Though Cuba is geographically very close to the Americas, the country could not be more unlike its neighboring Westernized countries. The island has been under the rule of communist dictators for so long that few living Cubans remember a life under democratic rule. Since the Cold War, Cuba has been inaccessible to Americans, with exception to journalists, government contractors and a select few other professionals. Very little news about Cuba makes it into the mainstream media, so the country is a bit of a mystery.
Before vacationing in Cuba, learn about the economic struggles facing the island nation and other third world or developing countries. A basic understanding of the history and economy of Cuba will lend a deeper understanding and richer aspect to interviews, reports and articles.
In the past, the political climate led to sanctions on imports and the denial of Cuban made exports to many of the worlds’ wealthiest and most influential countries. As expected, the economy of Cuba suffered immense losses. Due to sanctions there is very little gasoline on the island, no automobiles have been imported since the 1950s and imports on essential items like food, petroleum products and technological devices is still severely limited to this day.
Working from the island can be challenging at times, but it is getting better all the time. Cuba’s recent relaxation of certain laws concerning private business ownership have opened the flood gates for micro economies to develop. Capitalism is beginning to take hold, and the lives of citizens of Cuba are improving. Learn about investing in this freshly developing economies where permitted by law, because large profits could be made.
Who Travels to Cuba?
Tourists are primarily from Asian and European countries and Canada, though the vast majority of Cuban tourism dollars come from Canadians. Tourism, though limited, has kept the island financially afloat for decades. Natives to the island are usually very welcoming and are very eager to make guests comfortable and happy.
About Cuban Sanctions
Until 1959, Cuba was a playground for America’s rich and was run by an American approved ruler. This ruler was deceptive, and embezzled public funds for personal gain. Fidel Castro overthrew this leader and took over the government. Castro’s politics were very different from previous rulers. Americans were kicked out of homes they had developed on the island.
Under the new communist government, schools and hospitals were nationalized. Castro successfully re-invested money that was filtered out by a crooked leader back into the country’s infrastructure. Strong ties were made with eastern bloc countries just as America felt the first chill from the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis led to strict economic sanctions.
Even today, Cuba operates under sanctions on trade, making it difficult to develop a thriving economy. When traveling within the country, tourists often make note of the very low priced Cuban made goods for sale in the open air markets. Other products that must be imported, such as plastic kitchen storage containers, sell for 20 pesos each or 100 pesos for a package of five. In America, the same products cost about two percent of what Cubans pay.
Cotton, petroleum products, food items and processed products and luxury toiletries are very rare and very expensive on the island, which is great for tourists in the know.
About Money and Shopping
Know the location of ATMs in the general vicinity of the hotel. Get plenty of cash before settling in to the hotel. In almost every store, restaurant or hotel, cash exchanges hands rather than debit or credit cards.
Cuban ballet is breathtaking, which comes as a surprise to nearly every tourist who visits the theater. Ballet tickets are about $45.
Learn A Little Spanish
Take a Spanish class before visiting Cuba, because tourists in resorts are often offered dance lessons that are second to none. The instructors speak Spanish and will count out the rhythm and give other instructions in Spanish.
FUN FACT: Cuban dancers are given free expert training that other dancers pay tens of thousands of dollars per semester to learn. This is the place to learn how to shake it like a pro without paying big bucks for the privilege.
Remember that in order to exit the country, each visitor must pay a cash exit fee of 25 pesos.
Resorts are fairly clean but aging. Most hotels are close to beaches and are remnants of the 1950s economic boom. Enjoy the perfectly vintage setting, because this is one of the only places in the world where an entire country’s architectural infrastructure is frozen in one era.
NOTE: Hotels are generally structurally sound, but it may be highly dangerous to explore any abandoned buildings, no matter how beautiful the exterior looks.
Culinary ingredients for making gourmet meals are extremely limited, so expect plain but edible food. Spice it up with a little native flair by taking a walk down to the open air markets where vendors sell local specialties to the working class. The food is much better and the vendors are so eager to please.
If boarding at a hotel on a beach, obey the signs posted by the water. The beaches are closed to swimmers at night because jellyfish wash up on shore at night. Jellyfish stingers are hazardous to humans, and it’s best to prevent injuries by obeying posted signs.
Cubans like to be tipped for their services with a 15-20 percent gratuity. Those workers who do not depend upon tips to survive also appreciate tourists who tip in difficult to find, expensive to buy toiletries. Most Cubans are happy to accept: travel sized bottles of American shampoo and conditioner, shaving cream and razors, deodorant, body wash, toothbrushes and toothpaste, lotion, makeup, perfume, clothing, school supplies and condiments.
Bartering and trading goods for services requires that tourists learn to travel with confidence and courage. Learning to project an aura of confidence takes practice, but leads to more successful and pleasant communications while traveling in Cuba.
Cuba in the winter between the hours of 9am and 3pm is perfect weather for tanning. As the afternoon proceeds, temperature plummet, leaving tourists shivering. Bring a lightweight jacket, comfortable cotton pants and t-shirts, sandals and sundresses and other similar clothing choices when traveling in the winter.
Bring hot weather clothes and bathing suits in the summer. Swimming suits, shorts, tank tops or beach cover-ups, maxi dresses and other similar styles are perfect for Cuban summers. Enjoy soaking up the sun, but don’t forget to bring tanning oil and mosquito repellent.
Other Helpful Tips
Cuban restaurants and bars serve drinks from very small glasses. With drinking glasses of this size, it is nearly impossible to get enough to drink once overheated. Servers are simply too busy to keep refilling glasses. The solution is to go down to the beach and purchase bamboo drinking glasses for just a couple pesos. Most businesses will allow thirsty tourists to bring in their own glasses, as long as they buy a drink.
If lucky enough to be granted permission to travel within Cuba, document everything about the country. So few people from the United States are allowed to travel to the island, and there is a rich history full of interesting stories to be told. Speak with the eldest Cubans to get a head start on landing the best stories. Even if tourists are not journalists, it is still very possible to write an intriguing travel journal. Remember to take in as many details as possible so that journals may be published and others may learn about Cuba.