Cuba is constantly changing. With Fidel Castro passing and a new U.S. President, it’s a very uncertain time for the Cuban people. You might be asking yourself, did I miss my chance? This is our take on what’s happening and how you can make the most of this incredible destination.
The Americans are Coming!
Obama lifted many of the restrictions on trade between the nations, he also made it possible for US citizens to travel to Cuba as tourists once again. They need to meet certain criteria (it’s a bit complicated), but it still opens the door to more tourism. This means a steady stream of intrepid US tourists have begun to come to Cuba, looking to explore a country on their doorstep but always out of reach until now. It has also meant that the huge number of Cubans living over in the US can now travel back to visit their families much more regularly and freely. US hotel chains and accommodation websites have got involved too, redeveloping buildings and giving access to some casas particulares to book online. Most Cubans seem cautiously optimistic about the situation, but also mindful about losing some of what makes their country so unique.
The election of Donald Trump has thrown things up in the air somewhat, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able or even willing to work with the Cuban government. Before he was elected, Trump had suggested that the permitted “educational activities” travel to Cuba from the U.S. had perhaps twisted the legislation a bit too far. This change in administration is obviously concerning for the Cuban people who were starting to adjust and benefit from increased U.S. travel.
A simplified version of Cuba’s recent history
Let’s rewind a little bit. In 2008 Raul Castro became the new President of Cuba. Taking over from his brother Fidel who led the 1958 Revolution and had held the position until his health made it impossible to continue. His passing was genuinely mourned by most Cubans, although in reality, it doesn’t change much.
Raul is also a national hero for his role in the Revolution, and while still communist his approach is more moderate than his brother’s, and since taking over, he has begun to relax and change some of the rules which have made Cuban life the way it is. One of these changes has been to relax the rules on private enterprise, meaning that Cubans can now earn money by renting out rooms to tourists or opening private restaurants from their homes. The internet, although slow and unreliable, is also now more accessible to the average Cuban, which has led to a much greater awareness of what is happening elsewhere in the world.
Who knows? It’s very early days, and for the most part, it’s positive. The ‘Americanisation’ which we all fear as travellers is concerning (we actually had our own concerns in the past too). However, it seems enough of a concern for the Cubans themselves that they will at least try to keep their cultural heritage intact, as this is what makes Cuba such an enticing place in the first place. Fingers crossed!
Although things are far from perfect, it is a very exciting time to be in Cuba. Little family owned restaurants called paladares are starting all the time, so there are places to get incredible home-cooked food, away from the government run restaurant buffets which used to be the norm. More and more people are opening up their beautiful old homes to guests, and the quality and quantity of casas particulares we can use is getting even better.
Cubans are also less cut off from the world now and can start showing off their culture and music, as well as taking in cultures from around the world. Some areas of Havana have become trendy when once they were rarely visited by tourists and lazy old towns throughout the country are feeling the benefit of tourism in their lives. It will always be a bit of challenge to travel through Cuba (the relaxed Cuban attitude ensures that!), but there is hope that the money coming into the country will eventually help to improve some of the basic infrastructures which will make life so much easier.
Cuba will always be an intoxicating place to visit, with great spirit, history, music, fantastic beaches and beautiful old cities (Read our 5 tips to help you explore Cuba for more ideas of what you can see in Cuba). Tourism, if developed correctly, can offer local people a way to improve their lives and that can only be a good thing. It may be changing, but it’s a fascinating thing to go and see such a pivotal moment in the country’s history unfolding before your eyes.