When Buena Vista Social Club released their homonymous album in 1997, the world stopped thinking of Cuba only as the country of communist revolution, but as a place filled with life, history, and traditions. This band, where great musicians like Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo stood out with their musical abilities, provided a festive image to an island where folklore paints each street with liveliness. It's a place that welcomes any visitor with open arms.
Color, tradition, and music are the elements that will welcome anyone willing to let themselves go. If you really want to fully grasp Cuba's richness, you must forget everything travel agencies offer on their tours. Normally, these focus only on typical touristic spots like the Old Havana and leave out amazing places that show the real essence of the country. Getting to know how the island was in times of Hemingway is surely appealing; however, to really say we know a place, it's necessary to see how local people live every day.
Traveling to Cuba, like going somewhere else, represents a considerable investment if we consider transportation, accommodation, and food. However, there's always a way to reduce expenses.
Forget about hotels and look for local accommodation you can find on the internet.
As it happens everywhere, there's cheap fast food you can get. But if you want to eat something typical, there are restaurants that offer full-course meals for 5 to 8 CUC (Cuban convertible peso).
Whenever you pay for something, you must always check if they're charging you the right amount of money. Do a previous research so you know how much things really cost.
You shouldn't really worry about insecurity. Cuban people will always try to help you. Just be cautious as you would be anywhere. Perhaps the only ones you should be very wary about are pickpockets, who are generally in crowded or highly visited places.
Transportation is really cheap. A taxi will charge you around 30 CUC for a four-hour journey. Even if you want to stop somewhere, the driver will wait for you until you decide to continue.
Although it's sometimes seen as a cheap, take your own shampoo, cosmetics, or any other toiletries so you don't have to spend on those things.
Even if you plan to spend just the necessary amount of money, remember that many people depend on commerce and tourism to live. If you know the price is fair don't try to negotiate.
Something you must take into account is that communication services in Cuba are really limited, so sometimes it will be difficult to call someone or get Internet access. There are some communication centers known as ETECSA, where you can buy cards to get access to these services (an hour of connection costs around 6 CUP).
Cuba is a great place where you can have amazing and unique experiences. You'll find something interesting to do or learn in each street. This is a place, like few in the world, where you'll be able to connect with the locals.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards