18 Reasons to go to Cuba and fall in love with it
I fell in love with Cuba at first sight. This vibrant and alive in every way country excites, impresses and makes you think. Not to visit Cuba would be a huge omission in every person’s life, much less a traveler. But don’t take my word for it, because there are as many as 18 arguments in defense of my assertion. Let’s look at them!
To visit a legendary country
Well, there is no second such country in our world! There is not the same, or even a little bit similar. Cuba is special, it is issued in a single copy, it is handmade, old school. Therein lies the main reason for us to go there at least once.
Oh, and if only this bastion of Caribbean socialism had been waiting for us for a long time, but no! Time stands still, everything flows, everything changes, and so does Cuba. You see, in 5-10 years the country will be transformed: its economy, its political system, its people, their way of life, their habits, their behavior, their way of living and thinking will have changed. It will be a different country and a different society. Not worse, not better, just different. Even now Cuba is not the same as five years ago – change comes quickly. If you want to see that Cuba, don’t waste your time. And pay special attention to Havana.
The main face-brand in Cuba (not the author, of course, but Che Guevara). The famous image is found everywhere.
I’ve been looking for a metaphor for the Cuban capital for a long time. With what to compare this amazing city? On every corner, in every street I saw, or rather, felt something extremely familiar, but the thought constantly eluded me. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized!
Havana is one huge communal apartment.
It’s an old apartment, where many generations have changed, but the repairs are still the same. Everyone knows each other here, lives side by side. They socialize, have fun, quarrel, make up, and have fun again. This apartment is dilapidated, but the tenants keep it as cozy as they can. And no matter how they would like to have another beautiful and comfortable life, it seems to me, they will never agree to resettlement, because this is their home, their whole life was spent within the walls of this large and friendly apartment called Havana.
Just as there is no second Cuba, there is no second Havana. Everyone should get to know this city. Havana is the heart of the island and the Cuban people. It is a difficult city with a difficult fate and a lot of problems: it smells terrible, there is a lot of trash and pervasive destruction, but one thing I know – there are few places in the world more interesting than Havana.
The streets in Havana are unimaginably photogenic! Each photo – like a frame from an old movie. Promenade de Malecon. Another shot from the movie.
Relaxing on great beaches and the sea
Communism is communism, but let’s not forget that Cuba is first of all a tropical island. Palm trees, clearest sea and luxurious beaches as from commercials wait for those tired of slush, greyness and frosts of our northern regions. In Cuba I have visited both Caribbean and Atlantic beaches – all of them are damn good and are sure to give you a dream vacation.
Go snorkeling and diving.
And also yachting, windsurfing, sea fishing and other sports and activities at sea. Coral reefs and exotic wildlife await you in Cuba’s coastal waters.
Immerse yourself in a world of music and dance
These two things are in great esteem everywhere in Cuba. I myself am not a dancer, but the more mobile and expressive types find the Cuban salsa and music so outstanding that they are willing to fly to another part of the world just for the sake of these things alone.
See the world’s smallest bird
Cuba is home to the hummingbird bee, the smallest bird in the world. Personally, it is not its size (5 cm) that amazes me the most, but its weight – 2 grams! This bird beats its heart at the rate of 500 beats per minute and it has to flap its wings at the rate of 90 beats per second to hover over a flower and get enough nectar. As a bird, our “bee” lays eggs, and they are only 6-10 millimeters in size. I can’t even imagine how tiny the chicks hatch out of them. Amazing animal! We were lucky enough to meet this sweetest creature in the garden of our cabin in Trinidad. I hope you will be lucky too.
Hummingbird bee at dinner. Photo: Ekaterina Chernetsova (Papchinskaya) / commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY 2.0.
Riding in a vintage car
When I spent all my childhood in my family Moskvich-2140, I don’t have much respect for vintage cars. But that is my story, and people who are not so closely familiar with old cars, or simply romantics, Cuba will give a unique opportunity to ride in the American and Soviet automobile classics.
