Today during round two of #TTOT an interesting topic was brought up. I know, you’re probably thinking ‘so what, a dozen interesting subjects get brought up every week during TTOT’ and that is very true, but this one has the potential to be different. At the very least it has not left my brain in the several hours since TTOT wrapped up.
The topic of the week was What’s New In 2012 and despite many recurring Mayan sights and references, one other place that came up as well was Cuba. Yes, that’s right, Castro’s Cuba, one of the last [great?] communist countries of the world.
Personally, Cuba has been on my travel list for a few years now. When Jared and I were backpacking through Central America I tried to convince him we could fly into Cuba for a week, but he was too scared of getting in trouble. If you are American (yes, I’m guilty as charged), then the trick is to fly into Cuba from Central America. Do not try and fly directly into Cuba from the United States, Mexico, or Canada, as TSA officials are prevalent and customs officials will recognize that you should not be there. But if you fly into Havana from somewhere like Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Panama, then you are golden. Plenty of Americans have done it already. It is not the Cuban authorities you need to worry about, but rather the American ones. Cuba is happy however they receive your tourist money.
Now be honest, doesn’t Cuba interest you, at least a little? Think of those iconic Havana nights back in the 1920s and again during ’50s, when Havana was the Paris of the Americas and one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite hotspots… Think about the Havana Conference, one of the biggest ever mob family meetings in history, one that dictated mob policies for the ensuing decades… Think of all the 1950s cars used as taxis still to this day thanks to the US trade embargo…
Can you honestly still say that you do not have at least a little interest in Cuba?
As I already regret not seeing North Korea before Kim Jong-Il died, I vowed back in December not to make that mistake twice; Without a doubt I will be visiting Cuba during 2012, before Castro gets any older. The reason is not due to any form of support or approval towards the respective leaders of those two countries, but because I worry that as those two countries both exist in such a delicate balance of communism and tourism, there is no telling what could happen once power shifts. Fidel Castro has been the figurehead of the island nation for almost 50 years, although he retired in 2008, I’m sure his continued existence is part of the glue that holds Cuba together.
In the early 1960s, following America’s ban on Cuba tourism and the systematic government shutdown of many popular nightclubs and gambling halls associated with illegal activities, Cuba’s tourism industry came to a screeching halt. In was not until the early 1990s that the numbers began to improve. Even so, with 80% of pre-embargo tourists coming from the United States, it is hard to imagine Havana ever seeing such glory days ago without a change in American policy.
Nowadays over two million visitors a year grace the Cuban ground, most notably vacationers from Canada, Mexico, and all over Europe. As a matter-of-fact, tourism policies and general attitudes towards tourists have improved leaps and bounds, even more so in the last decade! Yes, truly Cuba is once again — for the third time, actually — officially become an up-and-coming tourist destination, with statistics improving every year.
The country even offers a variety of both budget and luxury accommodations. Plus, thanks to its countless museums Havana is home to many random and interesting pieces of history from all over the world. One of the more surprising is the Museo Napoliónico, which includes one of Napoleon’s teeth and the general’s death mask. And it should be no surprise that Ernest Hemingway’s former house (and yes, even boat) are now a museum as well.
Yes, Havana has a lot to offer, but there is more to Cuba than just that bustling metropolis. Just east of Havana is Varadero, an upper-class tourist town full of beaches that is home to many resorts, as well as the country’s only golf course. The western side of Cuba is the center of the cigar industry, particularly the city of Pinar del Rio. There is Trinidad, a famous World Heritage Site, and Santa Clara, both located in central Cuba. And in the far east of Cuba you can find Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba, two other cities with huge historical importance.
If you find yourself in a small town as the day is drawing to a close, it should be no trouble at all to find a “casa particular” or private house for the night. Cuban people are known for being very friendly and what better way to get a firsthand experience in the culture and local life. Electricity can be spotty however, but as with everything else, there have been great improvements since 2008.
Cuba as it currently stands is a flower about to bloom, an ideal travel blogger’s mecca that features just enough tourists to bring the country to life without spoiling or tarnishing it. And 2012 is the perfect year to see there before the word gets out and the masses start flooding in. Besides, now is the perfect time to see the Cuba of the 21st century before it looses its 20th century appeal. After all, those taxis won’t run forever! (The new wave has already started and they are not so iconic-looking.)
Which brings me around to my initial point…
Do you have any interest in visiting Cuba? How are your travel plans looking for 2012? Do you have a lot already booked, or are you still planning / living spontaneously in case of possible Mayan apocalypse?
What if there was a Cuba Tweet-Up?
Granted, it would take a decent number people to show interest before it would be even remotely possible to get any discounts, favoritism, or other spoils from the Cuban government. But still, a half dozen or dozen travel bloggers — known and unknown alike — all documenting their adventures throughout Cuba would be one helluva good publicity opportunity for Cuba. And we all know very that the blogger industry as a whole is becoming a more powerful player in the world of advertising and social media, especially in the travel sector. I have heard some dub 2012 the year of the blogger.
Visas for Cuba cost 20-25€ (Euro), are good for 30 days, and can be purchased at several Central American airports or even upon arrival at the Cuban airport (as long as your airline of choice does not complain). A quick search on CouchSurfing.org reveals there are 93 members in Havana, as well as local Couchsurfing social activities scheduled. Sounds like a winner to me!
So what if there was a Cuba Tweet-Up?
Would you be interested in attending?
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