Cuba is unique. There is no need to mention numerous symbols, leaders and clichés of the Cuban culture. Salsa, rocking chairs, Habana Club rum, Che Guevara, Cigars, Ernest Hemingway, old American cars, the Castro brothers and la revolucion.
A Country Stuck in Time
Cuba belongs to the so-called rogue nations, along with Iran and Myanmar. As a matter of fact, Cuba is free of many international mainstream influences, aka capitalist market economy, liberalism, Americanism and so on. That makes Cuba such a unique place, stuck in time, specifically the 60’s.
Havana is the beaten hearth of this country and Habana Vieja (Old Havana in Spanish) is its very centre, the Cuban spirit at its best. There, you feel the soul of Cuba with every beat of your pumping heart. The entire place is an open sky museum.
Quick Facts of Cuba
- The average monthly wage is about 30 USD.
- Cubans manage to live pretty decently with that because as a Communist country, the State provides so much for free
- free education till doctorate if needed
- free and efficient health care (including spectacles and dental care)
- free food (about 10kg supply per month per citizen)
- free cigars
- As a result, Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and the highest life expectancy in the Americas.
- No way you can find eggs, milk and flour at the same place in Habana Vieja, expect a 1h30 expedition if you plan to cook crepes.
- No supermarket.
- Two parallel currencies and economies:
- CUC (Peso Cubano Convertible), 1 CUC = 1 USD, mandatory for foreigners
- CUP (Peso Cubano Modena Nacional, 1 CUP = 4ct USD) for locals.
- As a consequence, a taxi driver, paid in CUC by tourists, makes more in a day than a doctor, paid in CUP by locals, in a month.
- No more than 3 wifi hotspot in the whole district!
A Backpacker in Cuba
From my backpacker perspective, this place is one in a million, you won’t find anything alike in this world. Mass tourism is growing at an incredible pace since the US Embargo was repealed in 2016. People and travel agencies only sell Cuba as an exotic Caribbean Island for sunbathing, the beach and resorts in Varadero. They cannot be more mistaken.
Time to think outside the box! Same golden rule applies, as usual, run away from tourists and go local.
Change Your Mindset Before Going
One last thing, very important, before we get started: if you were educated in Western Education, please consider this country outside your Western/developed perspectives. Yes, you have been taught over the years that Cuba and the Castro brothers were only tyrannic dictators ruling this country like maniacs. This is an easy shortcut, far away from the truth. Consider the history this people have been through and pay attention to their lifestyle. It is more than what you learn in the textbooks. This country is fascinating beyond words
Travelling expensively has changed me, even shaped me in a way. Today, I am very keen to share this experience with people, from all backgrounds: people willing to start travelling, or doing it even more often, wiser or in a more sustainable way. I have received more help, friendships and kindness that I would have expected. For me, this series is a way for me to give back, to help people in return, to inspire beginners.