Like most people going to Cuba for the first time, we didn’t know what to expect. Would the hotels be shabby and the food bland? Would the cities feel safe? And so forth.
On a trip there this spring, we were pleasantly surprised. Four- and five-star hotels (typically joint ventures with European companies) and casas particulares (private homes operating as B & Bs) are on the rise; family-owned paladares serve excellent, creatively seasoned meals; and the country’s historic architecture is gradually being restored after years of neglect. To be sure, limits on free speech and poverty are significant concerns. But, truthfully, we encountered very little begging—certainly less than on many a city street in the U.S. And what’s not to like about the country’s welcoming people and rich cultural scene?!
The overall impression is that Cuba is a country in transition—and making serious efforts to adapt to the 21st century. Perhaps it’s best to visit before, as one well-traveled friend said, Havana “becomes another Miami Beach.”
To view our recent images, check out the Cuba Essay (under Portfolios on our website) and stay tuned for our short, cinema documentary (to be posted soon under Multimedia, also on the website).
- Cuba is approximately 800 miles long and the largest of the islands in the Caribbean.
- The country’s population is around 11 million. Havana’s population is over 2 million.
- Cuban cities feel safe by day and night, and the crime rate is low.
- Major exports are nickel (34% of world deposits) and human capital (highly-trained Cuban doctors serve in poverty-stricken countries around the world).
- The country is dependent on imports for around 80% of its food—and for its oil.
- American classic cars from the 1950s are everywhere— but they are workhorses (most private taxis), not museum pieces.
- Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America.
- Revolutionary Che Guevara, remains a hero to this day. His image is everywhere, from t-shirts to wall murals. Born in Argentina and a key figure in Cuba’s 1959 revolution, he was assassinated in Bolivia in 1967.