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.
Please check for current travel restrictions: Cuba Tourism website
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.
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: There have been issues in the past on travel to Cuba for American citizens and it is a good idea to check updated details on this site 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.
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?”
Books by D.G. Kaye
One of the reviews for Have Bags Will Travel
This is such a hoot, what a laugh!
Have Bags Will Travel is such an entertaining read which gives you an insight into D G Kaye’s character, her shopping obsession, packing troubles, germaphobia, and brushes with airport security. Enjoy her recollections on the glamour and glitz, her love to travel and a nostalgic aspect to it all.
Her friend Zan shares her shopaholic tendencies too. The two of them together… can you imagine? A red head, blonde explosion of zaniness! I love the part when they end up at Buckingham Palace and chat to a Beefeater, the royal guard and after which… it gets funnier by the moment.
Have Bags Will Travel gives a historical account of how much easier it used to be to take overstuffed baggage through airports in the good old days. Now, it seems that D G Kaye will resort to anything to get her shopping home.
Zan and D G Kaye also travel to Paris and end up shopping for shoes!
There are manmade toboggan rides in Muskoka, Canada.
Trips to Venezuela: Margarita Island and Caracas with cousin Eileen.
Las Vegas, Then and Now – gambling/casinos, fond memories of the author’s love of the desert.
Have Bags Will Travel is just what we need right now, a good giggle! There is also a section at the back of the book with Helpful Travel tips.
A short, entertaining read. Highly recommended, especially for the shopoholics and travel enthusiasts in your life!
Read all the reviews and buy the books: Amazon US – and: Amazon UK – follow Debby: Goodreads – Blog: D.G. Kaye Writer – About me: D.G. Kaye – Twitter: @pokercubster – Linkedin: D.G. Kaye – Facebook: D.G. Kaye – Instagram: D.G. Kaye – Pinterest: D.G. Kaye