Cuban dome is 3 feet higher.
Cuba is a land of many contradictions. While being a communist country, they are also devout Catholics. When you enter the port of Havana, travelers are welcomed by a towering statue of Jesus which had the Russians scratching their heads.
Havana is filled with beautiful architecture and cathedrals. Some of which were modeled after Florence, Italy.
Before there was Sin City, Las Vegas, there was Havana, Cuba. Today, you can sample fine Havana Rum, choose from over 150 types of handmade cigars and listen to the sounds of local music. Music is everywhere. In the streets. In the homes. And in the clubs. It’s a defining feature of this interesting country.
Cuba was once a playground for the rich and famous. It was also well documented through the Godfather movies to be a safe haven for the mafia. The most famous hotel in Havana is the Hotel Nacional.
For those of you that can read Spanish (or search Google Translate), I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of Hemmingway’s favorite Mojito recipe. It’s REALLY good! Fun fact – Mojito’s were invented in Cuba.
Curious little things
In all my travels, I tend to remember the little things that hold unexpected intrigue.
What looks like a drab photo is actually an interesting backstory. At one time Cuba was the equivalent of Fort Knox. All of the treasure that was stolen from South America, found it’s way to Cuba before heading back to Europe. With riches, comes excess. One classic example is about the wife of a Cuban aristocrat. She did not like the sound of horses and carts on the hard cobblestone streets. So she commissioned workers to replace the clay stones with wood to soften the obtrusive noise. They still lie in place to this day.
As you wander off the restored tourist courtyards you quickly snap back into reality by witnessing what everyday life is really like in Havana. There is hardship. Crumbling buildings. No running water. And ration books that offer barely enough food to survive.
Over the past 500 years, Cuba has experienced everything from booming economies to collapse and ruin. For me, this was a trip that offered fun experiences such as riding in a 1957 Chevy Convertable and listening to Salsa music in a Havana club.
But it also provided moments of pause and deep reflection. Cuba isn’t another warm-weather getaway like other Caribbean islands. But it will offer an opportunity to take a journey within yourself. And meet some amazing people along the way.
How can I get there?
Quick & Easy – Azamara offers 4-day cruises from Miami. It’s an easy long weekend to get a taste of Havana. It’s also nice to treat your 800 passenger ship like a hotel offering safe water and all the modern comforts.
Private – Pique Travel Design has the expertise to design private trips to Cuba. Most tours to Cuba are with People-to-People exchange groups. If you want an experience all your own, our designers can create something unique.
Educational – National Geographic hosts amazing group trips by land and sea. Pique Travel Design has a close partnership with Nat Geo. We can offer the same price as booking direct along with our expertise to handle your pre/post travel.
Interested in visiting Cuba? Email Jim at JimB@PiqueTravel.com.