Thousands of multi-colored old cars make the urban landscape in Cuba bright and interesting, but its beauty has a downside as well: the exhaust fumes from all those prehistoric engines burning gasoline and God knows what quality gasoline badly poison the air around. It is simply impossible to breathe in Havana, and there is not even one third of the traffic of our average-sized cities. I’m not scaring you, I’m warning you.
Retro Car in Old Havana.
Try cigars and rum.
Personally, I’m indifferent to both, but not everyone is such a nerd! Cuban rum and cigars are famous all over the world, and I suppose, quite deservedly, otherwise would not have passed the test of time.
Drinking cocktails and hanging out in bars
Mojito, daiquiri, “Sex on the Beach,” piña colada and, of course, “Cuba libre” – these cherished words are said many thousands of times on any night on Freedom Island. Cocktails in Cuba are obscenely cheap: almost any bar will willingly pour you any of these drinks for 100-300₽. And rum in the stores, as it seemed to me, is almost the price of water. You can drink yourself to death. Though, everything is balanced in the universe: availability and abundance of cocktails and rum in Cuba are compensated by almost full lack of good wine and beer, for which my soul is more inclined. But there are other countries in the world for that, and as for the cocktails in Cuba, they captivate even the most resistant – and although I myself have only drank a dozen of these drinks during my vacation on the island, it has amounted to a good three quarters of all the cocktails I have drunk in my life.
Drinking a local canchanchara cocktail in Trinidad for a kook and a half each. A colorful bar in Old Havana. I can just see Hemingway sitting there, sipping his favorite daiquiris and mojitos in a measured fashion.
Back to the USSR.
Crank up the Beatles’ Back to USSR on your player and hop on a plane to Cuba!
Your nostalgia or simply your interest in socialist life can easily be quenched in the land of Fidel Castro. Hundreds of artifacts from our own past await you here: from “Moskvitchis” and “Zhiguli” in the streets to lines in the stores, food stamps, and portraits of the leaders on the walls. Cuba is a real time machine for the Soviet man, but it is not only entertainment, but also an opportunity to look at the past of our society from a different angle in order to better understand the problems of today. All in all, an extremely interesting and rewarding experience, so, in the words of the greats, God bless everyone!
No, this is not the Moscow of the ’80s. This is an unbreakable Moskvich-2140 proudly rides the streets of Old Havana. It was especially pleasant to see it, as it has been our family car for almost two decades. Even the color is almost the same! Empty shelves in Cuban stores. The queue at the store.
Nothing to worry about.
I don’t know what the secret is to these people, but they seem to be really happy! They live in poverty, and often even poverty. They don’t eat well. They are deprived of the comfort that we are accustomed to and do not know what the benefits of civilization, travel several times a year, an apartment in a new building or a summer house are. They don’t have that, or hundreds of other things, and if we lose even one of those things, we feel miserable in a moment. But they are happy nonetheless. Cubans smile at every person they meet, sing, play guitar, dance, go out with friends, and enjoy life. They definitely know some secret to happiness. Don’t expect me to hand it to you on a silver platter. How can I know it, if I am the same stupid white man with my own ridiculous problems, concerns and worries? I never knew the secret, but when I was in Cuba, I knew that this secret truth was in the air. I could feel it touching my skin, giving me goose bumps, and I thought that this invisible bird was about to be caught. Perhaps more time or persistence was needed. Maybe you’ll have more success. It is definitely worth trying your luck, because there is a secret to happiness, and they definitely know it in Cuba. But even without solving the mystery, you get a lot – Cuban atmosphere of joy and serenity for a while will banish your worries and hardships.
A cheerful man asked to have his picture taken with his friends. The guy is playing baseball on the streets of Trinidad.
See the colonial heritage.
