Recent announcements of further restrictions on travel by US citizens to Cuba is likely to significantly reduce the numbers of tourists visiting the country. This has had immediate impact, with the major cruise lines responding to the announcement by cutting Cuban ports from existing itineraries.
While no-one knows at this point just how much impact there will be on Cuba’s tourist industry, there is no doubt that US visitor numbers will drop in the short to medium term. The Cuban people who depend on income from tourists – and a LOT of Cubans benefit from tourist dollars – are nervously expecting to experience increasingly straightened circumstances. Access this link for some insight into the Cuban people’s perspective.
For the rest of the world, this is an opportunity to experience the country with fewer fellow travellers dogging your heels. As globalisation sweeps the world towards increasing homogeneity, Cuba provides visitors with unique experiences and insight into an ‘other’ society, that is a truly fascinating place. This move is likely to help preserve the ‘time capsule’ that is Cuba, for at least for a little while longer.
Living in a time capsule means:
Visiting Cuba is the best way we can support the Cuban people in what will no doubt be a time of need. When we travelled to Cuba in April 2019, we were told by Cubans that they were already experiencing a depressed economy, following earlier steps by the Trump administration to tighten the screws on its socialist neighbour. During our visit we got some insight into what it means in practical terms when Cuba falls out with its neighbours. Following a disagreement with the newly elected right-wing government in Brazil, Brazilian flour imports to Cuba ceased. And suddenly our casa particular (i.e. Airbnb) host was apologising to us for being unable to supply bread for our breakfast! And if the privileged tourists can’t have bread, you can bet the locals are going without first.
The spectre of hunger is real in Cuba. Many people are already very thin and animals are generally in a noticeably worse state than other Latin American countries, with skinny horses and neglected-looking cats everywhere you go. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, drastically reducing international support for Cuba, a period of famine across the country led to widespread malnutrition and intensification of food rationing. Food rationing continues today and we saw queues of people lining up to buy imported products, such as cooking oil or potatoes.
Despite its challenges, Cuba is an amazing country offering visitors access to world class beaches, well-preserved colonial cities, world heritage sites, stunning natural scenery and a thriving music and dance culture.
But it’s the Cuban people themselves who make travelling here so unforgettable. We bounced from one warm and generous casa particular host to the next, always feeling supported and well looked after. On beaches and in the streets we met friendly strangers who sought nothing further from us than a chat and were keen to help us out with advice where they could.
Inevitably, sooner or later, the US embargo on Cuba will lift and the country will get the chance to play catch-up with the rest of the world. Get there before you miss it!