The Caribbean island of Cuba is known for its rum, cigars, music and perhaps most importantly, its political regime. As one of the only remaining communist powers in the world, Cuba is a fascinating country to visit and experience.
The communist regime can be seen in all elements of Cuban life. The recent improvement in relations between the United States and Cuba are significant and will help the country to change and compete with the rest of the world. These impending changes are what encouraged me to visit Cuba last month.
Cuba is located only 150 kilometers from Florida, but as a result of the break down in relations between the USA and Cuba, it is impossible to travel between the two countries as a tourist at this moment in time. There are however, regular flights to Havana from various locations in Europe.
I travelled through Amsterdam with the flight to Havana lasting ten and a half hours. Although before travelling to Cuba it is necessary to get a Cuba Tourist Card through a travel agent.
There are two currencies used in the country, the peso and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The peso is used solely by locals and the CUC is used by visitors.
Upon arrival in Havana, it is hard not to notice the effect that communism has had upon the country. The main road from the international airport to the city is filled with old, colorful cars, which are remnants of a time before the US embargo.
These cars can be found throughout the country and in Havana it is an essential tourist activity to travel in one of the cars.
Havana is also famous for its colonial buildings which have unfortunately fallen into ruin. Many of these buildings can be seen by walking along the 8 kilometer long Malecón which runs along the coast of the city and is a hub of activity for locals at night.
There are many monuments depicting Cuban revolutionary heroes and a surprising monument dedicated to Bobby Sands, who is of course well known to the Irish contingent, in the city-center. This monument is a lesser known connection between Irish revolutionaries and their Cuban counterparts.
It is best to explore Havana on foot, as it is easier to experience the hustle and bustle of narrow streets filled with the local people. While in Havana my family and I did a walking tour of the city where we visited Old Havana which is home to many churches, monuments and cobbled streets.
After spending 3 nights in Havana we moved to the beach resort town of Varadero. This town can be found 2 hours away from Havana and is idyllic with its white sandy beaches and palm trees.
Cuba has some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving locations and all hotels offer these activities as well as other water sports. Exploring other parts of the island is easy when staying in Varadero and we made the most of our location by touring the cities of, Santa Clara Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
Santa Clara is home to the mausoleum of the infamous Che Guevara and is a must-see for those interested in the history of the country.
Trinidad is famous for its beautiful colonial buildings and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Touring these locations provided us with the opportunity to see what life is like for the locals, in what was an eye-opening experience.
Cuban people live a simple life compared to more industrialised, westernised standards of living. The political regime in Cuba makes its hard for everyday goods to be imported and this can be seen by visiting the few shops that line the streets in the capital.
Western luxuries like wifi and phone service are hard to find and it was not uncommon to see dozens of locals huddled around wifi hotspots near hotels and other hives of tourist activity.
Speaking of tourist activity, the weather in July and August is extremely hot with temperatures around 35 degrees each day.
The food in Cuba is basic with little variation. Pork, chicken, rice and beans are the main foods that you will find on the menu in all restaurants.
The Cuban cocktails however, are a little more exotic and are not to be missed, especially the mojitos which are made with authentic Cuban rum.
Overall Cuba is a vibrant and interesting country. The people are welcoming and enjoy telling visitors about their lives in the country.
With the easing of tensions between the USA and Cuba, the country is bound to change and possibly lose some of its character in order to entice more visitors, so for those looking to experience the authentic Cuban experience, there’s no time like the present.
Photo: Bud Ellison/ Flickr