When it comes to Cuba it really doesn’t matter what you read about it in blogs or books. We arrived with lots of expectations and left full of emotions. You really can see that the country is changing day by day and it’s only a matter of time until we hear about first McDonalds opening in Habana, Raul Castro stepping down and Cubans electing their government for the first time in many years. It is not as extreme as we imagine it to be but there are still thousands of reasons why you should go there. Here, I would list my top ten.
Cuba has rich and intense history. Cuba is a hot tropical communist island, which makes it holiday-friendly, world-isolated, politically alternative and simply fascinating place to be. Most of us heard of Castro’s revolution, about Che Guevara and evil American embargo. Cuba also had rich colonial past, century lasting race based conflicts, independence war, issues with pirates, immigration issues, and USA dependence. Cuban people went through dictatorships, rebellions and revolutions. But what nation didn’t, right? The interesting part of it though is that a significant part Castro’s campaign involved constant reflections on Cuban national heroes of the different periods of the modern history of an island. That’s why you cannot walk more than three blocks without seeing a statue of Jose Marti, or not hearing about Masseo or Gomez. Cubans know about their past, they learn it in schools and all you need is to ask to hear a fascinating story.
Cuban people are exceptional to me. They are open, they are outgoing and they are extremely helpful. Of course, they would always try to sell you something or offer some service, but even if you say no to them, that wouldn’t really change their friendly attitude towards tourists. It doesn’t matter whether you speak Spanish or not, Cubans learn to communicate on so many different levels and languages that you can hardly spend a day without having a conversation with a local. In central Habana you can see women with children sitting outside their half destroyed colonial flats asking every other tourist ‘where are you from’, for no reason. Cuban people love to share, but you have to earn their trust if you want to rely on them.
Yes, beautiful beaches, with warm clear blue water, soft white sand and shadowy coconut palms. Cuban beaches are never too full, and always clean. There you always have someone to bring you a Mojito for an extra dollar, or pizza if you wish so.
Our first visit to the pacific side was on a second day after arrival to Holguin, which was 11th of December. Our host said that Cubans don’t go to the beach in December because it’s too cold for them. It was probably around +35 in the air and possibly around +26 in the water. I’m still trying to figure out what is ‘warm’ for locals.
You’re wasting your time if you’re never leaving the walls of your hotel if you’re in Cuba. It is so easy to travel and it definitely worth to do so. The differences between each and every single city that you travel through in Cuba is enormous. Apart from amazing architecture, you get special atmosphere and rhythm of every place you visit on your way. Each region has something to offer and the more time you can spare there, the better. Just getting lost around suburbs is really rewarding. Do that as much as possible. Only piece of advice: invest in a good hat. Cuban winter heat is terrible, so if you’re planning a hike through Habana Vieja, or if you’re heading towards Casa Blanca, it’s better to avoid getting a heatstroke.
Music & Dance
They don’t lie when they say that Cubans are very musical. There would always be someone to tell you about Salsa party going on tonight, or you would pass by a bar with live music. Or a band would follow you to a restaurant and perform your favourite song or you won’t be able to fall asleep in your room because the whole city seem to be busy dancing salsa. One day you see a waiter serving you pizza, tomorrow you can see him busking in another restaurant. They play music for money and simply because they like it. They dance whenever they have an opportunity to. . And they dance it well. If it wasn’t for a strange popularity of Reggaeton, Cuba could be a dance and music paradise for anyone.
I think talking about modern Cuba and avoiding their art is impossible. Especially in Habana. They are growing strong in art and they have plenty of projects going on around the city. Their tagging turned into great graffiti, their suburbs turn into creative quarters. Theatres and galleries appear on every other corner if you look carefully. They even adopt modern European approach to abandoned factories. In Cuba they also paint them white and set up art galleries exhibiting pretty damn good local art, install projectors screening pretty damn good local short films, bars serving good cocktails in trendy glasses and creative local designer craft shops. Cubans turned out to be a lot more hype than we expected them to be.
Of course they have The Revolution. It is still there in the air. It is one of the greatest tourist attractions and Cubans are not ashamed of selling it to you. But regardless of contemporary image of Cuban Revolution, criticism of Fidel and his government it is a greatest pleasure to walk inside the legend. You still can see slogans of the Revolution, images of Che, Cienfuegos, Morales of Hugo Chavez hanged on the walls of Cuban houses. They still publish Granma newspaper and they have a museum of revolution pretty much in every city. And every other Cuban would tell you how their fathers went to war in Angola, or they themselves went to study to Check Republic or USSR. The memory is fresh, their communism is still quite real but it feels like it wouldn’t last for long.
In Cuba you are in a safest place. It really does matter when you travel. If you’re conscious enough you won’t have any problems in Cuba. At all.
You don’t tend to notice it until you actually leave the country but it’s amazing. They don’t have advertising billboards offering you products. They don’t have KFC or Starbucks, they don’t have shiny images appearing here and there tempting you to consume what you don’t need.
Cuba is a country of controversy. It can be the most expensive trip of your life or it can be the cheapest possible adventure. And when I say cheap, I mean 2 meals for 1 dollar cheap. You just have to be smart about it, figure out the double currency and ask locals for local places. Cubans craving for tourists so flights from Europe and Canada sometimes can be amazingly cheap. Of course some expenses you cannot avoid but overall it worth it.