Didem Doğan

Cuba: an introduction

In today’s world, even the possibility of a place where one will not see the same brands, the same cafés, the same hotel chains make the traveler curious. So I was one of them who went to Cuba to see it before the wind of change, already started to move things, got stronger. I arrive in Havana on a December morning the first impressions: a hot air without an A/C at the airport, officers who check your passport looking with eyes as if asking ‘What the hell these people come here?’; they look bored and worn; long queues, various people calling out for a taxi drive to the city centre… I realise that this is a common attitude here in Cuba; maybe the question of ‘work’ is quite different than we experience in Capitalist countries where we constantly need to look energetic and ambitious to survive in business world. Some notes: 1.The old town of Havana confirm you in every street you step in that you are probably in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Spanish, as if they are apologising for all the bloody acts during the colonial times, have left a wonderful architectural heritage. The Caribbean breeze, the sound of the saxophone and the percussion combined with the beautiful architecture creates a cinematographic scene in Havana. You should at least spend three days to walk the streets, to visit the museums, the castle and to experience the famous La Habana nights. 2. Couple of hours from Havana, the Viñales region is an ecological tourism spot, surrounded by mountains and trees where you can bike, do trekking, or just make a day trip and visit the tobacco factories to see the production of hand made cigars. 3. If you are heading to Varadero you should not only look for the stunning Caribbean waters and beaches but also the all-inclusive type hotel chains built one after another. 4. The must see place after Havana is the picturesque colonial town of Trinidad. You can take the inter-city bus (there are separate buses for tourists as there is a separate currency for foreigners); these journeys also let you to meet other independent travellers. The roads and the buses are okay, you will enjoy the scenery with palm trees everywhere. 5. Cienfuegos is another colonial town where you can stop between Havana and Trinidad. If you have time you can go until Santiago at the other edge of the island. 6. Cuba is the safest country in Latin America; due to the political regime’s strict punishments the criminal rates are very low. However from the traveller I met I heard stories of robbery (cell phones, cameras, etc.). 7. Both in Havana and other cities a Cuban type of accommodation which is called ‘casa particular’ exists; these are private houses where you can rent a room with a private bathroom (it used to cost around 20-25 USD in 2012); they are clean and safe. 8. Food may disappoint you in Cuba; due to the embargo there’s not much variety and prices are high; but you can still find some good restaurants in Havana. 9. Cubans are friendly and like to talk to tourists although the chat may end up you buying a lunch for them as it happened to me several times. Still I would recommend you to talk to them and get to know their lives in this unique place of the world. Bienvenido a Cuba!