“Cool means being able to hang with yourself.” – Prince
Cuba has recently increased its tourism. I traveled to Cuba solo during my spring break from school in April on a People to People Visa. As US- Cuba relations develop travel rules will change, but for now you must align to a cultural exchange tour which satisfies the educational category of the People to People Travel led by tour operators licensed for Cuba travel. This specific visa includes cultural activities and lectures as well as visits to schools, artists’ studios and cooperatives.
The country’s attractions include hundreds of miles of coastline, mountains to hike, lively cultural traditions like salsa music and dance, colonial architecture and a warm reception by the people. Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest island and is a land of beauty and amazing contrasts. It offers a diverse terrain with beautiful beaches, seas, valleys and mountains. The country’s population is a combination of Spanish, African and indigenous people. Jose Marti is their national hero. He was a leading Latin American poet and journalist in the 19th century. Marti led the independence movement and he wrote profusely about cause of social justice, pan Americanism and liberty. Steeped in history, this Communist nation is a time warp and is full of colonial buildings, pre- revolutionary 1950’s cars, and rural villages. Traveling to Cuba is not for everyone. You must have a desire to learn and interact with locals. I think a love for history is essential and an open mind is required to visit this beautiful island. Cuba is full of hidden gems and every traveler must be flexible with their time and plan of action while in Cuba. The country has a lot to offers its visitors and for me it was a history teacher’s dream to spend time in such an interesting place. It is the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary.
The largest and complete colonial complex in the Americas can be found in Habana Vieja, Havana. It is the most classic and touristy city in Cuba. Havana is a European city in a tropical setting. Just like me it has a historic heart. Old Havana was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. It is the highlight of the capital city and at one time was the wealthiest city of the New World. It has almost 1000 buildings of historical importance and is an intimate location. As you walk the streets you will marvel at the spectacular colonial baroque architecture. It is full of street life and extraordinary castles, cathedrals and palaces. It is hopeful to see and learn about an ongoing restoration program that is transforming some of the finest structures the area has to offer. As you walk down the cobbled stone streets and visits the plazas you get a sense of the old colonial charm and think what this must have been like long ago and you may also worry what is going to happen to it as we move forward into the future with more tourism and visitors. History is more than just facts, dates and timelines and takes on many forms.
When you travel you become enlightened by varying stories of the people and culture you embrace while abroad which leaves you with questions and yearning to know more about that way of life or place you are absorbing. I love that travel connects you to people and I believe people are capable at anytime in their lives of doing what they dream of. While traveling on my own in Cuba I met some of the greatest people who were receptive to learning about me as much as I wanted to learn about them. I was also blessed to meet some similar minded Americans to share in this once in a lifetime experience with me. A good analogy I learned about Cuba- US relations while listening to a lecture from a former Cuban diplomat is to think of the situation as Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare. The politics of the families hate each other, but the individuals love each other. I have already been infected with the travel bug, but now I have been bit by the Cuban travel bug. I cannot wait to return and explore more of this fantastic island. I look forward to spending more time with the friendly Cuban people and absorbing more of their beautiful culture and history.