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.