Often when thinking of Cuba, the first thing that comes to mind is a Socialist government and guerilla warfare led by Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara. While Cuba’s complex history is clearly important, it is but one of the many faces that make up this fascinating country. With a rich culture characterized by brilliant music, art and dance, as well as a landscape which is breathtakingly beautiful, Cuba offers more than meets the eye.
From a plethora of important sites like Ernesto ‘Ché’ Guevara’s mausoleum to the many museums chronicling the country’s interesting past, there is no shortage of information about how modern-day Cuba came to be. Lovers of the outdoors will be happy with the myriad of adventure activities, while cultural buffs will find plenty to do in the cities. Cuba’s position in the Caribbean is also quite appealing and its neighbors, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic would be well worth a visit, as well.
Surprisingly, Cuban cuisine in the country is fairly average, often consisting of bland rice and bean dishes, but there are a range of other privately operated international restaurants that make the grade. There is also a variety of accommodations available from luxury resorts to budget guesthouses and, the increasingly popular, homestays.
Cuba can become quite packed around the summer in July and August mainly because of the festivities that take place during this period and because it coincides with European school holidays. Prices skyrocket and accommodation can be difficult to find. Temperatures during this time can become sweltering, as can the humidity.
The best time to visit Cuba is probably during the country’s winter from January to May. The weather is cooler, crowds dissipate (except for the rush around Easter) and the dangerous hurricane season has completely passed.
Currency: Convertible Peso (CUC) for Tourist
Official language: Spanish
Christopher Columbus reached the island of Cuba in 1492 and with his arrival brought a wave of conflict wondering to whom this beautiful land belonged. During this period of flourishing colonialism, French and Spanish settlers brought slaves from Africa who would change the cultural landscape forever.
The 19th century was defined largely by wars of independence. The first in 1868 ended in a deadlock, with the second seeing the United States occupy the territory for two years. They eventually retained a large amount of economic and political control through a bevy of corrupt dictators.
1959 marked a turnaround for Cuba when Fidel Castro and his guerilla army entered the scene. Staging a successful military coup, Castro managed to overturn the corrupt and oppressive Batista government and established a socialist agenda. All economic ties with the United States were severed and local companies nationalized. Cuba’s links with the then Soviet Union strengthened and the United States instituted a heavy embargo for anything imported.
In 1990 after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost all of its major financial support and underwent one of the most difficult economic periods in its history. With its back against the wall, the country began to open its doors and increase involvement in the tourism industry.
Today, Cuba is one of the few remaining Communist nations in the world. While its economy and infrastructure are in major need of repair, it has some of the best universal social and health systems in the world. More about their interesting history can be found at The Museum of the Revolution in Havana.
Cuba has a rich culture which is largely an amalgamation of African and Spanish influences. The most prominent aspects are by far its music and art. Cuban music is known the world over for its lively and exciting pulsating rhythms driving many to their feet. It encompasses a great deal of percussion – which is a direct reference to the country’s African heritage – and several types of string instruments including the guitar. Cuban music has also been the basis for other genres including salsa, jazz, and the tango.
Cuban art displays a clear blend between African and European styles, evolving through many phases from Vanguardian to more modernist and contemporary pallets. Art was heavily involved in the political situation from the 1960’s onwards with many used as propaganda pieces advocating for the revolution.
The Cuban summer spans the months of June to August and can be unbearably hot. Temperatures during this time can reach highs of 100°F while the humidity hovers between 75 and 95 percent. This is also the busiest time of the year as it coincides with many Cuban festivals.
May to October marks the rainy season with every day seeing at least one moderate shower. The real danger comes in October when hurricane season begins with November experiencing the most aggressive storms. Cuba’s winter runs from January to April, but temperatures don’t tend to drop below 50°F.
The Cuba visa is a paper card that you need to keep with your passport. Applying online costs € 39,95. You will then receive the visa card by mail. Despite all of the coronavirus measures, you can still apply for a visa for Cuba as normal.
Taxis are useful for inner-city travel in Cuba and can be flagged down on the side of the road. Cabs with blue license plates are government-owned and generally go wherever the passenger requests, while taxis with yellow license plates are operated by private companies, work on set routes and are shared.
Taxis can also be used for going longer distances between cities, but this is quite a costly mode of transportation. Prices are negotiable and may be reasonable if you can find enough people to split the cost with, but otherwise this is not the most economical way of getting around Cuba.
The main train line runs from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, but there are several branches which go to smaller cities like Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus and Manzanillo. The network used to be far more extensive, but many have been shut down due to weather damage or lack of maintenance. Ferrocarriles de Cuba is the national rail company. Trains are not always on time, but the journey is a scenic one. The safest and most reliable route is the Tren Frances which travels overnight on the main line. This is the only train which has air conditioning and serves refreshments.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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