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Cuba, the notorious teasing spirit
Who is thinking of a tour through Cuba and accompanying must-sees, think of fat cigars, the infamous capital Havana, old American Chevrolets, but especially former president Fidel Castro. This charismatic leader was the face of communist Cuba for over forty years and above all a seasoned teaser for the USA† Until February 2008. Due to health problems, Castro was no longer able to lead Cuba and his younger brother Raúl assumed the presidency in early 2008. You will experience a holiday in Cuba in a crumbling communist stronghold that is slowly reconnecting with the rest of the world. Do you want to experience both the new and the old Cuba? Then it is important not to wait too long. Cuba has developed rapidly in recent years, which means that the real authenticity seems to be slowly disappearing. Followed up in this article with a short piece of Cuban history with some must-sees.
Poverty and salsa
It didn't seem really clear for a few years which way things would go with Cuba, the beautiful country where poverty and salsa go hand in hand. Will the borders soon be closed and Raúl Castro, like his older brother, no longer wants to have anything to do with the Western world? Will the opportunity to travel around in this unique country soon be gone? Or is Raúl Castro trying to persuade tourists to visit the country by allowing western influences? And does the country lose all its authenticity because of this? We thought it was time for clarity and went looking for the right answer.
McDonald's in Cuba
Cuba has always been an outsider. While brands such as McDonalds and Starbucks took the world by storm with hundreds of locations around the world, Fidel Castro skillfully kept all well-known Western brands out of the door. Even the US dollar stopped entering the country from 2004, Fidel could not make a clearer statement. Cuba was for Cuba and nothing could come in between. There was a currency for tourists, the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). So don't exchange euros for US dollars because you can't buy a sandwich for it in Cuba yet.
The great advantage of Fidel's policy was that Cuba remained pure. A country with its own protected culture, unique and unpolished. No outside influences. A high price was paid for this attitude. After all, Cubans were not entitled to anything and had to transfer all their income to the state. After Fidel's resignation, the big question was: what now? Would Raúl Castro follow suit or was it time for a change?
Average holiday country
The first small cracks in Fidel's tough approach are now visible. Raúl uses a more relaxed hand and allows farmers, for example, to keep part of the income themselves. His aversion to Western influences also seems less extreme than Fidel's. The Cuban economy could use a boost and Raúl realizes that all too well. The best remedy? Tourists! It is therefore expected that Cuba will increasingly come out of its shell and embrace the growing stream of tourists with love. With all the associated beneficial and adverse consequences. The Cuba where time stood still will disappear. The signature must-sees and images of the lived-in faces of Cuban locals will be replaced by those of happy wandering tourists with the camera at the ready. Authenticity disappears. Cuba is slowly turning into yet another average holiday destination. That's a shame, but it's not too late!
Tour through Cuba
Ready to take the plunge and plan a tour of Cuba? You can spend your holidays in beautiful national parks, on excellent beaches and in fascinating museums, but the most fascinating thing is to see how the people (survive) live in the country. The clock seems to have stopped ticking for years, you notice in the riotous capital Havana. In the old town, see how the inhabitants chat, barter and get haircuts in the streets and walk along the sea on the famous Malecón. With its cobbled streets, worn colonial facades and charming courtyards, Trinidad offers a snapshot of a bygone era.
Traveling through Cuba means traveling through a turbulent communist history. It is only in recent years that tourism has really taken off here. Now you can find beautiful hotels along the coast with excellent diving opportunities! But many travelers naturally come for the illustrious capital Havana, where the smell of cigars and rum meets you. You are still at the right place for sultry salsa parties.
Be surprised by Havana
When you say Cuba, you say Havana, perhaps the most emblematic capital of the world. The centuries-long Spanish rule is reflected in the colonial architecture and, cliché or not, the chaotic street scene is still defined by vintage cars and salsa music. It is a city where you can linger for a few days, especially if you are sensitive to the romance of the decay visible everywhere. Interested in the history of Cuba? Then the Museum of the Revolution is a must see!
Speaking of that revolution: in the Sierra Maestra Mountains you can visit the former headquarters where Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their cronies prepared the seizure of power. Take sturdy walking shoes with you, because the camp is located in a difficult to reach place deep in the woods. After all, the rebels didn't want to be discovered! Even if you're not particularly interested in politics, this area is definitely worth a visit because of its beautiful surroundings.
Trinidad, the real old Cuba
Just as colonial as Havana, but a lot quieter is Trinidad. The old town with its pastel-colored houses has been almost completely preserved and has been on the World Heritage List since 1988. Trinidad owes its wealth to the sugar industry that you encounter everywhere. Here too you can charter a horse or bicycle to explore the area or go to the nearby beach.
Tip:: Also read the blog of opreismetco.nl with 5 cool things to do in Trinidad!
The beautiful nature of Cuba
More natural beauty can be found in Pinar del Rio, one of the must-see epicenters of the Cuban tobacco industry. Here you will discover the true rural life on drowsy farms, where toothless men quietly cultivate their land. You can visit a cigar factory or roll and smoke a cigar yourself at a private farmer.
Must see: Vinales
From the incredibly beautiful Viñales you can also make beautiful trips through the rolling, green hills and mountains formed by erosion. You can do this on foot or on horseback, but it is also possible to rent a bicycle. You shoot the most unreal pictures here just before sunrise. When the fog lifts and the sun comes out, you'll know exactly why you got up so early. It is unreal beautiful here.
Tip:: Want to know more about the Vinales region? Worldwife.nl wrote a wonderful article about it with lots of tips, what to do to see and do in Vinales.
The most beautiful beaches in Cuba
During your tour through Cuba, beach visits cannot be missed. But what are the most beautiful beaches in Cuba? The most famous beach is probably that of Varadero, a comfortable resort with large resorts, good restaurants and excellent water sports facilities. If you prefer peace and quiet, you can visit one of the many other beaches, such as that of the island of Cayo Levisa. No noisy tourist industry here, but only hammocks, palm trees and the sound of the sea. A wonderful end to a wonderful trip!
Visa for Cuba – Information
Tourists from the Netherlands and Belgium need a 'tourist card' for a holiday in Cuba. You must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after departure from the country. In addition, you must have a flight ticket for the return journey or a flight to the next destination. A tourist card (Tarjeta del Turista) is a kind of visa and can be arranged at a travel agency, a travel agency or an airline. The Cuba visa is valid for 30 days and you can extend it for another 30 days at your hotel or at the Cuban Immigration Service.
You can also apply for the tourist card at the Consulate of Cuba in Rotterdam. On arrival in Cuba, one half is taken by customs, the other half you have to return on departure. More information about a business visa or a longer stay can be obtained from the Embassy of Cuba in The Hague.
Tour through Cuba – Now or never?
As you can read, Cuba has a lot to offer. From the beautiful colorful streets to the deeply rooted culture. It is a very beautiful and diverse country to travel. Unfortunately, we have seen a lot of the old culture and beauty disappear in recent years. We understand, Cuba and its inhabitants also want to move forward. But that progress makes it less attractive for tourists in the longer term. Do you ever plan to travel to Cuba? Then the advice is not to wait too long!