Why travel to Havana?
Cuba is opening up to the world, with Americans now permitted to travel to this startlingly old-fashioned Caribbean island – but only if they get a visa within one of 12 categories (not difficult as one category is basically ‘meeting people) – and fly on a charter plane (plenty of those available via tour agencies).
The thing is, other than the beaches such as Varadero which are more-or-less like any beach in the world, the island – and particularly lively, must-see Havana – has still got one foot delightfully in the past, with 50 year-old Chevies cruising the pot-holed streets, elegantly ramshackle buildings, empty highways, locals puffing on grand cigars, totally rubbish TV and internet but lots of face-to-face conversation – just like the old days!
But there’s little doubt that as time goes by more and more this antiquated island will metamorphose into a poor brother of Florida, with second-rate modern cars flooding in, big name hotels and restaurants springing up, tobacco banned from indoors and so on. And so Cuba’s unique ambience will fade away…get there soon, the sooner the better!
A classic taxi in a Havana backstreet. Photo by Aniol
The best souvenirs are Ché T-shirts that come in a hundred styles. But why no Fidel shirts?
Cigars will be offered to you on every street corner and may be genuine, while original art works can be sensational and good value, tho’ you might require an export permit. Check with the artist before you lose it at the airport. Items made from shells, coral and animals are both immoral and illegal, so avoid them.
Otherwise shop goods are poor quality and souvenirs no better.