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Havana, Cuba: An Emerging Story

“Is Levi or Guess considered a more elegant brand? Addidas or Reebok?” A couple of mid-twenties locals ask with anticipation.

A young single mother shares her ideas on the “What is Cuba to you?” question for a few minutes, detailing hardship and frustration. She caps off her thoughts with, “I hate Cuba.”

Outside the extremes of those Cubans directly involved in the tourist industry and those older generations accustomed to waiting on Fidel’s promises and visions, there lives another Cuba. These Cubans yearn to form their own realities, to express themselves, to be given opportunities. They want to know what’s happening in the world beyond their borders – and many of them want to take part in it.

Posted ubiquitously around Havana are drawings depicting scenes from the revolution days or signs reading “Viva La Revolucion.” But this revolution overtook Batista’s dictatorship over 50 years ago. It feels as if the Cuban government is trying to hold on to some strain of loyalty and energy belonging to that long-ago fight. Memories of these times don’t even exist for many from the younger Cuban world. The “revolution” seems to reek of an older Cuban day that has already passed by.

Passion, strife, confusion and waiting fill this community. But with Fidel on his way out – something that will seemingly only happen with his passing – and U.S. restrictions on Cuba being lifted step by step, the wait appears to be shrinking quickly.

Things to Do. Walk around outside of the tourist attractions to meet another “real” Havana. Climb the beautiful entrance steps of the University of Havana – where young Fidel fostered his revolutionary ideas while earning his law degree. Like many universities, it’s teeming with young bright minds to meet. Spend a night at a cabaret such as El Tropical, with locals sweating, smiling and dancing fervently to live music. The pure passion focused on music, dance and letting go is overwhelming.

Where to Stay. Don’t stay in hotels. State-sanctioned accommodations in family homes are fairly abundant. They are called “casa particulares” and have a few advantages for a traveler getting to know this Havana world:

  1. You can meet a Cuban family in their home; many times they’ll offer to cook you meals as well.

  2. The setup is more like an apartment than merely a room (and can come complete with a full kitchen).

  3. The cost is usually around $35 a night, leaving more spending money for other city adventures.

Warnings. It’s sad, but be weary of overly friendly Cubans. The term “jinetero” is given to Cubans who cater to tourists, posing as new friends and aiming to make money. They’re useful to show you restaurants or attractions, but will undoubtedly try to take advantage of the situation. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth hanging out with people like this, and when to part ways.

More Information. One of the best websites for visitors to Cuba is cuba-junky.com.

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“Is Levi or Guess considered a more elegant brand? Addidas or Reebok?” A couple of mid-twenties locals ask with anticipation.

A young single mother shares her ideas on the “What is Cuba to you?” question for a few minutes, detailing hardship and frustration. She caps off her thoughts with, “I hate Cuba.”

Outside the extremes of those Cubans directly involved in the tourist industry and those older generations accustomed to waiting on Fidel’s promises and visions, there lives another Cuba. These Cubans yearn to form their own realities, to express themselves, to be given opportunities. They want to know what’s happening in the world beyond their borders – and many of them want to take part in it.

Posted ubiquitously around Havana are drawings depicting scenes from the revolution days or signs reading “Viva La Revolucion.” But this revolution overtook Batista’s dictatorship over 50 years ago. It feels as if the Cuban government is trying to hold on to some strain of loyalty and energy belonging to that long-ago fight. Memories of these times don’t even exist for many from the younger Cuban world. The “revolution” seems to reek of an older Cuban day that has already passed by.

Passion, strife, confusion and waiting fill this community. But with Fidel on his way out – something that will seemingly only happen with his passing – and U.S. restrictions on Cuba being lifted step by step, the wait appears to be shrinking quickly.

Things to Do. Walk around outside of the tourist attractions to meet another “real” Havana. Climb the beautiful entrance steps of the University of Havana – where young Fidel fostered his revolutionary ideas while earning his law degree. Like many universities, it’s teeming with young bright minds to meet. Spend a night at a cabaret such as El Tropical, with locals sweating, smiling and dancing fervently to live music. The pure passion focused on music, dance and letting go is overwhelming.

Where to Stay. Don’t stay in hotels. State-sanctioned accommodations in family homes are fairly abundant. They are called “casa particulares” and have a few advantages for a traveler getting to know this Havana world:

  1. You can meet a Cuban family in their home; many times they’ll offer to cook you meals as well.

  2. The setup is more like an apartment than merely a room (and can come complete with a full kitchen).

  3. The cost is usually around $35 a night, leaving more spending money for other city adventures.

Warnings. It’s sad, but be weary of overly friendly Cubans. The term “jinetero” is given to Cubans who cater to tourists, posing as new friends and aiming to make money. They’re useful to show you restaurants or attractions, but will undoubtedly try to take advantage of the situation. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth hanging out with people like this, and when to part ways.

More Information. One of the best websites for visitors to Cuba is cuba-junky.com.

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Comments
5

Fascinating. Why do you advise visitors to avoid hotels? Are they dangerous? Dirty? Do they rip you off? What? When were you there, and what prompted you to go to Cuba?

Nov. 23, 2009

Hotels in Cuba are not dangerous. However, you just get a better sense of Cuban realities staying at a Casa Particular. Some of them are quite beautiful too and a good bargain for housing. Checkout Moon Handbooks, Cuba, by Christopher Baker. It is an excellent travel guide you can get at the bookstore or online. Right now legal travel to Cuba is regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Treasury Department. You need to check under what category of license you can travel to Cuba or identify a group that is organizing a legal trip to Cuba you can go on. Presently there are two bills in Congress HR 874 and S 428 that will allow all to travel freely to Cuba. Let your Congressman and Senators know your views.

Nov. 23, 2009

Great articles and travel tips. How long would you recommend visiting Cuba for and can you think of accommodation options that may be more affordable? (I am used to staying in hostels and wonder if anything similar exists there).

Dec. 13, 2009

SSalvia: I would recommend visiting Cuba for no less than a week. If I had more time I would have stayed longer! Accommodation is a bit expensive compared to hostelling around other countries. Cubans thrive on tourism, and accommodation is a big one - they don't have any cheaper options that I know of.

April 27, 2010

That island is really spectacular, its people, traditions make it a special place to visit always. Although it has its requirements it is worth going there and getting to know it. I leave the web that I use to stay in cuba every time I visit her https://www.bandbcuba.com/ and thanks for information

Dec. 20, 2017

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