Cuba can be a difficult destination to understand, an island of riddles that confound, and confuse. It is often said that the more you try and understand Cuba, the more difficult it becomes.
These riddles are a result of its rich and troubled history, a history that has seen genocide, slavery, invasion, counter-invasion, and popular revolution. With its unique location positioning itself between the US and Latin America, Cuba is always struggling to work out just where it fits in.
For the best part of half a century Cuba has been a global discussion point for its politics dominated by images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. But as visitors soon find out, Cuba is much more than politics, rum, cigars, and antiquated cars.
More recently Cuba has begun to open its doors to the outside world, and the Cuban people are embracing the change, meaning there has never been a better time to travel to Cuba. I am so happy to have experienced this fascinating, awe-inspiring and perplexing island- a uniqueness we will struggle to find elsewhere in our now globalized world.
Cuba ended 2015 with 3.5 million tourists having arrived on the island, almost 20% more than last year’s figure and a number never before reached in such a short period of time. When our group arrived in the town of Vinales, there was not a single bed available. Tourists who had not pre-arranged their rooms were sleeping in the town square. Our guide and a friend of his living in the town said that had never happened before. Why? If you ask any other tourist why they came now, who most likely is from a European country or Canada, they would say they want to see it before it all changes, or more candidly, before all the Americans come.
Walking through the streets of Old Havana, you’ll hear music and laughter, as much as you will hear no es facil (it ain’t easy). Traveling through Cuba is not for everyone, but those who do make the trip, most often fall in love with the country and its people. I am certainly one of them. As I sit here writing in my house, it is way too silent compared to what I just came from. There is no salsa music blaring outside, no reggaeton beat rattling my walls, no loud voices, dogs barking, or roosters crowing outside. I am missing Cuba and cannot wait to return. I actually found myself looking at flights again on the very night I got home. Cuba as a destination is designed for those with a sense of adventure, who want to immerse themselves in Cuban culture and experience a unique way of life. Cuba, a place unlike any other, continues to captivate the senses on a day by day basis.
Outside of visiting Cuba’s resorts, Cuba is a destination for travelers, not tourists. Travelers should have some empathy with the demands that come with experiencing a country that has a very different way of life. A good sense of humor, plenty of patience (a few of us, me included, had moments where we lost patience :-)), a willingness to learn and most importantly a readiness to enjoy your adventure are all key ingredients in deciding if Cuba is for you.
Upon leaving the airport, the first thing I noticed was all of the old cars and horses and carriages out and about. I arrived to my accommodation early enough on the first day to catch a quick nap and then set out to wander the streets of old Havana. There were live salsa music bands in a few of the cafes in the Old Plaza. I changed my money, had a couple of beers with my guide, and later we met up with the rest of the group for a welcome dinner. I could tell we were going to have a really fun group.
On the second day we set off in our comfortable mini bus to the lively Parrandas de Remedios Festival in the small town of Remedios, just outside of Santa Clara. At the end of the year, this town hosts one of Cuba’s greatest street parties and religious carnivals. We arrived for the festivals climax on Christmas Eve. It was a very fun night of dancing, drinking, fireworks and impressive floats as a fierce competition between the neighborhoods of San Salvador and El Carmen takes place (all in good fun of course).
A few shots of the town of Santa Clara…
A quick celebration for Kevin’s birthday on a casa’s rooftop terrace.
We stopped at the Che Guevara mausoleum and monument. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, commonly known as el Che or simply Che, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture.
Parrandas de Remedios Festival…
- Locally Sourced Cuba tours trip notes
- Lonely Planet Cuba guidebook 2015
My next blog post will be about Trinidad Cuba.