In April, I went on a wonderful 6 night trip to Cuba. I urge anyone interested in Cuba to go now before everything changes!
I am so glad to have experienced it now before commercialism takes over. The country has such charm and so many positives: quality health care, free and excellent education resulting in the highest literacy rate in the world, easy access to good food, close knit families and communities, wonderful art and musical creativity, almost no drugs, crime, or homelessness, and friendly and open people. Also the physical beauty of the island: beautiful beaches and countryside, well-preserved coral reef, great weather.
As our guide said, when describing Cuba, they always start with the phrase, “It’s complicated, but…”. The negatives: dilapidated housing, poor plumbing, poor wages, lack of material goods and personal freedoms , very slow-or-no internet – which seems to be a good thing – people talk with each other and kids play together).
At the moment, the only way to visit Cuba from the US is on a People to People Cultural trip. This is group travel at its best in my opinion. Our group was 22 people and it was a perfect size. We had a tour manager and a local guide. Our bus was very modern, clean and had a toilet onboard. The roads were generally good. Most important we made three to four “cultural” visits a day including an elementary school, an organic farm, an artist’s studio, another artist’s tiled-plastered neighborhood (think Gaudi), an after-school community center, a medical clinic, a biosphere reserve, a sculptor’s ceramics studio, Hemingway’s Finca Vigia, a cigar and rum store for tastings, and a neighborhood celebrating Afro-Cuban religion (Santeria). We ate at government run restaurants as well as paladars (run by local chefs). Excellent food and drinks.
The old town area of Havana (“La Habana Vieja”) has over 450 historical buildings from the 1600’s to the early 1900’s. Many of these are in a very dilapidated condition and people actually have to live in them. This is the sad part of their housing. On the other hand, the buildings have been left because developers have not come in to demolish and rebuild. The government is renovating as many as they can and it is very interesting to see the changes (many buildings have before and after photos posted on them). These are beautiful buildings and some are gloriously lit at night.
The old 1950’s era American cars are everywhere! I thought there may be some in the Old Town, but they have been kept going and are freshly painted all over the country. The owners have a real sense of pride in these relics of the past.
This was one of my best trips ever…I could have stayed much longer!