How I Truly Felt About Cuba

How I Truly Felt About Cuba

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Cuba sharing with you the ins and outs and how to navigate through the country.

But I never quite expressed how I truly felt about Cuba.

Cuba was just – cool.

My mind wasn’t blown.

I didn’t fall in love with the country.

There is no immediate yearning to return.


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Right now, Cuba is such a hot destination especially since there are super inexpensive flights on carriers like American and JetBlue.

We are intrigued by this island in the Caribbean that, as Americans at least, we have only recently been “allowed” to visit.

The mystery.

The wonder.

Identifying with Afro- Cuban culture.

Food. Music. Dancing.

After watching movies/documentaries on Cuba (I highly recommend Una Noche) and reading up on the political and social history; I was looking forward to authentic connections, a better understanding of the Afro- Cuban culture, the food, to name a few – yet, my expectations for what I hoped to experience in Cuba just was not met.

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Let me give you some insight on why…

Food:

The food was just okay. This was a serious blow to me (huge foodie here!). There was only one restaurant in Havana that we frequented because the food was delicious and affordable. Everywhere else, the food and experience were subpar and mediocre. This ranged from 4-star’other dining to local eats. Honestly, I have had better Cuban food at the bodega on the East side.

People:

There is still a very noticeable divide between Afro-Cubans and ‘other’ Cubans. Even with a language barrier, the conversations with Afro-Cubans was so warm and embracing! They wanted to acknowledge and appreciate our (African Americans) presence in the country. But again, the racial divide can be seen from outer space. Most of the service, labor, and back-of-the-house jobs were all dark, Afro- Cubans. The lighter the skin, the greater the opportunity to have well-paying jobs.

Not to mention, a lady came into the men’s room after my friend in a 5-star hotel, assuming he was a Afro-Cuban, to ask him to leave the property. Once she realized he was American, she apologized profusely and went on with her day.

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Money:

Cuba is probably one of the most expensive islands in the Caribbean I have visited. Not to mention converting USD to EUROs (or Canadian) to Cuban pesos was honestly a headache. You REALLY have to be careful with your budget. It caused a bit of anxiety knowing that if you run out of money, it would be hell trying to get someone to wire money to you.

* I believe there is a credit union in the States that allows you to use the ATM in Cuba now.

 

Not A Lot to Do/See:

My travel style is that of cultural immersion and authentic experiences. It only takes two solid days to do Havana, if that. The real gems are in other cities that are more rural, authentic, and quieter (we went to Trinidad and Varadero). It saddened me to have a maxed out “To Do/See” list in half a day.

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Honestly – I was caught up in the hype.

The novelty that Cuba was the mysterious, untapped gem. When, in fact, there are expensive, luxury hotels and industries going up all over Havana getting ready for you to come in and spend. It reminds me how of they are gentrifying historic neighborhoods all over the States. The country is changing and changing quickly. I believe it’s already too late to catch the untapped Cuba.

In no way, am I bashing Cuba. There were plenty of amazing things that I enjoyed about Cuba including the architecture and sunsets over Varadero beach!

 Many of the buildings are old and falling apart, but if you close your eyes, you can almost smell the sweet tobacco from hand rolled cigars, hear the loud, live bands blasting through the open windows, coupled with laughter and chatter. The authentic, unchanged architecture with the intricate details is stunning.

Boys Playing the Square Old Havana, Cuba

                                Boys Playing the Square
                                    Old Havana, Cuba

Listen.

I’m not attempting to discourage you from visiting Cuba.

I encourage you to travel the world and create your experiences, opinions, and perceptions!

If you’ve ever received to Cuba, what were your thoughts on the country?

Journey on,

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15 comments

  1. Wow interesting perspective. I was there for a week in March and I look forward to going back. We spent 3 days in Havana and I felt it wasn’t enough time to explore all the different neighborhoods. I also went to Vinales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Although filled with tourists I wish I had had more time in Trinidad. The beachside towns near Playa Larga were also beautiful. I ate very well for cheap! I was surprised since I had heard complaints about the food. I am used to the Cuban food in Miami since I lived in that area but I still found good places based on recommendations. I’m surprised you thought it was expensive? Is that based on the conversion rate, what you spent on items or compared to other Caribbean islands? I loved the energy and the vibrancy of the people, exploring the history and learning about the effects of communism as well as US relations then and now. It will be interesting to see what the future holds. This is the great thing about travel and travel bloggers. To share our different perspectives.

