Most people who haven’t yet made it to Cuba for holidays are the same – they’ve always meant to take vacation there, it’s just never worked out for them. The thing is – if you’re gonna visit Cuba, take your trip as soon as possible. Fidel Castro stepped down as president of Cuba and even though it’s his brother who took over, Cuba’s going to change.
Mass Tourism in Cuba
Cuba has already undergone a significant change and whoever took holidays at the island before that first change got the best out of it. That change came in 1994. After the fall of Berlin Wall and end of communism in Eastern Europe, Cuba’s main business partner – Russia was on the brink of bankruptcy and had to deal with its own crumbling economy so Cuba lost its foreign supportive hand and 80% of international trade. Fidel Castro – to day recognized as world’s greatest leader (recognized as such by everyone except from Americans) did the only thing he could to save his country from complete financial collapse: opened Cuba to mass tourism.
Still Same Old Cuba
Everything about Cuban way of life, its crumbling continental architecture, saloon cars from the 50’s, tobacco fields, cigar factories and some of the world’s best medical care and education remained the same. The difference was most noticeable in areas known for world’s finest beaches. Varadero is basically a tourist resort. It’s not even a Cuban town. It’s a location with high density of hotels and crap loads of tourists.
Similarly, while streets of Cuba are still not too busy and still dominated by those old American vintage gas-guzzling monsters, it is not unusual to see a shiny modern car in the mix. That would be a foreigner on a rental.
Yes, mass tourism has taken its toll on Cuba, but I appreciate Fidel Castro’s decision to allow trip companies in as it was the only way to save his country after collapse of communism in Europe. Castro also took it one step further and allowed private sector to take its share of tourism money. Cubans are now able to rent out rooms in their private houses (casa particular) to tourists. Whatever our American friends think, Fidel Castro is hands down the best country leader of the 20th century.
Major Change Still Due
Most of Cuba remains unchanged. It’s still the same it has been since revolution in 1959. Varadero is so touristy you wouldn’t be able to tell it from any other world class resort but other than that, Cuba is the same. No McDonald’s or any other recognizable fast food chains, no Walmarts or any other multi billion dollar corporation destroying small business, no drugs, no organized crime – aka, it’s still the same old Cuba that makes it so unique and so awesome. But that real and significant change is in the air. It’s inevitable. And when that change comes, it will be it.
New US president is likely to introduce a more relaxed approach towards Cuba and when the embargo is dropped, the island will get flooded with tourists to the point that it’s change country’s topography. Investors will start pouring in, ultimately putting an end to most traditional ways of business. Cuba will change and it will be significant. I can’t stress it enough – visit Cuba as soon as you can. Visit it before it changes. Once changed, old buildings will be replaced with new, old cars replaced with new, old ways replaced with new. The charm of the island will be gone. A trip to Cuba will be no different from a trip to Mexico. You’ll miss out if you don’t go before it changes.
To Varadero Or Not To Varadero?
The answer is simple – NOT. As I had mentioned above, Varadero has been turned into a tourist resort, the type you will find in Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Curacao or whichever other tropical resort you can think of. To experience real Cuba and get the most out of its culture and history, go straight to Havana. Stay in Havana for at least three days. Havana has way more to offer and three days will hardly do it any justice, but it’ll give you more than 10 days in Varadero.
Havana has the best hospitals and schools in the Caribbean. The colonial architecture will remind you of Spaniards who conquered the island. The mass tourism has not affected Cuba’s capital much. Old hotels built in the 30’s are still in operation. Most give funky smell, but from the window you can see it all – national monuments, street performers, incredibly beautiful Cuban girls, coco-taxis, old men sitting on a street smoking cigars, little traffic mostly consisting of those old two tone saloon cars and palm trees.
Havana is Cuba the way it’s supposed to be. Go and enjoy it while it’s got its original charm.