There are a lot of positive things about visiting Cuba; cheap rum, mammoth cigars, some beautiful historic buildings and of course all the old cars and countryside – a very surreal country. Still largely cut off from the world and evolving in it’s own unique way. I would be lying if I said it was the easiest place for a budget backpacker to travel to, especially after visiting some of the cheaper, nearby countries in Central America, however it is still well worth the experience. The only regret I have for Cuba is that I wish we only stayed for 1 week… and that we didn’t choose to fly with the shit airline, Cubana air, but what is it people say? You live, you learn!! And overall I did enjoyed my Cuban Experience – though it definitely tested my tolerance level at times.
If you are considering visiting Cuba my advice is;
* Don’t do it on a shoe string budget
* Don’t spend longer than a week there
* Expect to be ripped off – take everything with a pinch of salt
* Drink mucho mojitos and Cubre Libres
* Learn some Spanish!!!
* Don’t fly with Cubana airlines – you may get stranded at the airport (no joke!)
* Prepare for limited internet and no wifi (3 internet cafes in the whole of the countries capital)
Our first day in Havana, Michael and I decided to visit the Revolution museum, before heading to the bar to enjoy some salsa dancing, Cuban music and most importantly some $1.50 mojitos. The museum was somewhat of a disappointment. Most of what I read seemed to be propaganda – but I guess you would expect that to a certain extent. The Cuban music and mojitos though, were great and worth every penny!!!
Tourism in Cuba is still relatively new, with tourists only being allowed to set foot in the country within the past 20 years. When tourism was first introduced, the government created a whole new ‘tourist currency’ with the value set well above the value of the local currency. This from my understanding was so that tourists would be forced into paying ‘tourist’ prices, which reflects prices of that found in most Western countries, instead of paying the incredibly small prices locals pay. I have no idea how the government thought this would be sustainable. Once a new currency circulates in the country, local people will obviously have access to this new currency, and the high value associated with it… resulting in a shift in incentives – if you were a Cuban, working as a doctor, getting paid a poor local wage, would you not be annoyed that someone working in this newly established tourist industry is getting paid a lot more than you? And we are not talking about a small difference. The local monthly salary in Cuba is $20-25 – someone owning a “casa de familiar” or local guesthouse can charge $30 per room per night, obviously they have to pay more government tax, but still their monthly wage is more that double, even triple, than that of a doctor or someone not working in the tourist industry. Unfortunately, because of this I think that tourism is having some what of a negative impact on Cuba – then again, tourism is also bringing more opportunities and technical advancements to the country… I guess like most other countries, it just needs some better management and proper governance from the top. Anyway, enough of politics before I piss some pro or anti Cuban activists off – I like to be like Switzerland and stay neutral in these types of debates!!
So, we flew into Havana… spent a few days exploring and enjoying to local rum and music, then headed north to Vinales. Vinales is a very touristic town – expect to be mobbed by locals when getting off the bus from Havana, most of them trying to convince you to stay at their casa (house). We done some horse riding and explored to country, before heading back South to Cienfuegos. When I first arrived in Cienfuegos I felt like I had been transported to a Soviet town in Eastern Europe. There were fires in the streets, old soviet style buildings, and dodgy looking folks everywhere. By the time we left the town, I decided that Cienfuegos was my fave town in Cuba – we definitely had the best Cuban home stay here and the best food. After Cienfuegos we headed to Trinidad – an old historic city, very touristy, with a few cool bars and pretty buildings. From here we headed back to Havana, where we should have flown straight back to Mexico, however we decided to stay a few days longer – then got stranded for a few days more…
Eventually we did get to say, adios to Cuba 🙂 and an unexpected, Gutentag to Germany!!!