Socialism, Fidel and Che Guevara don’t yet give an exhaustive image of Cuba – its history is richer and its foundation deeper. For most of its history, it was a Spanish colony, and after a hard struggle, instead of the coveted independence it fell into the zone of interest of a much stronger empire, the United States. The multi-million dollar sugar industry, an incredible mix of Catholicism and African pagan cults, a mess of dictatorships, uprisings and wars of independence – all this is Cuban history. Cuba is interesting because different eras are preserved there: the Spanish rule, the years of American capitalism, the socialist system. Traces and images of all these eras are preserved to this day in the architecture, so walking through the cities of Cuba is a great pleasure for a traveler who longs to move not only in space, but also in time.
In Cuba, we visited two cities whose appearance carefully preserves the traces of former eras: Havana tells the story of the whole Cuban 20th century in detail, and Trinidad magically transports its guests to the colonial era of the 18th and 19th centuries. This country has such a complicated and long history, but these two cities are able to tell it.
Trinidad is a city in central Cuba. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known for its brightly colored houses. Inside the history museum at the Cantero Palace in Trinidad are cool galleries, beautiful interiors, ancient frescoes and the best observation deck in town.
Do an Internet detox.
Anyone preparing for a trip to Cuba has heard horror stories about the Internet problems there: long, expensive, inconvenient. I myself, however, hacked the system and got a couple of gigs of great mobile Internet for free, so I have not fought with their local Internet and experienced no inconvenience. But I have no dependence (instead of bloggers and channels, I subscribe only to a daily reading of Montaigne’s experiments and Flaubert’s letters), and I sincerely advise those who do not get out of social networks, to go to Cuba and go into a digital detox. Let’s not kid ourselves, even a couple of weeks our brains, crippled by gadgets and algorithms, will not cure, but a breath of fresh air will do you good.
By the way, even better than a vacation in Cuba, a two-week cruise on a cruise liner will encourage you to get digital detox.
Admire the scenery in the outskirts of Trinidad.
Talking to people.
How I suffered in Cuba! How I resented and scolded myself as I walked around Havana! How I regretted not speaking Spanish!
I saw open-minded, sociable, intelligent, and interesting people all around me, and even as a level 80 introvert, I was dying to talk to Cubans. But I needed to speak Spanish vividly, because my modest English was not enough to have a deep conversation with these wonderful people caught between two worlds, cultures, and eras.
And I wanted to strike up a conversation. Arriving in Cuba after the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and other Caribbean islands, I immediately felt that very different people lived here. After all, their socialist education and upbringing have had a huge impact on their society, Cubans compare favorably with all their Caribbean neighbors. Even in the homeless man on the streets of Havana I saw intelligence, in the beggarly old man I saw pride, and in the simple worker I saw politeness, intelligence, and firmness. On my second day in Cuba, I vowed to learn Spanish and come back again.
My only concern is that the day will come when Western influence will change the character and worldview of these people. The West will get them drunk on cheap beer, feed them burgers and TV shows, teach them to take out quick loans for junk, and put a brand new iPhone on the pedestal of their dreams. The power of the West is limitless and pervasive, so there is no way to avoid it. I hope that the Cuban people, strong in spirit, will not sell out their identity and culture without resistance, the gene of which has been in their blood for centuries.
A Havana resident whose gray-haired people remember Fidel, Che and Batista well.
Drinking coffee for 2 rubles.
- Eating ice cream for 5₽,
- ride the bus for 1₽,
- eat sandwiches for 25₽.
- And so on.
Prices in Cuba are surprising: some things are incredibly cheap (can you remember the last time you paid for something with a coin of 1 ruble?), but others are sold at triple the price (tourist goods, coconuts, car rental). I have already described in detail the phenomenon of Cuban food prices.
This sea delicacy, also known as lobster, is offered in almost every restaurant in Cuba. The price is perfectly humane: small cafes in Havana charge only 500-800₽ for a small lobster with side dishes. Other countries will charge higher prices for these sea creatures, but perhaps their capitalist lobsters will be fattier than the local socialist ones – then it’s all fair. This seems to be true, because the largest lobster in history was caught off the coast of Canada and weighed as much as 20 kilograms.
