After a couple of weeks in the very cool Havana, I feel the need to tell you that you have got to get yourself there NOW. Not a few years from now, maybe not even next year. But now.
There’s a peculiar, intoxicating mix of old and new, communism and socialism and capitalism, and history that might not be the same in a few years.
We’ve all heard of the talks happening between the American and Cuban governmentsB that could very quickly see Americans (and American culture, products and even policies) making their way into Cuba. And that really will change everything. American culture and population size are a force to be reckoned with.
CubaB will change – it’s just anyone’s guess as to how much.
You know, just in case…
Obviously, I just said that. But hang on a sec, I don’t mean thatB to be rude.
I am referring to two things here. One, there’s no AmericanB culture yet which is an extremely rare thing in this global world. No American branding, no big sexy billboards, no American flags waving from the properties bought up by America’s upper middle class.
Also meaning the prices don’t yet reflect that hike (not sure what I’m talking about? Google Costa Rica ten years ago compared with now…you’ll see).
I am sorry to say it, but in my experience around the world this subset of Americans (read closely, I’m not saying ALL Americans,B just this specific subset of travellers) have earned themselves a reputation as being party-goers and not always being the most respectful of those around them.
It’s talked about openly but you can be mad at me for saying it out loud if you want. However I can tell you right now that in 15 years of travel I have never before been surrounded by so many tourists at once and thought “wow, it’s almost quiet” as I did in Cuba.
The Europeans (and Canadians, maybe?) just don’t do it the same way and it’s a welcome change, if only for the novelty of it. Get it while it lasts.
Meaning right now you get the best of both worlds – the old and the new. On the same street you’ll see a gorgeous, enhanced apartment building in a bold mint hue renting out rooms to fancy tourists, and then right next to it a somewhat run down (though I’d argue equally gorgeous) apartment building with a family’s clothing flapping over the railing.
It’s visually appealing to the extreme and will keep your camera shuttering nonstop.
As for me, a huge part of the magic of the city is that it’s not yet “perfect” and perfectly fixed-up. I appreciate the renovated theatre and the nearby hotels, but I also love the real Havana…the one that was there before the tourists started pouring in.
But you know what? How RARE is that these days?
It’s an amazing opportunity to turn off and tune inB to the experience around you. To not be able to immediately instagram every selfie, to have no phone pinging you updates on the regular, and to be able to so completely and unapologetically unplug for a week or two? Yes please! Embrace it!
Havana is such a treat for the senses that you’re better off looking up, looking around, and soaking it all in anyways.
There’s only one street that is loudly and overtly “tourist” but the rest of Havana Vieja (and beyond) blends real life with tourism almost seamlessly. Many residents rent rooms or small apartments that are attached to their own living quarters and the space doesn’t allow for many big hotels.
Which means that by the end of two weeks in Havana I had a great rapport going with the neighbour-lady, knew the favourite song of the guy who lived across the street, and discovered a group of young guys playing dominoes in the street around the corner from my house. Cuba was all around me, tourists be damned 😀
5. Prices are still relatively low
However if personal reportsB are to be believed, they are increasing ever steadily from year to year. Just a year ago a museum visit that cost $5 now costs $8 and an apartment that cost $50 a night is nowB $60 or more. I’ll talkB pricing in an upcomingB post, but expect it to be on the riseB as people keep arrivingB from all over the globe.
Get yourself to CubaB now! I’ll talk about the dual currency system and some of the changing economics in Cuba in the next post, but suffice to say that I don’t think this exact Havana will remain for too many more years to come. I challenge you to go and experience it (and get off your phone!).
The pleasure of the city is really to be found in the sights, sounds and smells all around you. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you been? Do you agree with me or do you think Havana (and Cuba) will manage to remain somewhat “untouched” for years to come?
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