RocketNews24’s Japanese-language reporter Yuichiro visited Cuba a few months ago and had an amazing time in the Caribbean nation. Although he’s already shared several of his travel adventures such as sampling sushi at a five-star hotel and getting a haircut in the popular local style, Wasai recently compiled a list of the top seven things that impressed or surprised him about Cuba.  

We’ll let Yuichiro take it from here.


7. The public order is surprisingly good 

“Whenever I travel in Central or South America, my head always hurts a bit thinking about public safety and the precautions I have to take. Within the region there are some countries with less than ideal public order, but Cuba’s is relatively stable.

For me personally, the sense that I got from staying in Cuba was that the place where I was born and raised within Kyoto Prefecture is definitely worse.”

6. That blue, blue sky and the clear sea

“There was a time when I thought that the sky wouldn’t change no matter where I went. However, the sky that I saw in Cuba was a deeper blue than the sky you see in Japan. Or maybe I should say that the depth was different. And of course, the sea was overwhelmingly beautiful!

The blue sky and the emerald-green sea–it’s a perfect picture postcard. Actually, the scenery looks like a picture postcard, but it’s even more brilliant.”

5. Retro cars are everywhere

“Around the cities in Cuba, you can spot all kinds of old-fashioned classic cars being driven around on a normal basis. You never get tired of looking at them, and you can ride them as well!

In fact, a whole business has built up that’s devoted to giving tourists rides. It’s tempting to admire the cars up close, and most likely before you know it, you’ll be going for a ride.”

4. Staying at a private home is quite inexpensive

“Excluding transportation expenses, the most expensive part of traveling is usually the cost of lodging. In Cuba, you’ll of course spend lots of money if you stay somewhere fancy in Havana, but there are plenty of cheaper options as well.

The easiest thing to do is to book a room in a private family establishment known as a casa particular (Spanish for ‘private house’), a kind of homestay service in which Cubans offer private rooms in their homes to travelers for a small fee. In short, you get to stay at a typical local family’s house.  

The cost of a casa particular varies from owner to owner, but generally one person for one night costs approximately 20 CUC to 30 CUC (US$20 to $30). Some types of rentals include a private room and shared use of the owner’s personal bathroom, while others allow for free use of other living areas as well.

I stayed at this type of establishment several times during my stay in Cuba, and there were definitely times when I thought that the lodgings were better than those of a hotel. In any case, you can save a lot of money on lodging expenses if you become familiar with the casa particular system.” 

3. The towns are just begging to be explored, even in the midst of sweltering heat

“Cuba is an island nation just south of Florida in the Caribbean, so it’s no surprise that it’s hot. I visited during late May, when the temperature is very pleasant in Japan, but it was already unbearably hot in Cuba. I could only stand to be in the direct sun for 15 minutes at a time.

During my time there, I would say something silly like, ‘Please skin, hang in there today!’ whenever I went outdoors. After all, I wanted to see with my own eyes the old townscape and city atmosphere where time seems to pass by leisurely more than anything.

Guidebooks often describe parts of the nation’s capital with ‘It’s as if time has stopped,’ or ‘Like you’ve slipped into the past,’ and it appears that those words are especially true of Old Havana, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oh, and thanks to all of that sightseeing, my skin is now considerably charred.”

2. The people who listen to live music and break into dance 

“Music is probably one thing that comes to mind when you think of Cuba. The Buena Vista Social Club, a 1999 documentary film about music in Cuba, captures the actual atmosphere of music and clubs very well. But even though you can listen to Cuban music on YouTube or iTunes, it’s nothing like the ‘aural punch’ you receive when you hear it being played live in a bar in Havana.

On top of that, it’s completely natural for a few of the people listening to get up and start dancing, which then leads to tourists, other Cubans, young people, and grandpas all getting up and moving as well.

During my own experience seeing a live musical performance, the heat and people’s enthusiasm for dancing overwhelmed me so much that I think it caused my hair to recede slightly. Music in Cuba is not something to be taken lightly, folks.”

1. The people are cheerful and friendly

“I’m tempted to say that almost all Cubans are bright and amicable. While I was walking around town, many people greeted me with a chorus of ‘Konnichiwa? Nihao?‘ Also, when taking pictures, those around me would say ‘Take one of my family, too!’ and immediately pose.

In my mind, the percentage of Cubans who are shy around strangers is about 0.01%. Their average monthly salaries may be between 12 to 25 CUC ($12 to 25, according to TripAdvisor), but even with a lack of wealth, they have no such lack of laughter.

‘Money doesn’t equal happiness’–I got the feeling that I finally understood the meaning of that phrase in Cuba.”

That concludes Wasai’s list. He could go on and on with even smaller observations, but for the sake of brevity he ends it here. He also mentions that there may be some big changes in store for Cuba as the country moves towards the normalization of relations with the United States. The two countries already resumed diplomatic ties with the reestablishment of their respective embassies on July 20. While Wasai isn’t entirely sure how much these changes will affect the look and feel of Cuba, the island nation is definitely entering a transition phase, and he urges people to visit as soon as possible before any sweeping changes take effect.

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