Nevertheless, lobster in Cuba is available to every tourist, which is a sin not to take advantage of. Certainly, our crustacean does not differ much from shrimp in taste and does not give such a thrill, as, for example, raw oyster. But the phrase, carelessly thrown in a friendly conversation after returning from a holiday: “Yes, we’re there every day eating lobsters” – will certainly sound weighty and solid, and the memory of the gastronomic pleasures will warm the soul for many months after the trip.
By the way, I recently found out that male lobsters live 30 years, and females easily live up to 54 years on the average. That is almost a human life! I even felt ashamed to eat such long-livers.
All your questions about cuisine, restaurants, and food prices in Cuba will be answered in my report.
Eating lobster for 8 bucks at Café Mambo Habana.
Your camera shutter will be smoking! Everything in Cuba is photogenic: the people, the architecture, the everyday life, life itself. If you’re into photography even a little bit, you’re in for a real adventure. Because Cubans are incredibly social and the space around them is insanely colorful, interesting scenes are happening nonstop and replace one another every minute. You can walk these streets endlessly – for days, weeks, months – and never cease to be amazed. In an era of globalization and social restraint, it is rare to visit such an expressive and authentic place.
Morning in Trinidad.
Realize how well we live.
If you complain about the hard life, rising prices, worse jobs than your neighbor, insufficiently high wages, a not-so-cool car, and no summer house, Cuba will straighten you out. There you will understand what it means to live hard. You will be sobered by their empty shelves, poverty, devastation, and life without a good half of the civilization goods available to us. When you see the lives of Cubans, you will understand how much you have and how ridiculous your complaints are. It will give you a chance to evaluate your life soberly and decide which of your problems and desires are serious and important, and which ones are worthless.
Cubans are very social. They spend most of their time outside, talking to their neighbors or just sitting on their doorstep watching street life. And the doors of the houses are always open during the day. In Cuba, there is no strict boundary between public and private space that we are accustomed to, so when you walk along the streets, you can look into the doors and windows of houses, see the home life. Cuba will give you many illustrations and sketches of life of ordinary people, and you will only have to draw conclusions.
A woman in Havana. I believe it’s Plato, descended from a canvas by Rafael Santi.
21 reasons to go to Cuba
Cuba – a rich palette of colors, where everyone can find a color to their liking. They go there for the mood, the Caribbean exoticism and spiritual lift. The architecture of old Havana, with its textured facades, narrow staircases and high ceilings captivates at first glance. The retro cars that ply the main roads and the horse-drawn vehicles make us feel like we’re being thrown back a few decades.
I publish interesting travel stories about places I haven’t managed to get to myself. A daily joint column with BigPicture.ru
1 The fabulous Vignales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2 The azure waters of the Caribbean Sea.
3 A retro car in front of the former Cuban parliament building (Capitol).
4 Cuba is a country of incendiary dances and melodies. You can dance everywhere and at any age. The main thing is to do it with pleasure and fire.
5 Havana’s Malecon promenade is the most popular place in the city for evening strolls.
6 Colorful residents of Havana. Happy to take pictures with tourists for a few pesos.
7 Enterprising street vendors with vegetable carts, usually not standing still, but constantly moving around the city.
8 Good morning, Havana!
9 The Bacunayagua Bridge and the green Yumuri Valley.
10 The picturesque windows of Havana’s Ursuline Palace.
11 The bright streets of old Havana.
12 Cienaga de Zapata National Park is the most suitable place for bird and wildlife watching.
13 You want to discern every detail of atmospheric Havana and its graceful buildings.
14 Cuba’s undeniable symbols are Ernesto Che Guevara and Cuban cigars.
15 The open-air museum city of Trinidad.
16 The colorful Tropicana Cabaret, one of the most famous in the world.
17 The luxurious Capitol Hall.
18 One of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite places in Cuba is the El Floridita Bar. Here he created, drank daiquiris, and observed the life of the Cuban people.
19 The most famous Cuban rum-based cocktails are the Cuba libre, daiquiri, and mojito. After a busy day of walking it is recommended to have one drink.
20 Yummy lobsters for seafood lovers.
21 Sunset on a Cuban beach.
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