By Paul Todd | Published Monday, April 26, 2010
It's easier for Americans to get to Cuba then you might think. There are
several points of departure – one of the best is Cancun, Mexico,
offering daily flights to Havana.
With an abundance of tour operators willing to book airfare and hotel
and arrange the special visa needed for Americans, it could not be
easier for Americans to defy the State Department and visit one of the
last true Communist countries. Prices range between $400 and $600 US for
3 night/4 day packages.
If you go, there are several things to be aware of. The country has been
crumbling since the U.S. embargo began, and with the collapse of the
Soviet Union, Cuba has turned to tourism to keep its economy floating.
Tourist from Europe and the Americas flock to Havana and the beaches in
droves. Even with the lively tourist trade, basic accommodations are all
one can expect. Shampoo, soap, aspirin and many other necessities are in
short supply and may be hard to find – if not impossible. Consider
yourself lucky if the shower has warm water and pressure. If the bed
does not have springs popping, you've hit the jackpot.
The tourist areas of Havana are thriving with constant renovation. The
city's architecture rivals Buenos Aires or many European cities
(although not as well maintained). The true pleasures here are the
cigars, rum, music and artwork. That's correct: the art in Cuba is
thriving. These extraordinary artist have little chance of showing their
work outside Cuba. The savvy tourist can pick up some true gems for as
little as $30.00. For larger original works of art, you'll need to
obtain a special permit to take it from the country.
Non-tourist areas are where life in Cuba shows its grit. With
generations of the same family living in crumbling buildings, life can
be difficult at best for the average Cuban. Fifty years of no paint or
any repairs of significance have taken their toll. These areas are
accessible to tourists, and any taxi driver will be happy to give you a
tour. If you're lucky they may even take you inside for a glimpse of
daily life – of course, a small tip will be expected.
With all these downsides, the tourist is considered king. The public has
marching orders to do what they can to accommodate visitors. With
indifferent friendliness, the Cubans do what they can to comply. Just
don't expect too much and treat your host with dignity, and you'll be
rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.