Cuba is a hot destination right now, but do you really know what to expect from the most famous Caribbean island?
I am sure you have at least one friend who has proudly shown you a picture of his trip to Cuba. So let's face it: shall we visit Cuba?
Although Cuba is slowly transitioning towards modern times, the island is still stuck in the past.
The Internet has recently arrived here and it's still a very poor service. You can access wifi hotspots by using internet cards, but don't expect a high-speed connection. The cards are quite cheap, but locals tend to avoid browsing the web as they find it expensive.
There are two different currencies in the island: one for locals and one for tourists, so don't get surprised if your perception of prices is hugely different from theirs (and be ready for constant negotiation).
As for the Internet, get some street style into your trip and forget about Google maps. You can download Maps.me to stroll around, it's an offline mapping system that works anywhere in the world.
The real challenge of your trip to Cuba will be the interaction with locals. Your trip might become a nightmare as Cubans will treat you as a cash machine.
Locals suffer from heavy isolation and put up with a shortage of basic goods such as eggs, soap, and toilet paper. As soon as they see a tourist, they literally visualize a walking bank.
This is definitely a downside: you may speak Spanish fluently, be a backpacker on a budget, or an experienced solo traveler and you could still fall into some of the worst tourist traps of your life.
Cubans are smart and have strong networks. A fully functioning underground economy is one of the results of years of dictatorship and Cubans are masters at creative solutions. Who could blame them, after all?
The first thing they will try to do is organizing your trip for you. Considering the lack of internet access, some people may appreciate the effort. Personally, I felt I was losing control over my traveling, and I was stressed out by this constant attempt to micromanage me.
As soon as you get off your plane in Havana, you'll be offered all kinds of city tours, travel planning, and sexy Latin looks. Cubans will try their best to seduce you passionately. It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, in Cuba you are definitely a target, as marrying a foreigner is the easiest way to break free from severe governmental restrictions.
So... why should anyone visit Cuba? Here comes the best part: people are really good-hearted there, despite the circumstances. So if you manage to filter your interactions properly, you will experience a deep intercultural exchange on this beautiful island.
Cubans are welcoming, warm, and extremely sociable. Think about it this way: you are their only access to the outside world. Cubans' strength is admirable and they have a lot to teach us in terms of resilience. Music and culture are extremely interesting as well, so any artist will love to explore their creative universe.
What are the best destinations in Cuba? My advice is to add some spice to the classic 12-day Havana-Viñales-Playa Larga-Trinidad-Varadero tour.
Make sure you have enough time to explore underrated destinations like Santiago de Cuba or off-the-road Cayos (word for beaches).
So is Cuba worth a visit? I say yes, as long as you go brave on your travel route, get off the map (since Google doesn't work, it shouldn't be a problem), and interact with locals. Ask them what they think of their government, how the restrictions are affecting their lives, and what are their dreams for the future.
You'll hear stories and testimonies that will stay with you for a long time.