No one knows when yet but it appears inevitable. As the United States slowly relaxes its policy towards Caribbean’s largest island nation and American business begins to trickle in, so will American tourists and consequently, a rise in the cost to vacation there for everyone.
With only 90 miles separating Cuba from the U.S., expect American based cruise lines, airlines and hotel chains to invest heavily in new infrastructure required to cater to the soon-to-be arriving masses. It’s supply and demand and the demand is about to grow to great proportions.
For over 50 years, or since the U.S. restricted Americans from visiting, Cuba has been one of the most affordable Caribbean destinations for Canadians and the third most visited country after the U.S. and Mexico with a million Canucks visiting annually. With the travel restriction to Americans lifted, Cuba expects a million Americans in the first year, tripling to three million within the first three years. That’s a lot of resort rooms yet to be built.
Ultimately, endearing Cuba will change from what Canadians know it to be today. Never ending stretches of virgin beachfront may soon be occupied by massive hotel chains and once sleepy beach towns transformed into gluttonous ports of call. No one knows when yet but it appears to be inevitable.
Now, for anyone that has yet to go, go now, and when you do, check out my top five Cuban attractions, (besides the typical and obvious).
1. Cubans! (No, not cigars)
Often, when asked what people liked best about their trip to wherever they went, you hear the answer, “the people.” Since this has been an answer of mine returning from a couple of different countries in the past, I can honestly say that I’ve never meant this more than coming back from Cuba. It’s more than their friendliness, warmth and kindness – much more. Cubans are charismatic, intelligent and proud people; resilient, resourceful with an incredible zest for life. Although they’re limited by government food rations, I have heard on numerous occasions, stories of tourists spending time with families in their homes, being invited over for dinners (sometimes even lobster!) or to just hang out, asking for nothing in return. It is almost customary for return visitors to the island to stock their luggage with extra clothes, food and amenities we often take for granted, to give away on their holiday. Coupled with the country’s reputation as one of the safest places to visit, there’s absolutely no reason to not get out and mingle.
At practically any time in the day (or night), in every barely lit, diamond-studded park in the country you will come across the same tireless scene; Cubans of every age, some with baseball mitts, some without, some with dusty, old Yankees hats and others barefoot, all having the time of their lives playing “America’s favourite pastime.” Introduced to Cuba in the mid 1800’s, baseball has become more than a sport here, it’s a way of life. It became a symbol of independence and freedom from Spanish colonial rule when it was banned from the country in the late 1800’s to get the islanders to attend bull fighting rings instead. Today, Cuban baseball players have become one of the country’s most popular exports and it is assumed that if you’re North American, you know how to play. So when that adorable little boy or girl ask you to join them in an inning or two, relax, grab a mitt and get in the game!
3. Propaganda Art
Not generally thought of as a hotbed in the art world, Cuban art’s most fascinating, engaging and popular pieces have become the country’s communist propaganda posters. From original 1960’s silkscreen works to mass-reproduced posters of Che and Fidel, they can be found throughout the island’s art shops and galleries and are now touring galleries in New York City, Los Angeles and London. Depictions of Cuban political leaders differ from commonly themed Chinese, Vietnamese and Soviet works by the use of loud, tropical colours, casting the depicted in a more sex symbol-like light (think Warhol’s pop pieces) rather than the grim and stern illustrations of Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh. Buying locally is as fun as it is smart as there are hefty savings to be had here.
4. Vintage American Cars
After the Cuban Revolution and the ensuing American Embargo in 1959, ordinary Cubans weren’t allowed to purchase cars for personal use. Cars that were personally owned prior to the embargo were allowed to be kept and the result is what you see on Cuba’s streets today. Up until the embargo, Cuba was the largest importer of American cars and a family car and the art of its maintenance is passed down from father to son like an ancient secret. Classic Chevys and Pontiacs from the golden age of American auto-making are everywhere and a tour of La Habana Vieja in one of them has become a very popular excursion for enthusiasts.
5. Music & Dance
Beautifully described as the marriage between the African drum and the Spanish guitar, Cuban music and dance is found practically everywhere on the island. In fact, they claim to be the innovators of some of Latin America’s most popular musical styles including Salsa, Mambo and the Cha Cha Cha. Born to dance, Cubans seem naturally gifted with rhythm and aren’t the least bit shy to ask for a dance. Live music is abundant and infectious. Lessons in both dancing and musical instruments (generally percussive instruments such as the congas, claves and timbales) can be booked and can even result in getting up on stage to jam with the house band!