What can you expect when you travel to Cuba? Sun, white sand beaches, salsa music all around? Well, yes, but fortunately, there is much more than that.
Cuba is a paradox of experiences, where your senses collide with one another in an explosion of significant magnitude. Here is a place where you can truly find everything and anything, from the most demanding to the most basic and raw.
It is up to the individual to discover what he seeks, but in the meantime, we can try to give you some insight and maybe make your decision a little bit easier.
For the western traveller, Cuba must seem like another planet altogether. Things that you have taken for granted all your life will be nowhere in sight, and situations that you can’t even imagine appear as if by magic. Whether you are a single traveller or a family of 10, a young child or a elderly person, the wonders of this country will seduce you and will make want to come back again and again.
Here in Cuba, you will find all types of hotel accommodation, from the most luxurious 5 star resorts to the basic yet adequate “casa particular”, private houses whose owners pay monthly fees to be able to rent rooms for tourists.
These are better suited for single travellers spending a longer time since it will be much cheaper. On the other hand, for a nice family vacation, you have all types of hotels and fancy resorts, from the most luxurious city places to the very comfortable and family-oriented all inclusive beach resorts. These cater to the entire family, where children will be looked after and will be absolutely safe, with activities ranging anywhere from all types of water sports to dancing lessons.
Here you find different restaurants, from traditional Cuban fare to the most demanding of international cuisine. Everyone will have something that they enjoy, so there will be no need to worry about what to eat.
Cuba is a very senior friendly society, and this transcends into its tourism industry. There will be activities for everyone in the family, like walks along beautiful paths with breathtaking views, leisurely strolls on the beach, in short, something for everyone to do. Also everything has been organised so that handicapped people can enjoy their holiday to the most of their capabilities, and every effort is being made to improve on this most important part of industry.
Cuba should be enjoyed equally by everyone, no matter how young or old they are, or no matter the handicap. They are truly doing their best in this respect.
Now let’s talk a bit about city tourism. Havana is a bustling city of around 2 million people, with blacks and whites and every race in between.
Whether it’s music you’re looking for, museums of every sorts, any other type of cultural manifestation, or just to simply relax watching the sunset on the Malecon ( the seaside avenue that goes from Old Havana to Miramar), here you will find it. From Jazz music to live Salsa bands, from Ballet performances to the most typical street conga, culture as a whole will leap at you from every corner.
If you are an antiques enthusiast, you will fall in love with the fleet of old cars that line Havana streets, some being used as regular taxi cabs, a testament to Cuban ingenuity, because it’s truly a miracle to keep these cars rolling after more than fifty years on the road.
If you like the beach, there’s a beautiful white sand beach 30 minutes from downtown Havana, so you could actually have the best of two worlds, sun and sand one day, museums and tobacco factories the next. Havana is truly an amazing experience, and you will need at least a week to appreciate all it has to offer, and you will still be short on time.
But the best thing about Cuba is its people. Whether its the staff that will look after you at the resorts, or the people you will meet on the streets if you come to the city, the people are Cuba’s greatest jewel.
Fun loving, open-hearted, they will make you feel right at home, often inviting you into their own houses for a traditional dish of rice, beans and pork, and of course, the ever present Cuban rum. Experiences like these are what makes a trip to Cuba unforgettable, a trip to be remembered for a long time.
But Cuba its not only Havana and the beaches. There are several places in the countryside very much worth seeing. There is the beautiful Viñales Valley, a place with hills called “mogotes” found nowhere else in the world, with captivating caves and underwater rivers which can be visited and enjoyed.
There is also Trinidad, a quaint little village preserved much as it was 300 years ago, with its sugarcane mills and history all around it. Further east you have Santiago de Cuba, cradle of the Cuban revolution, but also filled with every conceivable luxury expected by a foreign traveller.
If you decide to choose Cuba as the place you want to spend your holiday in, you should take into account the time of the year you want to travel.
In the slow season, that is, from April to November, its absolutely too hot, so unless you want to bake in 30 degree weather and 90 percent humidity, you should choose the other season, that is, from November to March, when its still warm enough without the smouldering heat and stifling humidity. In this case, you have to book well in advance, because people from all over the world choose Cuba as its winter paradise.
Everything from all-inclusive to city hotels, car rentals, anything that you want to have secured, should be reserved weeks in advance. This will ensure a happy and carefree holiday, without any problems related to shortages of anything. Reservation is the name of the game when you travel to Cuba, thus making it possible to enjoy your stay without any worries.
If you are a person who likes to drive through the countryside, there are several car rental agencies with many price ranges, from the smallest compact car to the biggest Mercedes or Audi. Roads are quite safe, something you will rapidly discover by the amount of people hitchhiking at the side of the road.
That’s another of Cuba’s greatest assets, its safety. Like everywhere, you have your petty thieves, pickpockets and what not, and even these are rare. Serious crimes are almost unheard of on the island, which makes it a haven for people who like to mingle with the locals.
Of course, you have to be prudent, but as a rule, you can drive or walk through any Havana street at anytime of day or night and you will be absolutely safe.
In the Caribbean there might be more luxurious places to go, but as far as friendliness and safety are concerned, none can compare to Cuba, and all of this with rapidly increasing levels of service all around.
As of now, they have one of the most major hotel chains in the world with approximately 15 resorts in Cuba, and plans to keep increasing its capacities in the future.
This is mostly due to the reasons stated before, which makes Cuba a unique vacation destination, combining state of the art facilities with down to earth homeliness and safety, and every effort made to make this vacation the best time of your life, without distinction of age or physical ability.
If you give it a chance, you will not be disappointed. This can truly be called an earthly paradise, but not only because of the beauty of the land, but also and probably more important, the beauty of its people. With Fidel on his death bed, there is no better time to go and share all of the magic of Cuba. You will not forget it!
How to get to Cuba
The only way to get to the Island of Cuba is by Air. Cubana is the nations national airline. Cubana does not fly to the United States but does serve many other countries. Other non Cuban Airlines also fly to Cuba. Continental Airlines and American Airlines has charter service to Cuba. You must book these flights with a travel agent.
Virtually all visitors require a Cuban visa or Tourist Card, available from travel agencies, tour operators or a Cuban consulate, for a stay of one month. These days cards are often given out on flights before landing. Check with your travel agency/flight operator before departure.
Your stay can be extended for a further 30 days at an immigration office situated in any major provincial Cuban town (cost US$25.00). After 60 days you must leave the country – although you can return immediately. The USA officially prohibits its citizens from travelling to Cuba unless they obtain a special license and very heavy fines are imposed on visitors not fulfiling this requirement.
Photos by Mr Dinkum. Rafael Hernandez is currently a customer service rep at www.umbrellatravel.com