6 Reasons Why You Should Travel to Cuba Now

For a very long time, I’d wanted to travel to Cuba. Last year I finally had the chance to spend ten days on the island, and it certainly lived up to all of my expectations, and then some. Here’s why:

1. Cuba is colorful!

‘Well, duh!’ I can almost hear you say. After all, Cuba is a tropical country: rich, vibrant colors are almost a given. However, it is one thing to know what one will find, and another to experience it first-hand. Everywhere I went to in Cuba, I was inspired to reach for my camera, almost compulsively, and colors played no small part in this.

(All photos are © 2014 Fernando Cortés-Cabanillas. Please contact me if you wish to use them.)

Market in Havana, Travel to Cuba.

A state-run food market in central Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Architecture in Trinidad, Cuba. Plaza Mayor

Colourful colonial architecture at the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) in Trinidad. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Trinidad, Cuba

The streets of Trinidad were chock-full of colors and quaint scenes. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Paseo del Prado, La Habana

Late afternoon at Paseo del Prado, Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Cobbled street in Trinidad, Cuba

One of many cobbled streets in Trinidad. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

2. If architecture is your thing, there’s lots to see in Cuba

Cuban architecture is an interesting mix of styles, from the Spanish-inspired traditional and Baroque townhouses and mansions, to the neoclassical and Art Deco buildings heavily influenced by 1920s-30s trends in the US.

Yes, many of the old houses, buildings and palaces may be half crumbing down and in need of a good restoration, but this just adds to their charm. Many others, though, particularly in cities like Trinidad and Cienfuegos, are well-preserved and look positively stunning.

Catedral San Cristobal, La Habana, Havana, Travel to Cuba

Catedral de San Cristóbal, dating from the 18th century, Old Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad, Cuba

There’s plenty to see at every corner of Trinidad, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Paseo del Prado, the Havana promenade linking the oldest part of the city (Habana Vieja) to the Malecón by the ocean. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Paseo del Prado, the Havana promenade linking the oldest part of the city (Habana Vieja) to the Malecón by the ocean. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Church, Iglesia de San Francisco, Trinidad

Bell tower of the early 19th century Church of San Francisco, seen from the Plaza Mayor, Trinidad. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Capitolio, La Habana, Havana

El Capitolio, currently under restoration in Havana, was clearly inspired in another famous Capitol building. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Street, Old Havana

A quiet side street in bustling Old Havana (Habana Vieja). / © 2014 All rights reserved.

3. Beautiful classic cars galore!

Yes, specifically classic American cars from the ’50s. Now, I am not a huge car aficionado, but I do appreciate any beautiful, well-designed object. So if you are anything like that, you owe it to yourself to visit Cuba. And make sure to go sooner than later, because it seems that classic cars are now officially under threat.

 

Classic car, Trinidad

Classic car in front of Trinidad’s “La Bodeguita del Medio”, named after the famous bar in Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Classic car, Trinidad, Cuba

There seems to be an endless supply of classic cars of different makes and colors. Trinidad. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Classic car, coche antiguo, La Habana

You can rent one of these cars, with or without driver, for about €50 for a 2-hour tour in Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Taxi, classic cars, Havana

Seriously, how cool it is to catch a taxi ride in Havana? / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Havana, car

These cars have a charming elegance that you just don’t see in modern ones. Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Old car, Cienfuegos

Old car in Cienfuegos, southern Cuba. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

4. A rich history

The history of Cuba, and particularly that from the second half of the last century, is firmly ingrained in most people’s minds. Probably even more so for me as a Spaniard. Signs of the country’s recent history can be found everywhere, in Soviet-style monuments, and mainly in billboards and walls emblazoned with political and patriotic slogans. While these were a frequent sighting during my stay, I didn’t find them to be overbearing nor as numerous as I’d expected.

Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, Hasta la victoria siempre

“Hasta la victoria siempre” (Until victory, always). Plaza de la Revolución, Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Monumento a José Martí, Plaza de la Revolucion, Cuba

The José Martí Memorial, dedicated to the Cuban national hero. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Che Guevara, Cienfuegos, Cuba

Another Che Guevara reference in the streets of Cienfuegos. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Bloqueo, embargo, Cuba

The sign reads “Embargo, the longest genocide in history”. Recent developments in US-Cuba relationships may soon make this past history. Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Havana, Cuba

The Spanish Embassy in Havana provides the backdrop for another revolutionary mural painting. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

5. Havana

Havana is one of those cities that deserve a 4-5 day visit at least. Sadly, I only had three days to explore it, so I would definitely love to come back for a longer stay. This vibrant, evocative capital oozes character. There’s a reason why most of the images in this photo-essay were taken in Havana (I refer you to the captions to identify them).

