Cuba, Going Back in Time
If you are a US citizen please read the following:
Travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens and permanent residents is restricted by U.S. law and regulations, and travelers generally must obtain a license or qualify for an existing license from the Department of Treasury. Such licenses restrict the activities and transactions in which U.S. citizens and residents may engage while in Cuba.
Licensed U.S. travelers visiting Cuba should be aware that any on-island activities could be subject to surveillance, and their contacts with Cuban citizens monitored closely.
The United States Government, which does not maintain full diplomatic relations with Cuba, is represented by the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, which provides a range of consular and other services. U.S. diplomats, however, are not allowed to travel freely outside the capital and may be prevented from providing assistance to U.S. citizens outside Havana. For more information please visit the link below.
Even the most seasoned globe-trotters will tell you that the most fascinating and bizarre travel experience they’ve had wasn’t in some remote African village, but 90 miles (145km) off the coast of Florida, but in Cuba.
What makes Cuba so captivating and puzzling is this sense of “so close, but so far away” that encompasses almost everything about life on this island, which has been carefully manipulated by the Communist Castro regime since 1959. Although its tumultuous and variegated history, which has shaped the island’s remarkable stature on the world stage, far precedes his ascension to power, there’s no doubt that one person—Fidel Castro—now comes to mind when you think of Cuba.
Little is known about the earliest history of Cuba—when, like so many precolonial Caribbean islands, it was inhabited by Arawak, or Taino, natives. Columbus landed on Cuba in 1492, and within a
decade, extensive Spanish settlements were present on the island. The generally mild climate and the fine natural harbor of the capital of Havana made Cuba a natural stopping point for seaborne traffic sailing between Europe and central and South America; during the days of Spanish occupation, sugar cane was Cuba’s chief agricultural product.
To this day, more than half of Cubans are black or mulatto, descendants of the black African slaves who were brought to work on the island’s sugar plantations in the 19th century.
By the late 1800s, the Cuban independence movement began to stir, and in an uprising led by a poet named José Martí, the island cast off Spanish rule in the 1890s.
In 1898, the sinking of the USS Maine by a Spanish mine in Havana harbor, which resulted in 274 crew deaths, precipitated the Spanish-American War and bolstered U.S. support of Cuba, which would continue through the early 20th century. By the 1950s, however, relations with the U.S. rapidly deteriorated when a young lawyer named Fidel Castro created opposition to then-president Batista’s corrupt police state, which finally resulted in Castro assuming the flailing reins of the Cuban state in 1959. It quickly became clear to the U.S. that Castro was adopting Marxist principles and suppressing political freedoms, and soon the Communist Soviet Union
stepped in as a Cuban ally. It was at this time that thousands of Cubans fled the island to start a new life in America; most of them went to the nearby shores of Florida.
Political opinions aside, Fidel Castro’s staying power and global influence throughout the second half of the 20th century and beyond has been remarkable. Though Fidel is officially in retirement now due to poor health, he continues to wield some authority through his brother and current Cuban president, Raul Castro. Cubans are well educated but living in poverty, and almost everything Cuban nationals or visitors do is subject to scrutiny by the secret police; the barter system is used to acquire just about everything. Recently, however, the government has passed a series of civil liberties for Cuban citizens, perhaps signaling a new era for the country as the 21st century progresses.
Though the U.S. still stands alone in the world in prohibiting open travel to the island (via a trade embargo that stemmed from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), relations between the U.S. and Cuba also appear to be thawing. In 2009, Cuban- Americans were granted permission to travel freely to the island.
Visiting Cuba is like entering a time machine
Visiting Cuba today is truly like going to another place in time, like stepping into the pages of a dark comic book. The streets are filled with cars from the Eisenhower era, salsa music, and men playing dominoes in tailored straw hats. For a real throwback, go for a drink at the rooftop bar of the Hotel Nacional in Havana you’ll swear you time-warped back to the 1950s. Havana may be the focus of political headlines, but there’s also much more to Cuba for the traveler than the capital.
With golden beaches that meet gentle turquoise water for miles on end, diving sites in the coral islets offshore, and nightlife, Varadero (on the north coast, east of Havana)is the principal destination in Cuba for sun-and-sand tourism. Remote Baracoa, on the mountainous far-eastern tip of the island, is the place to go for an exotic feel: Here, in a lush tropical landscape of banana and palm trees, is where Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba on his first voyage to the Americas. Baracoa is part of Guantánamo province, which has numerous natural attractions, like the 305m-high (1,000-ft.) Salto Fino waterfall, as well as one very famous United States–run prison.
Whatever the island has been subjected to under Castro, what strikes you most about the people you’ll encounter here is their incredible warmth and soul: Cubans are underdogs, and their rich culture thrives regardless of economic or political realities on the island.
U.S. travelers should check
http://travel.state.gov for updates on travel to
Cuba. All others can visit www.cubancan.cu.
Airport:José Martí International (Havana).
Hotel: Hotel El Castillo, Calle Calixto
García, Baracoa 537-214-5195).
4 Star Hotel
Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Calle 21 y O,
Vedado, Havana 537-836-3564;