Arguably the most memorable single item of “progress” made by the Obama Administration in the realm of foreign policy will be the radical shift, much belated as it is, away from an absurd decades old embargo on Cuba.
A relic of the Cold War, fueled more by US domestic politics and the democraphics of the critical state of Florida, home of the largest contingent of Cuban Americans, US policy toward Cuba has been a complete failure. It never succeeded in effecting “regime change” and it locked the Cuban people in an economic bubble that has been counter productive.
It is therefore with nothing but praise and gratitude that we want to acknowledge President Obama’s move to reboot on relations with America’s neighbor ~ Cuba.
Restrictions on Americans traveling and doing business with Cuba have of course been nullified by the absence of similar rules in Europe and Canada. Those who denote a clear difference in the profile of travelers and the more “low key” approach of European and Canadian visitors have in fact quietly celebrated the absence of mega-developments that seem to come with a full on US tourist presence.
Through our bamboo-related activities in Nicaragua, we were able to visit Cuba for educational purposes. We absolutely fell in LOVE with Cuba. The country is chockfull of gorgeous architecture. The people we met in Cuba made us want to come back, again and again.
As we continuously re-appraise our options and desire to live in an area that is culturally rich, has a warm climate, is Spanish speaking and is reasonably close to the U.S., Cuba keeps creeping up near the top of the list as a Green Global Trek favorite.
We have mixed feelings about the advance of negotiations toward normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, due to what could happen if hordes of American travelers come in too early, too fast and have a negative impact on Cuba. As of last week, travel restrictions for Americans have been significantly relaxed, US credit cards have been granted the right to set up shop in Cuba and Netflix has announced it will start operating in Cuba. Signs that things are changing!
So, here is our contribution to prospective travelers. We have criss-crossed the island and have repeatedly been awed by what Cuba had to offer…
If we ever live in Cuba, Remedios will be our home. The low key, tranquilo pace, combined with grand architecture and faded pastels… and of course the warm welcome of locals make Remedios a “must see” destination.
There are so many architectural gems in Cuba, that it’s difficult to pick out one destination to highlight, but Trinidad is magnificent and should be on any traveler’s itinerary…
The beaches! It would be a crime to go to Cuba and not experience some of the island’s deserted beaches. Stay far away from the overly built up “tourist destinations” on package deals at such places as Varadero. Rather, rent a car, or a car with a driver, and go explore the wild beaches of Cuba for an unforgettable experience.
For first time travelers, where to stay is a primary consideration. Do not fall in the trap of wanting to have everything organized ahead of time, and joining the hordes of travelers who default to generic “tourist hotels”. You would rob yourselves of a wonderful, authentic Cuban hospitality experience ~ the Casas Particulares. (Of course, speaking Spanish is a plus for this approach)
Casas Particulares are also available in Habana…
The magnificent architecture of cities and towns makes it hard to not emphasize urban destinations. But nature lovers and bird watchers will be amply rewarded in Cuba. Some 14% of the island has been protected by Fidel Castro, a committed environmentalist. Whatever you do in Cuba, do not fail to allocate some time for the nature reserves…
Cuba’s rich “unspoiled” landscape includes hidden treasures for waterfall lovers. Don’t think grandiose multi-story high cascades. Think rather, smooth rocks that form individual pools to enjoy the cool waters on a warm day.
Some media reports and “rumors” continue to fuel a misperception that “Cuba is expensive”. This is simply ridiculous. It does not have to be. Cuba is expensive only if travelers fail to adjust to local conditions and seek US standards and convenience in all matters. Our own experience is very much different. Some thoughts about traveling to Cuba on a budget.
Lest our foodie readers feel their needs unaddressed, we provide a brief taste of Cuban gastronomy. We had been warned that eating as a vegetarian (Peta) is a challenge in Cuba. Nothing could be further from the truth, if you are willing to invest some effort. In fact, every town, every city has a network of organic vegetable gardens…
There are some images of Cuba that are so strongly associated with the island, like Cuban cars and Cuban cigars, that it would be remiss not to address these… We are not particularly into cigar culture, but can imagine that for some American travelers, this would become a must see. So here is our take on how to discover Cuba’s cigar industry, and some beautiful countryside at the same time ~ go to Vinales!
How else to end a story on Cuba? With car porn, of course…