choose cuba for its culture
by gabriella crespo
Ever since trade relations and restrictions have been--for the most part--lifted between the United States and Cuba, Americans have been flocking to the island to see it before “it is ruined by tourism.” What most Americans fail to realize, however, is that Cuba cannot be ruined by tourism and that tourism is not new to the island. Cuba was closed off to the United States beginning in 1960 but other countries have still enjoyed the island and its people until now. The nation is well accustomed to catering to tourists, like most island nations, and even continued to do so during their “Special Period” that started in 1989. Americans interested and visiting should surely do so. It is a magnificent and magical place that is sure to transfix anyone who lays eyes upon it, but do so for Cuba’s culture, not its novelty. There are a few easy ways to turn your Caribbean vacation into a culturally enriching experience.
Stay in Casa Particulars.
Forego any temptations to engulf yourself in luxury at the Hotel Nacional and stay in a family’s home. Many of them are listed on Airbnb and plenty can be found simply by wandering most any streets. Homes are denoted by a blue sign that resembles an arrow over the doorway. Casa Particulars are a step, for most Cubans, towards more economic freedom. Hotels are state owned and operated, and while it may be hard to choose authenticity over wifi, it is most certainly worth it. The chance to meet and learn from the family operating the Casa Particular is invaluable. Your privacy will not be compromised and your host family can even provide you with recommendations for things to do and see around the city and which particular tourist traps to avoid (hint: Coppelia).
Do not be dismayed by the 1950s Chevrolets.
While appearing to be the epitome of tourist culture in Cuba, Cuban citizens who own licensed Chevys take great pride in their cars and their upkeep. While not the most price conscious way to get around Cuba, the drivers act more like tour guides than taxi drivers. They can offer you in-depth information on the island and personal stories that will always be entertaining and quite unique.
Keep your political opinions to yourself.
Cubans love to talk. They especially love to talk about politics and can spend a great deal of time poking fun at the Castros and criticizing the way the country is run. As much fun as it is to listen to, do not get involved. An American with no historical ties to the island should not criticize or offer up any opinions. Feel free to laugh at jokes and ask questions but it is best to avoid offering input. Of course, your opinions will be welcome as the Cuban people are some of the most welcoming people but it is best to avoid commenting on their country.
Americans feeling the Cuba itch should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to travel down to the island while it is still fairly easy to do so. If you want your trip to Cuba to be a lasting memory and appreciate everything the island has to offer, building relationships with the Cuban people is the most important thing you could do. Learning about Cuba through the Cuban people will unlock an understanding of their culture you would not get from visiting Cuba solely for that Instagram photo op.