Welcome to this month’s edition of the Travel Column at the Smorgasbord. Today we’re going to learn more about the island of Cuba.
Officially named, the Republic of Cuba, Cuba is located in the northern part of the Caribbean where the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea meet, just south of Florida and the Bahamas. Havana is the capital of Cuba and the largest city of the Republic. Cuba also reigns over another island, Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) as well as a quite a few other minor archipelagos, covering a land mass of over 42,800 square miles. The exact name of Cuba and where it was derived from are unknown. It is believed that Christopher Columbus named the island for a town named Cuba from his native Portugal. The native language is Cuban Spanish, their own dialect from original Spanish.
Similar to many other Caribbean islands, Cuba was inhabited by the Taino people since 4000 – 3000 BC until the 15th century when it became a colony of Spain, again, until the Spanish American War of 1898 when it became occupied by the United States. After signing the Treaty of Paris in 1898 and more politics, Cuba became formally independent from the U.S. May 20, 1902, going through several leaderships and several political takeovers leading to the eventual takeover by a dictatorship in 1952 by Fulgencio Batista until he was ousted for his corruption and taken over by Fidel Castro under communist rule. Cuba is culturally considered part of Latin America and exports sugar, coffee and tobacco and nickel. As of 2016, Cuba was still declared an authoritarian government ruled country.
Before Castro took over in 1959, Cuba was considered one of the most advanced countries in Latin America. Cuba relied heavily on aid from the USSR. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, their economy went into a sliding depression, allowing some the opportunity for self-employment and the legalization of using the U.S. dollar for business, encouraging tourism.
For many decades, Cubans were not allowed to leave this island, yet many tried to flee communism in unsafe methods to get across the waters. Prior to January 2013, Cuban citizens weren’t allowed to travel abroad without obtaining official permission and applying for a government issued passport, which was usually denied and cost 5 month’s salary. Back on September 9, 1994, the U.S. had agreed to grant Cuba 20,000 visas annually if Cuba kept a promise to prevent further dangerous attempts to enter the U.S. by unsafe methods across the water.
Also, with the intervention of the U.S. government, in 2010, Cubans were granted permission to build their own houses. Approximately 85% of people own their homes paying no property taxes or mortgage interest. It is said there is no homelessness in Cuba. But in May of this year, because of increased U.S. trade embargo and a large decline of aid from Venezuela, and oil and fuel costs, Cuba has begun rationing staples, as almost two thirds of their country’s food is imported. Cuba’s natural resources include tobacco, fish, citrus and tropical fruits, coffee, beans, rice, chicken, potatoes and their most important export mineral – nickel. Cuba is currently drilling for oil as a geological survey has shown their capability to produce approximately 4 – 9 billion barrels.
Cuba has what is known as a dual currency system. The Cuban peso (CUP) is used to set wages and prices, while Convertible pesos (CUC) is used for the tourist economy, set at par with the U.S. dollar.
Tourism in Cuba was originally restricted to segregated areas designed for tourism, and away from Cuban society. But it was marked that in 2003 over 1.9 million tourists visited Cuba mainly from Canada and Europe, helping to generate revenue for the country. In 2011 that number jumped to just over 2 ½ million tourists, making it the 3rd highest tourist destination in the Caribbean, coming in just behind Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
But with the introduction to more sanctions put on them by the Trump government in 2017, and the Cuban people not able to be innovative with their own business enterprising, tourism is currently down in Cuba. Many Canadians travel to Cuba for their winter vacations, as it’s one of the cheapest winter vacations for us despite the political clime.
Note: The rules for travel to Cuba by Americans have stipulations. Americans may not travel to Cuba with the impending embargo solely for the purpose of tourism. The Obama government was working on measures to change this policy, but the current administration has made more changes. Americans have 12 viable authorized travel categories to enable them to visit there. You can learn about these avenues in this Guide to Americans traveling to Cuba. You can also learn more about Legal Documentation required and what is and isn’t permissible when traveling to Cuba.
Climate in Cuba is tropical with light trade winds blowing throughout the year. Dry season is typically November through April with the rainy season May to October. Average temps run from 70 to 80 degrees. And of course, like most islands vulnerable to hurricanes, because Cuba sits close to the Gulf of Mexico, it is prone to frequent hurricanes. Cuba was hit by Irma in 2017, leaving enough damage, but incomparable to the damage after it hit Puerto Rico.
Cuba is known to have some of the most pristine and beautiful white sand beaches. Couple that with turquoise waters, quiet and palm trees, it presents a serene and warm getaway. Some of the most beautiful and popular vacation spots in Cuba are Varadero (currently rated 2nd best beach in the world for 2019 by Tripadvisor), Santa Maria, and Los Cayos Coco, just to name a few. All tourist beaches offer the usual watersport activities and guided boat tours. You can read more details about the various beaches HERE
Cuba isn’t typically known as the best shopping destination in the Caribbean, but there are still a few great finds to be had there. Cuba’s number one claim to fame are ‘the Cuban cigars’, which are treasured widely by cigar afficionados around the world. You can also find local chain stores, and a few boutiques in hotel shops where you may find some international brands of clothing and toiletries. Cuba also has some well-known rums. And as on most Caribbean islands, you can always find local markets selling hand-crafted goods from leather and wood, as well as handmade textile articles.
