Having just completed a glorious ten days’ in the beautiful and historic Caribbean island of Cuba, Cuba owes us nothing!
The first half of this adventure to support the Cuban people was spent with our daughter in the Havana of Celia Cruz, Che, rum and cigars. The second half of the childless adventure was in the scenic environs of Cienfuegos, eponymously named after a legend of the history changing revolutionary period. Cienfuegos is where September 5, 1957 is a day not to be forgotten as the town’s billboards claim their revolutionary martyrs. The most common questions asked as we embarked on this long- awaited bucket list trip were: How difficult is it to get Cuba? and, what is Cuba like? In this first article in a series detailing our enlightening trip, here is a guide for planning a trip to Cuba:
- Secure a Cuban visa using the link provided by your booked airline. Visas average $50 for each and should be picked up right before scheduled flight at your airline counter.
- The purpose of your visit should be “To Support the Cuban People,” unless you can provide another readily substantiated reason.
- Air B and B offers options for accommodations as well as tours. We stayed in a surprisingly modern designed one-bedroom apartment in Vedado that provided an incredible at home experience. There are also options for hotels. We stayed at a reputable hotel in Cienfeugos. The hotel was a fusion of an older 1950s décor and an attempt at modernization. The list of famous guests included Josephine Baker and Commandante Fidel. Internet cards are included as perk.
- Travel with your own toilet paper and wipes. Some public establishments do not have such or they charge for toilet paper. DO NOT FLUSH toilet paper unless you must.
- Print out all your reservations and include telephone numbers on your itineraries.
- Practice your Spanish, it will be helpful. Do not hesitate to communicate in Spanglish, the locals are learning too.
- Change $USD to Euros before you leave America’s shores. Upon landing in Cuba, change Euros to CUC. Be careful that you are not getting the local currency (CUP) as change from vendors; CUP is ONLY for Cubans. Break up money into smaller CUC denominations. TIP GENEROUSLY!
- Schedule your daily trips via taxi cabs in advance. Ask your host or an engaged taxi driver to arrange transportation as needed. Use “collective” rides for long trips. E.G. The trip from Havana to Cienfuegos is typically $120 in a cab, with the shared ride, it was only $30 per person.
- Internet is limited in most places. You may purchase internet cards that start at $1 CUC for an hour and then locate a “wifi park” to use it. “Wifi park” is easily identified as you will see a group of people gathered using their cellular phones.
- Before you travel to Cuba, read up on the history of Cuba, not just from the American perspective, but more importantly from the Cuban (outside of Miami) lens.
- Do NOT venture into Cuba looking for a typical island experience with foreign owned hotels and grandiose myriads of the wonders of Capitalism.
- Your tour guide will typically be a holder of multiple advanced degrees. Our tour guides included a final year law student, a Professor of Economics, a Professor of Anthropology and History and an Engineer. Be prepared for engaging, intellectual conversations. Sit at their feet and learn.
Cuba stood out to me as a historian’s dream. Be prepared to see how the “other half lives,” a realistic existence that more than 90% of the world experiences every day; minus guns and illiteracy. Cubans are a loving, friendly people, possessing a resistant and resilient history and a beautifully blended culture of tres raices: Natives- Tainos (DO NOT CALL THEM NATIVE AMERICANS), Africans predominantly from Nigeria (YES THEY DO KNOW THAT FOR SURE) and Europeans- Spaniards. They are ALL called Cubans, without hyphens and as such, I felt completely welcomed in a SAFE SPACE. Additionally, I left inspired to be more PRESENT as one of the most endearing characteristics of Cuba is that despite the slowly advancing technology evidenced by “wifi parks” in each neighborhood, people still sit and talk to each other and engage in communal dining daily.
Jamaican born and raised Nadine L. Leblanc is an Educator and Cultural Critic who resides in South Florida. She is currently a PhD candidate at Florida Atlantic University in Educational Leadership and Methodology.