Back to Havana | Blog Paco Nadal

In Cuba there is a need for tourists; our currencies are essential for the always meager Cuban economy and 19 months without foreign visitors must have the state coffers with cobwebs. I do not say anything about the pockets of thousands of workers in the sector, without ERTES, unemployment or aid.

See Havana with almost no tourists, have a bent daiquiri by yourself at the Floridita bar, stroll through Obispo Street or through the Old Square among local people – when before they used to be crowded with tourists in shorts and flowered shirts – or find a table In the restaurant or the palate you want at the time you want are small privileges for the first foreigners who have poked their necks around the Caribbean island after the tricky phase of the pandemic. Although I suspect that they will not last long: in just a week I noticed an increase in groups of tourists on the streets, especially Russians. Canadians —Canada is the first country of origin of tourists to Cuba— have also begun to reach the keys and beaches.

Two women pose for tourists in traditional Cuban dress in a corner of the Plaza Vieja.
Two women pose for tourists in traditional Cuban dress in a corner of the Plaza Vieja.

Many things have changed in Cuba since the last time I visited. Others continue as always, from the lack of political pluralism to the absurd US embargo. On this island, everything is special and, in a way, incompressible. As the years go by. One of the most significant improvements is Cubans’ access to the internet and mobile phones. That really has been a revolution and not the one of 59. They say that there are already more than seven million terminals on an island with 12 million inhabitants and for an if not cheap, affordable rate, anyone can have data on their phone. Those who know Cuba and its reality know what I am saying: to see Cubans permanently staring at the screen of a smartphone and typing messages like any other citizen in the world hooked on that drug is an impact of such caliber that it would make Fidel himself stir in his grave.

In addition, the prohibition for nationals to go to the keys and tourist hotels was lifted a long time ago, they can obtain a passport without further requirements, the creation of small private companies has been expedited, not only palates … Anyway, slow, but something is moving on the island.

What has not changed is the scarcity and scarcity of goods. Although in reality it is absurd to call it a shortage or shortage. I always had the feeling that in Cuba there is everything, only that a large part of the population does not have access to it due to their paltry salaries. But in a currency store or a tourist hotel, you find what you want. At a European price, of course.

Anyway, this is a blog of trips and in this newspaper there are sections and analysts more qualified than me to talk about the Cuban political reality. What I wanted to say is that, that Cuba is once again open to tourism. With all its charms and flaws, with all its glories and miseries. A destination that makes me fall in love and piss off in equal parts every time I go, but that I highly recommend because it is a unique place.

Cayo Ensenachos beach, north of the island.
Cayo Ensenachos beach, north of the island.

Some advice for those who decide to go: the CUC and the double currency no longer exist. Only the Cuban peso, the same for everyone. The official exchange rate in banks and exchange houses is 26 pesos for 1 euro, but with that rate, vacations will be more expensive than in Switzerland. In any corner they change the euro up to 85 pesos. But be careful, check that there are no counterfeit bills, never give yours in advance and count them before you go.

Now instead of CUC it has the MLC (freely converted currency), a monstrosity that does not exist in cash and is actually a debit card against a bank account in which Cubans can enter foreign currency and pay later with it. It is the only thing that they allow in those currency stores where there is almost everything. I was able to pay in any of them with my Visa card from a Spanish bank. I imagine it will be like that in all of them.

Don’t ask me why, but the US dollar, which was previously the currency of reference, is now in the doldrums and is not accepted by many official sites. They prefer euros (better for us).

Don’t cross an ocean just to spend seven days on a beach. Cuba has fantastic colonial cities, like Havana or Trinidad, natural spaces like Pinar del Río, wonderful people with whom it is worth getting in touch. Some palates where you can try delicious Creole cuisine. You can rent a car and move around the island in complete safety. Therefore, a combination of Havana and Trinidad + beach is the perfect trip to get to know something of the country.

And since I choose a beach, I prefer any of the keys to Varadero, although this is more popular and cheaper.

If omicron does not spoil it (nothing is certain in this changing world of pandemic), Cuba opens its arms to tourists. If you don’t know it, you’re already taking time. For me it is one of the most interesting destinations in the Caribbean.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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