This year I’m obsessed with Cuba, and I’ve been checking out flights to Cuba for a girlfriend getaway out there soon. I think a lot of Canadians may feel the same way I do. With the recent freeing up of US sanctions and travel, the Cuba we love may fundamentally change in the next few years, and I want to travel back to ‘my Cuba’ before this occurs.
Here are five reasons why I’m so passionate about this little warm island in the Caribbean, and what Americans can soon look forward to when they first step foot on Cuban soil.
1. The people
Cubans are passionate, proud, and fiercely patriotic towards their vision of Cuba (which can differ somewhat from their government).
They are warm, friendly and open despite experiencing deep deprivation through economic embargoes and natural disasters. When you meet a Cuban, you usually end up meeting a friend, one that is very well educated and well read. At some point you may find yourself embroiled in one or two friendly debates on the state of the world, Cuba and everything.
On your approach to Cuba you can see the island below, nestled in the warm ocean, the topography mostly consisting of a lush canopy of emerald green.
What you won’t see: luxury cruise ships, yachts, boats, and unending displays of villas, hotels, and condos. On most days, our local beach in Cuba was uninhabited, and the roads were virtually empty of cars. During our holiday, we explored the countryside by bike and moped, not once did I worry about safety and traffic. Cuba vacations are perfect for a stress/digital detox, especially since Internet connections can, at times, be very temperamental.
3. Havana is magic
Havana wiggles its way into your heart with its joie de vivre, decaying beauty and vibrant nightlife. This city knows how to have a good time, and is willing to share the fun with you. You can get your salsa on at El Turqino in Cuba’s Havana Libre hotel or dive deep into kitsch at the Tropicana Cabaret Club. During the day wander around Old Havana and take in the constant bustle, you can almost see the city changing right in front of your eyes. Be sure to stop by one of Ernest Hemingway’s old stomping grounds, the Floridita bar/restaurant. This place has earned my undying gratitude for an invention vital to women throughout the world – the frozen Daiquiri!
4. Cuban Music
You don’t have to look for music in Cuba, it’ll find you, on the beach, in the city, in every nook and cranny of the island. Cubans love music and the island celebrates and actively supports it’s musicians. Because music just sort of happens in Cuba, with nightly jams occurring spontaneously and only known about through word of mouth, it’s difficult to pinpoint where to find great venues on the island. Here’s some that will guarantee you a great musical time:
Havana International Jazz Festival: Held on the third week of December, the festival is organized by the famous jazz pianist, and winner of multiple Grammies, Chucho Valdes, and the Cuban Institute of Music. The festival brings together top international jazz artists as well as Cuba’s best jazz performers. During festival week you can find jazz at the Casa de la Cultura Plaza, Teatro Nacional de Cuba as well as many of the downtown concert halls, nightclubs and in jam sessions on the streets of Malecon.
Havana Drum Festival: Held early to mid March, you can enjoy the sounds of percussion at the Amadeo Roldan Theatre as well as many other venues in the city.
Carnaval of Santiago de Cuba: Cuba’s largest and most well known Carnival celebration takes place in late July in the town of Santiago. If you love to conga this is the festival for you. The entire city joins in the fun with live music, drums and even kitchen pots leading long conga lines through the streets of Santiago de Cuba.
5. Cuban Independence/Spirit/Community
Cuba has survived through a David and Goliath struggle with the US, a withdrawal of Soviet support and funds, a restrictive government and in recent years, one or two severe hurricanes. This has made them incredibly resourceful, strong, and able. Because of limited or non-existent resources they’ve learned to FIX EVERYTHING instead of throwing it away. They are kings of recycling. Deprivations have bonded the Cuban community and they’ve learned to support one another. On my last visit I brought bags of baby clothes to Cuba and gave them to one of our tour drivers. His children were older but he said his community would find the right homes for the clothing.
Cuba is far from perfect but it seduced me with its many charms. I hope it’s spirit and independence can survive the next stage of political change on the island. Viva Cuba Libre!