The Caribbean island of Cuba has been making headlines worldwide recently. In the past this would have been due to the exploits of its revered former leader Fidel Castro, but that was not the case in this instance. The credit this time around has to be given to two Americans who are considered icons in the music business in their country, Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce. The couple celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary with a trip to Cuba, an increasingly popular tourist travel destination.
As it turns out there is a United States embargo currently in place on Cuba and unless special permission is given for purposes such as humanitarian, journalistic, academic, or other special reasons, violations could result in hefty fines and prison time. An American going to Cuba merely for a straightforward vacation is out of the question. Prior to the United States embargo imposed on Cuba in the early 1960’s, Cuba was considered a favorite tourist destination of Americans. The embargo has had a devastating effect on Cuba but the country is resilient and there are signs that despite the continued absence of the Americans the tourist industry is slowly returning to its former glory. So much so that other tourist destinations in the region are getting nervous about the competition.
The largest of the islands in the Caribbean Sea, Cuba has the distinction of being the country hosting the world’s longest serving dictator, Fidel Castro. There have been subtle changes in the way things are done in Cuba in recent times, and this is attributed to Fidel’s brother Raul taking over the reins of the country after Fidel stepped aside because of ill health. Cuba is a communist country with an estimated population of somewhere in the region of 12.5 million. Spanish is the official language spoken there but in tourist areas a fair amount of basic English is spoken. Other noteworthy facts about Cuba are that its capital is Havana, its currencies are the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), motor vehicles drive on the right, the emergency number is 106, and the denomination that over three quarters of the people there subscribe to is Roman Catholicism.
Cuba is extremely rich in history and has most of the attractions one would expect to find in a Caribbean destination, such as beautiful beaches, clubs, warm tropical climate, scenic beauty, parks etc. Getting around in Cuba can be done via train, plane, taxi, bus, or rental car. There is also the option of hitchhiking, which is believed to be the most cost effective method. Staying at tourist resorts in Cuba will severely limit opportunities to experience the local culture. Those who do so usually complain of being bored, and often use words such as fake and overdone to describe their stay. If you wish to experience the real Cuban the best places to stay are casas particulares, or private houses licensed to offer lodging services to foreigners. They also offer arguably the best rates. The food in Cuba is notorious for being bland so be prepared for that. It is cheaper to rent a phone in Cuba as against taking your own, and Internet service is nowhere near as reliable or prevalent as in most other parts of the world.
There are some nuances that it behooves the tourist to be aware of to avoid inconvenience when traveling to Cuba. For travelers from most nations a tourist visa card, or visa de tarjeta del turista, is compulsory. This visa card is simply a piece of paper on which your vital statistics are listed, and costs around 25 CUC. They can be purchased at the airport in Cuba on arrival but many airlines require a valid tourist visa card prior to boarding flights. Also if you reside outside the country of your birth, ensure that you either have your adopted country’s passport, or documents proving your residency in that adopted country. And do avoid talking politics.
Another drawing card for Cuba’s is its popularity for medical tourism. Cuba does have some potential as a tourist destination so do check it out.