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It’s easier for Americans to get to Cuba then you might think. There are several points of departure – one of the best is Cancun, Mexico, offering daily flights to Havana.

With an abundance of tour operators willing to book airfare and hotel and arrange the special visa needed for Americans, it could not be easier for Americans to defy the State Department and visit one of the last true Communist countries. Prices range between $400 and $600 U.S. for 3-night/4-day packages.

If you go, there are several things to be aware of. The country has been crumbling since the U.S. embargo began, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has turned to tourism to keep its economy floating. Tourists from Europe and the Americas flock to Havana and the beaches in droves.

Even with the lively tourist trade, basic accommodations are all one can expect. Consider yourself lucky if the shower has warm water and pressure. If the bed does not have springs popping, you’ve hit the jackpot.

The tourist areas of Havana are thriving with constant renovation. The city’s architecture rivals Buenos Aires or many European cities (although not as well maintained). The true pleasures here are the cigars, rum, music and artwork. That’s correct: the art in Cuba is thriving. These extraordinary artist have little chance of showing their work outside Cuba. The savvy tourist can pick up some true gems for as little as $30.00. For larger original works of art, you’ll need to obtain a special permit to take it from the country.

Non-tourist areas are where life in Cuba shows its grit. With generations of the same family living in crumbling buildings, life can be difficult at best for the average Cuban. Fifty years of no paint or any repairs of significance have taken their toll. These areas are accessible to tourists, and any taxi driver will be happy to give you a tour. If you’re lucky they may even take you inside for a glimpse of daily life – of course, a small tip will be expected.

With all these downsides, the tourist is considered king. The public has marching orders to do what they can to accommodate visitors. With indifferent friendliness, the Cubans do what they can to comply. Just don’t expect too much and treat your host with dignity, and you’ll be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Comments

yuma May 1, 2010 @ 5:46 a.m.

Have you even been to Cuba. I am an American and have been living in Cuba for the past 10 year,6 1/2 months there every year, and the Cuba you describe is not the one I see everyday. This story has so many errors that it is both comical and very disrespectful to Cubans. First, Americans do not need "special visas" you just go in with a normal tourist visa like the rest of the world.Second, there are plenty "basic accommodations and necessities." I do not know where you were but you can stay in the Telegrafo,Parque Central, El Nacional or many other great hotels that do not have just cold water and broken beds.Also, you can buy toothpaste,shampoo,soap,deodorant,tampons and any other basic necessities in any store not just in Havana,but anywhere else in the country.Lastly you basically tell Americans to go there to be "king" to the Cubans who have "marching orders" to treat you nice and then you can go buy paintings for less than they are worth,basically treat Cubans as unsophisticated chumps. I think that if you ever went there in the first place you went with the wrong attitude or a certain expectation,but seriously I do not think you ever set foot there.Next time write with some authority on the subject or go back to journalism school.

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Charles2529 May 1, 2010 @ 9:36 p.m.

I'm an American that has traveled to Cuba for the last four years and I agree with everything "Yuma" has posted before me. Although I'd like to encourage more Americans to do the same, travel to Cuba. It is true that Cuba is crumbling and could use a good neighbor. You'll for sure come away with some lifelong friends, and know you've given a glimmer of hope to some very loving, but hungry people. Our goverments may dissagree, but we, as citizens, can reach out and touch...we're only 90 miles apart.

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patoddcincy June 20, 2012 @ 10:39 p.m.

Yes, there are some great hotels, but you will pay a fortune for them and that was not in my budget. Funny, I showed the article I wrote to a Cuban friend in Mexico and he had a good laugh. Laughed because he thought I nailed it. He grew up there and taught a local university. When I went you needed a special visa to travel from the United States and I believe that is still the case. If you have an American passport and enter Cuba they will not stamp it so you do not get in trouble with the US State Department. They then give you a special paper visa to show you are in the country legally.

Yes, the artwork is a bargain. I felt I was praising the Cuban artist and somehow it was view the other way. I never thought I even suggested that Americans where king and we could rip off the locals. I paid the asking price. I hope you do not think I should of paid more.

I do find it interesting that two people can go to the same place and see things from a completely different perspective. I traveled to Cuba with a friend who wrote for an east coast paper. He came away with a completely different impression that was not favorable.

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