Is Cuba right for me?
A 55-year trade embargo imposed by one of the world’s superpowers has shaped Cuba into one of the most unique countries in the world. The largest Caribbean nation, Spanish-speaking and ruled by a Communist government; you’ll find white-sand beaches and aquamarine waters, a Latin flair and vivacity amongst its people, and an interesting array of Communist propaganda sprawled across Soviet-style buildings all over the country.
With the relaxing of relations between the US and Cuba, the message for all potential visitors to the island has been “Go now – before it changes!”. And many people have indeed heeded this message! Some enterprising Cubans have taken advantage of the huge flurry of tourists arriving on the island but the strain on resources for a country unaccustomed to such numbers is sometimes very clear and it can have an impact on travel arrangements and visitors’ experience of the country.
Red tape, delays, limited resources and queuing have always been the case in this small Communist society and, while ordinary Cubans are accustomed to this being the way of life, it can be difficult for foreign visitors to accept. For example, the idea of bottled water not being readily available might seem strange but it is a reality in Cuba as there are few shops or supermarkets - so you’ll have to remember to stock up whenever you can!
With all this in mind, it’s important when thinking about travelling to Cuba to consider if it’s the right destination for you.
Here are 5 things to consider before deciding to visit Cuba:
1) The infrastructure is very basic
With resources spread quite thinly, Cuba’s infrastructure has suffered over the 55 years of embargo. Upgraded infrequently, services have become antiquated and you will find that street lighting is often very low, as is the water pressure (it may even cut out altogether!), roads are in poor condition with few road signs and Wifi is virtually non-existent. If you find a Wifi connection at all then it will likely be very weak and too slow to use. Therefore, if you need to stay connected while you’re away, whether that means checking in with friends and family or running your business, you may need to consider travelling elsewhere.
2) The standard of service is not always what you’d expect
While standards of service are improving as the country learns how to deal with more foreign tourism, it’s possible that you might not get the service you’d expect to receive: waiters in restaurants might be slow at seeing to your table or even appear indifferent, you might not be welcomed properly at your hotel’s reception, and facilities at national parks might not be quite up to scratch. The main thing to remember is that the standard of service in Cuba will not be at the same level as you’d expect to see in Europe.
3) Casas particulares are often the best accommodation option in some areas
With accommodation in hotels is at a premium, homestays, or casas particulares, are often used instead and are becoming a very common option in Cuba with many people opening up their homes to tourists offering either B&B-style accommodation or small self-contained apartments. While service is friendly, quality can vary and rooms are very simple with décor usually being quite chintzy! So it’s important to keep an open mind when staying in casas particulares and expect a different style of accommodation.
4) Last-minute changes and cancellations can occur
As more and more people flock to the island, we advise booking as far in advance as possible to enhance the chances of finding availability: a lack of rooms sometimes leads to last-minute cancellations meaning that your travels don’t always go according to plan. Our local representatives are very adept at making rearrangements and are on call 24 hours a day but you must bear in mind that unexpected changes to your itinerary can happen in Cuba.
5) Cuba is short on gastronomic experiences
While food actually tends to be better in local homes and paladares than in hotels, the food in Cuba is generally somewhat lacklustre. All-inclusive hotels usually have buffet-style restaurants with rather questionable spreads; however, nightly prices are often good enough for you to use the hotel as a base and eat elsewhere if you like.
Cuban dishes are usually very plain and you’ll find little variety – rice, beans, pork and plantains make up a typical meal (although you will find delicious lobster by the coast!) and there isn’t much experimentation with flavours, meaning food can be quite bland. You may also find that hotels and restaurants sometimes run out of ingredients due to fluctuations in the food supply and you might be told that several dishes on an already short menu are not available. So if food usually plays a big part in your travels and you go to Cuba expecting fine dining, you will most likely be disappointed!
So, ask yourself if these aspects of Cuban life would be too much of an inconvenience to you – remember, this is your holiday, so you want to enjoy it!
If you’ve read this list and decided that you still want to visit Cuba and experience it for all its quirks and idiosyncrasies then you will discover a fascinating country with a vibrant culture, warm people and stunning natural beauty. The most important tip for travelling to Cuba is to keep an open mind, remain patient and stay flexible. If you do all of these things and prepare yourself for an adventure then you will be highly rewarded and come back telling people to “go now – before it changes!”.
If you decide not to travel to Cuba, why not read our list of alternative Latin American destinations to find out where you can find similar experiences, from exploring colonial towns to learning about revolutionary history and relaxing on beautiful beaches.