Holiday in Cuba
I recently seized an opportunity to visit Cuba; and oh boy, am I glad I did. Cuba is infectious. The people are amongst the friendliest I have ever encountered. They are genuinely awesome people; hospitable, kind and full of fun. All around you there seems to be awesome sights, endless rhythmic music, laughter and joy.
Make no mistake people are poor, but they are generally happy. They are literally untouched by the commercialised world too which we have become so accustomed to as a ‘normal way of life’.
Where is Cuba?
Cuba is a large island (104,556 km2) located in the northern Caribbean Sea. Measured by landmass, Cuba is the 17th largest island in the world; just 17% smaller than England. It is approximately 1,300 km’s from the eastern tip to the western point. The United States, more precisely Key West, Florida, is just 150 km’s north of the island. To the west lies Mexico across the Gulf of Mexico, to the east you will find Haiti. Travel south and you will reach the Cayman Islands.
Climate in Cuba
In Havana, temperatures peak at around 27°C (81°F) in summer, with the cooler month being January with an average temperature of around 21°C (70°F). The island lies in the hurricane belt. The official annual hurricane season runs from 1st June to 30th November, but the chances of a tropical storm impacting on your holiday are highly unlikely in June or July.
Hurricanes are more likely to strike the island between mid-August and early October, although severe storms are relatively rare occurrences. Cuba is well-known for its practical and well drilled procedures to minimise injuries and death from such events.
Hurricane Irma caused havoc when it struck Cuba on 8th September 2017. I visited the island a month after and I was amazed at how quickly these resilient people had cleaned up and had repaired the damage to buildings and other infrastructure. A fallen tree at the Nacional Hotel de Cuba had been removed and a plaque now marks site where it had once stood. Cuba is open for business.
The indigenous population of Cuba that were living on the island when Christopher Columbus arrived were all but wiped out. It is estimated that of the 100,000 inhabitants that were resident, barely 20% survived. The Spanish, who governed the island for almost 400 years, brought slaves from Africa and set up sugar and tobacco farms.
The island eventually gained independence in 1898 only to come under the control of the US, aided by the dictators Machado and Batista. The revolution, led by the Castro brothers (Fidel and Raul), Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos defeated Batista on 1st January 1959. Independence ushered in a new political system with social justice at its heart.
The unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union spurred the leadership to seek alternate means of improving foreign revenues and tourism was the obvious choice. The island is braced for major chance as the locals set up new businesses and tourism continues to grow.
However, at the time of compiling this post the US were hardening their stance against Cuba. NPR reported that: “Travelers from the U.S. can still fly into Cuba, but they will need to stay clear of more than 80 hotels and several other businesses the U.S. believes are linked to Cuba’s military, intelligence or security services”.
I regard Cuba as one of the world’s ‘unspoilt’ destinations as far as the reach of ‘commercial brands’ are concerned. The island offers a refreshing window into a bygone era. The classic American cars are abundant, many buildings are in are sorry state of disrepair, but this all seems to add to the character, the allure and the intimacy of this charming island.
Cuba offers more than sugar-white beaches, awesome countryside, rum and cigars. There are many fabulous historical sites, charming little bars and restaurants and incredible architecture to enjoy. The Cubans are friendly, charming, hospitable and they love their music and dance. Everywhere you go expect to find a friendly Cuban willing to help you on your way. The island offers a safe destination. The punishment for criminals is harsh, so people wisely avoid breaking the law.
Most tourists only visit Havana and Varadero. Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara and further west to Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba all offer awesome options to experience true Cuban hospitality. To the west consider Pinar del Rio and Sandino are worth considering. For an awesome beach holiday fly south to the island Cayo Largo, simply amazing. We will blog more about other destinations in Cuba soon.
The market has ‘opened up’ more in recent years and there are more privately-operated restaurants and Casa’s (bed and breakfast) options now available for tourists. When comparing star ratings in Cuba to what we have become accustomed to in Europe, it is probably wise to equate a 5-star rated property with a 4-star. That does not detract from the service and cleanliness which I found fantastic throughout my stay.
Included on that recent list of hotels that US citizens cannot use was the new luxury Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski which I recently visited. I must say this hotel is outstanding, the roof pool is one of the best I have ever seen, pure indulgence, with views over the city to die for.
Why Cuba for me?
It’s safe, it’s unique, it’s beautiful, it’s people are awesome, the food is delicious and it’s so much fun. Cuba will undoubtedly change as more tourists discover this amazing island. While I was in Cuba, many locals were pointing out the many changes that had already taken place in just the past three years.
For now, the Americans are staying away and that I believe will allow the tourism market to mature and grow at a reasonable rate. However over time, pressure from commercialisation will almost certainly lead to change.
My advice is get a trip organised as soon as possible. Cuba is an experience, it’s a walk through the past with some of the most hospitable, humble people on this planet.
My next Cuba post will be about Havana, the capital city of Cuba.