Street in Havana

A busy morning in the streets of Old Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Shop in Havana

A coffee shop in Old Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Paseo del Prado, Havana, Cuba

Paseo del Prado, with the Capitol building in the background. Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

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Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Street football, soccer, Havana

Baseball is Cuba’s national sport, but several people told me football is gaining ground fast. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Santeria white dress, Havana

Woman wearing a typical ‘Santería’ (an Afro-Caribbean religion) white dress. Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

6. The highlight of the trip: Cuban people

Without a doubt, meeting and talking to Cubans was the best part of my trip.

First, a small caveat. I mostly traveled in a group, but had the opportunity to spend almost a full day wandering alone in Trinidad, and then three days in Havana. One of the reasons why I love to travel alone, or carve out some time away from the group whenever I can, is that you get many more opportunities to talk with the locals.

Also, if you like photography and are half serious about it, nothing beats the focus you can achieve (no pun intended!) when you are wandering around solo with your camera.

In my time alone in Cuba, I was approached by many people on the street who at first seemed to just want to chat, specially, I thought, with someone from the “Madre Patria” (the way Spain is sometimes referred to in Latin America, often with genuine affection, but also with irony). However, it was soon pretty obvious that most of them wanted to get something from me. It could be selling me cigars, or taking me to some crafts store, or plain asking me for something (a soft drink, a soap bar, some spare change). A few of them sounded kind of shady and may have been hustlers.

Needless to say, I understand and accept that encountering people less fortunate than me is part and parcel of traveling to many parts of the world. In the case of Cuba, however, this ended up annoying and disappointing me a little because Cuban touts will strike up a conversation with you in such a warm and friendly way that it’s kind of a downer when the sales pitch comes. I suppose the fact that it all happened in my mother tongue (Spanish) added to my frustration. On the plus side, all the touts I came across in Cuba were not pushy or persistent at all, and handled rejection gracefully.

Other than this quibble, most of the Cubans I had longer conversations with were interesting, well educated, articulate people. Many were surprisingly candid about the political situation and daily life in the country, and didn’t need to be prompted to speak their minds about it, which I found both unexpected and refreshing.

Portrait, Trinidad, Cuba

A smartly dressed gentleman in Trinidad. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Women, Trinidad

Two young women hanging out in Trinidad. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Paseo del Prado, Cuba

Kids at a painting class in Paseo del Prado, Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Old Havana, Cuba

As expected, cigars were ubiquitous in Cuba, as here in Old Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Street Parade, Old Havana

A colorful street parade in Old Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

Havana, friendly, cheerful

To me, this image sums up the beauty, cheerfulness and affability of Cuban people. Havana. / © 2014 All rights reserved.

So, should you travel to Cuba?

Yes! All in all, I loved Cuba, and hope to be able to come back to see more of it.

Everything seems to suggest that the country will undergo deep transformations in the next decade and, while it will be mostly for the better (or so I hope), some of the features that make this island and her people so endearing could soon be gone forever. So don’t leave your visit too late!

If you have been to Cuba or are planning to go there, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section.

6 Comments

  1. Your photography blows my mind! We had a mixed experience in Cuba. We too, travelled with a lovely group of people, wasn’t planned – we just migrated together! The diving at Playa Larga was incredible. Great post and lovely site.
    Gemma recently posted…A Vancouver EngagementMy Profile

    1. Thanks a lot for the kind words, Gemma!

      Yes, unless I’m wrong I think I read about your experience in Cuba a few weeks ago. One thing I couldn’t do in my trip is go to some of the nice beaches, so I’m hoping to do so in a future visit.

    1. Thanks very much for your kind comment, Nika, and for sharing the post with your friend!
      If they go to Cuba, I’m sure they’ll like it

  2. ¡Que bonito ver fotos del viaje a Cuba! Tengo algunas versiones propias de los mismos imágenes. Espero leer más sobre tus aventuras en otros países. ¡Un abrazo!! -R

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