10 Reason Why Cuba is a Unique Travel Destination

 

Cuba, located just 90 miles south of Florida, is one of the hottest travel destinations for Americans now that the travel restrictions are lifting. In October 2015, commercial flights will fly between the US and Cuba. Due to the country’s Communist government and long-term isolation from the world economy, there are many differences between Cuba and any other country. Here are 10 non-location-dependent reasons to go to Cuba.

 

  1. Minimal Crime: Nowhere is crime-free. However, due to the strong reach of the government, street crime is minimal in Cuba which has the lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere. Guns are illegal- even police officers rarely have them. The result of this is being able to walk down any street or alley, day or night. As a woman, there are many catcalls like in any Latin American country, but they are never aggressive. The lack of crime gives a tourist unrestricted access to parts of cities that in any other country would be considered too dangerous to visit. The experience of walking through these areas with peace of mind is surreal.

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    Midnight in Central Havana
  2. Minimal Bargaining: One benefit of visiting a communist dictatorship is that the government sets the prices of most goods. This is nice because you as a tourist do not have to bargain- an annoying hassle of traveling through Latin America. Yes, you won’t pay the Cuban prices due to the dual currencies, but at the same time, you are never getting ripped off more than anyone else. Taxis are perhaps the only item that requires bargaining.
  3. No Advertisements: One benefit of having the government run everything is the lack of advertising since the government isn’t competing for business against anyone. It is weird and refreshing at the same time. The only billboards or large signs of any kind are government propaganda and are relatively rare outside of Havana.
  4. Old Cars: Ironically, the most recognizable feature of modern Cuba is the pre-1962 American cars. 1962 is when President Kennedy signed the executive order banning trade with Cuba. Because the country has remained poor and with few trading partners, many of these cars are still around, albeit in a chimeric state with motors and parts that are most likely Russian. A ballpark 50-60% of all the cars on the road in Cuba are vintage American cars.  Another 20% are old Russian cars from the 1960’s-1980’s.

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    Beautiful old car
  5. Ease of Finding Transportation: Getting to anywhere in a city or anywhere in the county is possible within minutes due to an abundance of transportation options: taxis, colectivos, buses and trains. Taxis are everywhere even in smaller towns and in less touristy areas. Taxis can also go long distance to other cities in Cuba for a reasonable rate. The fare for a private 3-hour taxi ride from Havana to Cienfuegos is $120. Colectivos are shared taxis. They function like a normal taxi except you pay for a single seat and they travel along fixed routes, both within a city and inter-city. While it takes longer to fill the car and to stop more often, it is considerably cheaper- 20-30% of the normal taxi fare. Buses run within all the major cities of Cuba and the sleek Viazul buses run between cities for cheap. All this can be arranged within minutes.
  6. Fabric of Communities are Intact…For Now: In most of the world, “old cities” have become tourist traps. Old houses and palaces have become shops, restaurants, and coffee shops that double as wifi hotspots. However in Cuba, this has not happened yet, so while the old cities are not as tourist friendly and full of attractions, they are very much living and working communities. Recently, the government has been trying to make their city centers more tourist-friendly and nicer by putting in money to fix up the roads and infrastructure so go now before the cities change.
  7. Improvement on Racial Equality: Before the Revolution, Cuba was a highly racialized society where whites had all the money and power. After the Revolution, Fidel declared that all Cubans are equal. Because everyone gets the same salary based on his/her job and lack of a robust banking system, everyone is more or less equal. Extremely poor but equal nonetheless. The recent influx of tourism and capitalism is changing this for the worse, as most of the tourism jobs are going to whites. Nevertheless, Cuba has made much more progress in racial equality than its neighbors.
  8. Limited and Concentrated Wifi: The government controls all telecommunications and has outlawed the use of private wifi routers. To access the internet in Cuba, locals and tourists alike have to stop by the Ministry of Communications stores and purchase 1-hour wifi access cards. Wifi networks are located on specific streets in cities- generally one street per town or neighborhood. This is awesome because people aren’t tethered to their phones, yet you can get internet if you really want it. It is also quite the sight to see 100 people all on their phones on one street corner and then nowhere else.

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    Wifi hotspot in Vinales
  9. Bed and Breakfast Network: By far the most popular places to stay in Cuba are called casa particulares- bed and breakfasts. There are thousands of these throughout the country. While you don’t get wifi, you do get the ability to see how actual Cubans live and to experience amazing Cuban hospitality.

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    My amazing hostess in Havana
  10. Hospitality of the Cuban People: Perhaps it is due to the novelty of outsiders, but the Cuban people are unbelievably friendly and welcoming to outsiders. In any genuine conversation lasting more than two minutes, I would eventually get invited to dinner, coffee or to see their house and meet their family. In many countries and among backpacking circles, this is a scenario that often leads to scams and danger, but in Cuba this scenario very often leads to an incredible cultural exchange. The big asterisk is that you probably need to speak some level of Spanish as the people who approach you on the street speaking English are likely trying to scam you.

If you are looking to go to Cuba, I went with my friend Rob Michelson who runs tours under the company name Cochinita Cubana Tours. You can email him at rob@cubacochinitotours.com

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