A typical national Cuban dish is rice with black beans, a salad, roast pork (or fish or chicken, occasionally, beef), and fried plantains. This traditional dish is known as ‘comida criolla’. But in hotels and what’s classified as ‘the tourist network’, you can find various restaurants, specializing in Spanish, Italian and Chinese cuisine. I think there’s tons of room to grow in the sector of gastronomy for Cuba.
• The music of Cuba is world famous for its Salsa, Bolero, and Rumba dancing.
• Don’t talk about politics while there as Cuba is still a communist country and their government doesn’t tolerate criticism lightly
• Crime levels are minimal. And you can usually find police on every block
• Least commercialized island in the Caribbean
• Make sure if you are going to stay in a bed and breakfast that it is one with a blue sign, not an orange sign on the front of the house. The orange sign is for Cubans only and both tourist and house owner can get in trouble by not abiding
• Never be working there on a tourist visa
• It is considered illegal to take photos of police and/or soldiers
• It is considered rude by Cubans to blow your nose or spit in public.
• Make sure to pack everything you may need for the trip to Cuba as there are many shortages of consumer goods – especially toiletries.
• Most of the cars driven in Cuba are old American cars dating back to prior of 1959 when America once played a big part of the central stage in Cuba. Once Castro came to power, he banned all imports of foreign cars and parts. But in the last couple of years a growing number of new Asian automobiles have been brought into the country. These newer vehicles are very expensive for the typical Cuban local and mostly unattainable
• Don’t forget to tip for every service you receive. The locals earn very little in Cuba, and those working in service industry desperately rely on tips
• The average salary for a Cuban is $20 per month!
I have never been to Cuba, but I have quite a few friends and family members who travel there every winter to escape the cold and get a good bang for their bucks. Because I can’t speak from actual experience, I will share a few more things I have learned first-hand from those I know who have been there:
• It’s the beautiful weather and unspoiled beaches keeping them going back
• The food is less than spectacular
• Be sure to pack some old clothes – especially sneakers you no longer wish to keep and give them to the maids or any other service person in your resort. They will be more than thrilled to have anything wearable, especially American items they have no access to
• Don’t stray far from your resort without a guide
• If you’re looking for sun and sea and a more quiet and lazy vacation and aren’t a big foodie, you’ll enjoy it there
Me, personally, I have zero interest in going to Cuba despite the beautiful weather and beaches. I am not a big foodie to say the least, but I have several dietary restrictions that wouldn’t be met there for me – so I’ve been told. Also, if I’m going to travel to an island, I’d surely be going to one offering shopping – especially, international duty-free shopping! Plus, as a justice seeker with a difficult time keeping my opinions to myself, it may prove difficult for me to be somewhere where I couldn’t use the freedom of speech.
Has anyone here ever been to Cuba and would like to share their experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
© D.G. Kaye 2019
My thanks to Debby for sharing the guide to Cuba’s history and tourism. We usually select our holidays from glossy magazines or flash online websites that give you the showstopping information but not necessarily the possible downside to a location..Important to have all the facts before spending a great deal of money.
About D.G. Kaye
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
I love to tell stories that have lessons in them, and hope to empower others by sharing my own experiences. I write raw and honest about my own experiences, hoping through my writing, that others can relate and find that there is always a choice to move from a negative space, and look for the positive.
“Live Laugh Love . . . And Don’t Forget to Breathe!”
“For every kindness, there should be kindness in return. Wouldn’t that just make the world right?”
When I’m not writing, I’m reading or quite possibly looking after some mundane thing in life. It’s also possible I may be on a secret getaway trip, as that is my passion—traveling.
Books by D.G. Kaye
One of the reviews for Have Bags Will Travel
Have Bags, Will Travel” is a delightful read on the experiences of travel, fashion, the art of packing suitcases with the emphasis on having a good time. Author, D.G. Kaye details her days on board planes to many popular destinations and her vivacious antics with friends. She also relates her solo travels to exotic destinations with steep cliffs and too much baggage. I particularly enjoyed the details of the by-gone, romantic days aboard Wardair, and the exquisite details of vintage Las Vegas.
A consummate shopper, D.G. Kaye relates her rather humorous run-ins with customs officials. How does it feel to be singled out routinely by airline officials? A read through this humorous pages will give you the insight to these first-hand conflicts.
I would say this might be required reading for shoe connoisseurs and fashion mavens especially if they have a plane ticket in hand. Germ avoidance theory is also discussed, and it may never be possible to look at airplane bathrooms the same.
D.G. Kaye brings back the memories of best friends and blazing trips through the desert. Many readers will identify with the struggles of this stylish lady attempting to blend in to avoid a custom’s mishap. A short and super fun read, “Have Bags, Will Travel” is perfect for your next airplane ride.
Read all the reviews and buy the books: http://www.amazon.com/author/dgkaye7
and Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/D.G.-Kaye/e/B00HE028FO
More reviews and follow Debby on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/dgkaye
About me: http://www.wiseintro.co/dgkaye7
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@pokercubster (yes there’s a story)
Thank you for joining us today and we would love to hear if you have been to Cuba and your feedback.. thanks Debby and Sally.