  2. I spent two weeks in Cuba and explored the island. My favorite place was Santiago de Cuba and I highly recommend a visit if you ever return. It has a slower pace than Havana, the people are nicer and more genuine, and the Afro Cuban culture, dance and music is superb. There are also several historical sites, including the Julio 26 Museum and Fort de Morro. And likely due to the long distance from Havana, it’s not (yet) overrun with tourists and retains its small town charm.

    Interestingly, even in Havana I had a different experience than you described. I stayed in casas, hung out with locals, and took my time to really absorb the city (and nearby suburbs). I certainly would have missed out if I only spent two days there. But I agree that Cuba is best seen by wandering outside of Havana.

    Like you, I was welcomed by the Afro-Cubans and the people were highlight of my trip. Cubans are some of the warmest, nicest people you’ll ever meet and I was treated like family. I had great conversations about everything from politics and pre- and post-revolution life in Cuba, to renewed US-Cuba relations and their hopes for the future. I encourage every one to visit because it’s a fascinating place, full of contradictions. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

    • RachelTravels
      Author

      If I ever return, I’ll definitely be visiting Santiago de Cuba.
      I’ve traveled to so many countries… unfortunately Cuba just did not pull at my heart strings like I hoped it would.

  3. Raulo

    I just returned from spending about 8 days Cuba (Havana, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad) and am looking forward to returning, to explore more of the island. I went in via Mexico and we exchanged some more to Mexican Pesos then CUCs all at the Mexico City Airport. In Havana, we also received a favorable exchange rate and came back with over $500 from our budget. It was an inexpensive trip, as most meals were outright cheap and could be shared amongst two people.

    We enjoyed Havana and the dichotomous infrastructure, the lively Afro-Cuban culture which is embedded into Cuban culture the same way it if across Central/South America and the Caribbean. We saw the colorism/caste system on display while some older Afro-Cubans asked us about the police shootings in the U.S., while saying there was no racism on the island — while other, younger Afro-Cubans fully acknowledged the racism and housing infrastructure issues.

    We stayed in Vedado and saw the wealth on display, especially since our AirBnB host was fortunate to have multiple properties. We say Havana’s beautiful-ugly contrasts at day and experienced the nighttime vibrancy and speakeasy-esque transition at night. We loved Trinidad and felt a good 3-4 days there would’ve been better than 2.5. Cienfuegos could also be explored for a solid 3 days depending on the shows taking place. Havana has a lot going on, and though we spent about 5.5 solid days there we felt like more time was needed, even with a packed agenda.

    I recommend everyone go by El Dandy Bar/Restaurant in the Cristo Plaza area of Old Havana to check out the Bars of Havana guide — you’ll see some hidden gems for good and drinks! If Nester is working tell him Raulo sent you! Cuba also has a distinct relationship with Haiti, and we noticed some Haitian flags in Havana. Afrocubaweb.com also some informational jewels.

    • Marcel

      Raulo,
      Well said! Sounds like you had a great experience! I look forward to recreating a similar experience this coming January.

      Now that US airlines are flying to Cuba, would you recommend booking a flight direct from US to Cuba or go via Mexico again? Also, did you have any issues or have to provide any documents on your return to the US?

      Thanks in advance!

  4. Melanie Smith

    I’ll be going during Christmas. My only expectations are beautiful architecture, sunsets, and good food. Anything more is a bonus. I’ll just be happy to be a away from winter!

  5. I had a feeling it was going to be underwhelming… I have a minimal desire to go there – especially now. I’m not surprised to hear about the colorism issues there (as they exist in most, if not all Caribbean islands). Still, it’s good to know that you were able to see the historical sights and found great joy in hanging with the Afro- Cubans.

  6. Super interesting to read! I definitely feel as though this is one of the places I have hyped up in my head to visit because we hadn’t been allowed to visit before. I try really hard not to hype up destinations for fear of disappointment, but I am way past that point with Cuba. I went to school in Miami and I was never really into Cuban food and can only imagine what it would be like for me if/when I visited. Thankfully, you were able to find another place that you enjoyed while visiting the island!

  7. Christina

    Colorism is on displayed in a lot of places. I’m from Haiti and I have to face it whenever I visit. It’s disgusting! Thank you for sharing your perspectives, I cannot wait to visit Cuba !

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