Cuba Tourism Havana Moon | Let’s get that straight right away: We are not yet ready to travel to Cuba, but some others are. Havanna Moon! The Rolling Stones were there soon after the 2015 normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. In our opinion, although recently rising from ground zero, Cuba Tourism still has to go a long way until it can compete with its neighbors in attracting average mainstream holidaymakers. Although Cuba Tourism has never been completely dead, it struggled hard and over a long period of time with lots of limitations imposed by trade embargos and socialist command economy. Where to start with our Cuba Tourism blog post? Let’s take a quick look back into the past to better understand todays unique situation.
Cuba Tourism Timeline
1915 – 1930: Cuba hosted more tourists than any other location in the Caribbean and was mostly targeted by tourists from the United States. After sugar and tobacco a third strong backbone of Cuba’s economy had grown.
1931 – 1946: Great Depression and World War II dampened tourism in Cuba.
1946: Havana Conference. This infamous gangster conference was the most important mob summit since the Atlantic City Conference of 1929. It outlined a modus operandi for US-American crime families with the intention to dominate the tourist industry in Cuba and beyond.
1950s: Tourism was back. Havana became the favorite route for narcotics traders and the “Latin Las Vegas”. Gambling halls associated with prostitution and drugs did thrive.
1959: The Revolution. Fidel Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba. Soon after, all those mojito sipping, bolero dancing tourists did vanish. So did the narcotics traders.
1962: John F Kennedy extended an already existing trade embargo on Cuba to all imports and travels. Tourism travel to Cuba was no longer legal for US Americans.
1960s to 1980s: Visitors to Cuba during the 60s, 70s and 80s were rare. Although the number of tourists did increase slowly, it wasn’t until 1989 that they equaled pre-revolutionary numbers: 350,000 tourist arrivals in that year. Tourists predominantly came from Canada, Mexico and Eastern Europe.
1990s: The collapse of Eastern Europe caused another major crisis in Cuba. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s biggest trading partner up until then. A lack of economic diversification and this sudden loss of a key market sent Cuba into a deep economic depression. Cubans were operating under wartime conditions.
1994: The Ministry of Tourism was created, investing $3.5 billion into tourism related projects until the year 2000 with the intention to drive tourism back up.
2000 – 2015: Foreign investment in the Cuban tourism sector has increased steadily since the tourism drive. In 2010 the number of international arrivals surpassed 1 million. To put this into perspective: France counted 77 million international tourist arrivals in that same year.
2015: Barock Obama lifted the U.S. trade embargo. The Rolling Stones did get ready for their Havana Moon Concert :)
Important Cuba Travel Tips
Take cash with you! Preferably it should be EUR or GBP. The US Dollar usually gets a bad exchange rate. Funny: Cuba has two different national currencies, the CUC and the CUP. 1 CUC is approx. 22 CUP. The CUban Convertible peso or ‘Cuban dollar’ (CUC) is somehow aligned to the US Dollar which tourists must use.
Tell your bank you are going to Cuba! After arrival, if a Credit Card is needed, go with VISA only. MasterCard, Amex and others usually don’t work. It’s not even guaranteed that VISA will do the job, but chances are higher.
Where to get money? First stop might be an ATM at Level 1 of Havana International Airport. Don’t use the Bureau de Change at the airport. The staff will give you back incorrect change and the rates aren’t good. Many hotels and resorts also have a money exchange office. There are two types of banks: (1) Banco de Cuba, and (2) Cadeca. Banco de Cuba gives you the better rate.
There will be only limited slow internet.
Cuba Tourism today – what to expect
Cuba is obviously timeworn but magnificent. Eclectic architecture and amazing cars from the 1950s make it interesting for tourists. Still mind blowing poverty is just waiting around the corner. One of the world’s last socialist countries has recently made some reforms that appear to be minor in comparison with high-performers like Vietnam or China. Cuba is crippled by low productivity, has no money but theft and absenteeism. Free education, free healthcare, free housing and subsidized food do not help to improve things. It is estimated that in Havana alone 100,000+ Cubans work full or part-time in private tourism activities without a license and without paying tax. Houses in Havana are brutally rotten. The situation is worse than in East Germany in 1990 after the Berlin Wall came down. This reflects in comparably low ratings for tourist accommodation in Booking.com. High prices, low ROI. Looking into the future, there is hope for the average Joe, while upper class tourists already can get what they want. Welcome to the Gran Hotel Manzana …
Gran Hotel Manzana
Cuba’s first ultra luxury hotel opened its doors in 2017, with guests paying up to US$2,500 a night to stay in five-star comfort. The Gran Hotel Manzana is jointly owned by Swiss group Kempinski Hotels and the Cuban Military. Situated in the heart of Havana in front of Parque Central and the grand Alicia Alonso theatre. Initially this property did go into full commercial operation in 1909. By then it hosted shop lots for fur traders, watchmakers, tailors, clothing stores etc. Today guests in each of the hotel’s 246 rooms (50 suites) have the pick of four bars and two restaurants and can take a swim in the hotel’s rooftop infinity pool.
John Lennon Statue
Fidel Castro was a Beatles fan. And although The Beatles have never been to Cuba, there is a John Lennon statue at Parque John Lennon, located in the Vedado district. It was sculpted by Cuban artist José Villa Soberón. John Lennon is currently not wearing his signature round-lens glasses. They have been stolen and vandalized too often. So in case you want a perfect Instagram pic, bring your own glasses for this photo shooting. No glasses? If you are lucky, during the day, a security guard can be found sitting next to John Lennon. He will place glasses on John’s nose per request. The statue was unveiled on 8 December 2000, the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder.
El Barrio Chino
A 10-minute taxi ride away from the John Lennon statue is El Barrio Chino, Havana’s Chinatown, where the Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated with parades and dragon dances. With tourism coming back to Havana, El Barrio Chino is having a bit of a revival too. But don’t expect much. It’s quite interesting though to see traces of Chinese migration to Cuba going back to the 1850s -> Chinese Cubans.
Art Classes in Havana
Beyond Mojitos, Cuba is famous for dancing of a different kind. The caribbean island is the birthplace of bolero, chachacha and mambo. Classes rarely cost more than US$10 per hour.
What else to do on Cuba
Backpacking, all-inclusive tourism, health tourism, mountain tourism, sex tourism. You have options. Cuba is mostly about classic cars, tobacco, sunsets snorkeling and sex. Because of many rotten side alleys, Havana became the uncrowned most photogenic city on earth. We recommend a click on Josh’s blog ‘CheekyJaunt’ to collect more inside knowledge thebackpacker style.
For all-inclusive packages you need to go to either Varadero or to Cayo Coco. Two well-known all-inclusive resorts with a good reputation are the Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort and the Iberostar – both located in Varadero. Iberostar is a true luxury child friendly resort. Holiday watch dogs give it a 4 out of 5. That’s the best you can get. Don’t forget: you will be struggling to find a good hotel in Cuba! Despite bad reviews you read about almost any hotel, Iberostar Varadero is something to consider.
Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort on the other hand is Adults-only. You will probably get the best deal, because their all-inclusive package is very generous, from butler service to access to the spa facilities, Scuba diving lessons and even a dive covered by the package.
Cuba Tourism. By Chili & Churp | © International Destinations | After reading this blog post you might need something to cheer you up again. Try Beach Beauties here.