Welcome to the beautiful Caribbean island that is Cuba. Unfortunately, many fellow tourists told me during my stay in Havana that the capital was their least favourite destination in Cuba. At least I have an excuse to go back now, because Havana did leave me feeling with mixed emotions.
The entire experience is a bit of a hassle compared to everywhere else I have travelled. For a start, before you enter the country you have to apply for a damn expensive visa, £16 GBP + £7 GBP postage. Compared to the $15 USD you pay to enter the USA. ($7 CAD for Canada, and Mexico has no visa system!) Anyways, it’s a destination rarely touched by others, almost a unique holiday just for me, so I did not mind paying. Be careful of fraudulent visa applications online
Going to the airport, I was almost refused to allow to board the plane because I had no proof of leaving Cuba thanks to a broken mobile phone, only to be rescued by a friendly air hostess allowing me to use her phone to show my departing flight in my emails. So to say the least I was a little wound up upon entry to Cuba.
When we landed I was stopped at border control, while staff suspiciously looked at me. I was then told I could not enter the country without travel insurance (I have no idea how they knew I did not have any insurance), and I was to buy some at the desk behind me. Yet again, I was willing to give Cuba the benefit of the doubt and pay the insurance to enter. For some reason this seemed to cause an argument with the officials, and they simply let me pass through without purchasing the insurance. Really strange, but I was not going to ask and marched onwards. Lesson learned never travel without insurance.
Rant over…I was now entering a truly unique country, a socialist island in the Caribbean, and I was excited. From my stay here, I definitely learned some valuable life lessons. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Buying travel insurance that covers flight cancellations from natural disasters would be a start. After losing my bankcard, travelling with a broken phone, and sitting in front of the TV in my hostel watching the weather report discuss a category 3 hurricane Matthew threatening to cancel my flight and shut down the airport for the near future almost gave me a nervous breakdown. I left Cuba a wise man.
After you get digest all the points above, don’t for a second think you will have a miserable or negative time here. I thought I was hating Cuba during my stay until I sat down in a bar, lit up a fat cigar whilst downing a beer, and watched a live afro-Cuban jazz band. That reminded me of how far away from home I was now and how special and distinct Cuba was. It is unlike anywhere I have been before.
Even with all these ‘extra’ charges that us tourists have to pay, once you see how the money from tourism is reinvested back into the country, that feeling that you are being ripped-off flows away. The country is a huge tick off my bucket list, and a moment that I will always cherish.
The Ultimate Tourist Review: ★★★☆ Reommended Days: 3/4
Malecón – Old Havana – Morro Castle – Museum of the Revolution – El Capitolio – San José Market