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Published: March 6th 2017
Morro Castle is a fortress which guards the entrance to Havana bay. This fortress was actually featured in an episode of the Simpsons
We have for a couple of years been thinking that Cuba might be an interesting place to visit. During Christmas and New Year we had some time off and we decided to go there and figure out if Cuba is interesting or not.
We started and ended our visit in Cuba in the capital Havana. Havana is a city with large contrasts
- The old town and the historical city centre
- In this area there are plenty of high end hotels, restaurants cafés and other facilities with the main purpose to as efficiently and painlessly as possible ensure that tourists are separated from their money. It is a typical tourist ghetto and that is where tourist tend to hang most of the time. The old historical buildings are in beautiful condition or are awaiting restoration. It is a really nice place to spend some time in but it is swarming with tourists and it is a very different world from the rest of Cuba.
- we spent one night in a guesthouse in the district Vedado. It is a modern place and the people who live there are generally quite well off.
- Centro Havana
Sculpture in Old Havana
Centro Havana is a district between the Miramar and the Old Town and large parts of it is totally different from the other two districts. It is much poorer, there are fewer shops and most of the buildings are in desperate need of a facelift. No, strike the last comment. Most buildings in Centro Havana need a total makeover because they are very run down.
Don't get us wrong, we liked Centro Havana a lot and we spent quite some time there. Centro Havana has a soul, which the other districts haven't. According to the guidebook the Cubans have for several years spent big money into restoring the Old Town. We hope that some of that money will also trickle down into Centro Havana. Hopefully they will in the future also restore the buildings in Centro Havana and that they can do that without killing its soul.
The difference between Centro Havana on one side and Vedado and the Historical City Centre can be used to illustrate that Cuba in fact has two parallel economies. The two economies even have different currencies. The two currencies in Cuba are the Cuban Peso, also known as
Building in Old Havana
Building in Havana Historical City Centre
CUP, and the Convertible Peso, also known as CUC. CUP is used where customers are mainly Cubans such as in low end restaurants, small local shops, in local fruit markets and by street vendors. When foreigners change money in Cuba they are automatically given CUC. The prices for things tourists are likely to spend money on such as hotels, tours, high end restaurants, bus tickets etc are almost always quoted in CUC and it is also the currency they expect to get paid in. As far as we understand the CUC is also mostly used when Cubans wish to buy imported goods such as fashion or electronics.
The two currencies have led to a society where there is a huge difference between those who get paid in CUC and those who get paid in CUP. First of all, prices are generally higher when you have to pay in CUC. So if you run a business and are permitted to use the Convertible Peso you can charge more for whatever you are selling. But also, the Convertible Peso is also better if you wish to buy imported goods or foreign currency.
We changed some of
Nice buildings in
our CUC to CUP, there is no rule against doing that, so we could shop from business catering for the locals. Unfortunately there wasn't much we could buy other than coffee, ice-cream and sandwiches. But damn it was cheap when we paid in CUP.
The historical city centre is the part of Havana where tourists are likely to spend most of their time. The main attractions are the many colonial buildings. The beautiful architecture is of course best enjoyed by just walking around. So that is what we did. There are several churches and palaces and museums in the Old Town. We visited a few of them but soon realised that it really wasn't worth it. It is the architecture itself which makes Old Havana worth visiting.
Havana lies on the north coast of Cuba. Along the sea runs a road called Malecón
. In most cities a similar road would be a prime location for restaurants and apartments there would be highly priced. There are some restaurants along Malecón but it is surprisingly quiet. That is partly because most of the buildings there have suffered from decades of neglect. That is likely to change
The old historical buildings are in beautiful condition
in the future thanks to the rapidly growing tourist industry. With more tourists around they will need to open more restaurants and without a doubt they will open many of them along the Malecón.
East of Havana there are several beach resorts. We went there one of the last days we were in Cuba. We went for the beach only. It is easy to go there for the day if you stay in Havana. Unfortunately there were no corals along the beaches, no fish and no seaweed or any other kind of life. There was only white sand and blue water. If it isn't possible to snorkel Ake quickly gets bored on a beach so one day was enough for us.
On the way to the beach we stopped by La Cabaña, a fortress built in the 18th century. It was large and impressive and looked very much like a fortress. Very much like any other fortress around the world actually. But it was still well worth a visit because from La Cabaña the views over Havana are stunning.
Probably the most visited museum in Havana is the Museum of the
There are several churches and palaces and museums in the Old Town.
Revolution. Before we write about that we would like to write about what the Cubans think of the USA. At the Museum of the Revolution the message they wish to convey is "Viva la Revolución" and that the USA are tyrants, imperialists and capitalist pigs etc and that Americans only deserve to be despised. But it seems to us that this hatred towards the USA is only a big show. They don't really hate United States at all.
We are not going to bore you by giving long explanations of why United States and Cuba have been pissed off with each other for the last couple of decades. Here we are limit ourselves to say that USA placed an embargo on Cuba in the early 1960-ies. Parts of the embargo have been lifted recently but much is still in place. This embargo has, to put it mildly, caused a lot of trouble for the Cuban people.
It is easy to argue that the Cuban people have reasons to dislike the USA. But to our great surprise they don't. It's not uncommon to see Cubans wearing T-shirts with US flag on it or American sports
We visited Havana Cathedral but didn't find it very interesting once we got it. It is the architecture itself which makes Old Havana worth visiting.
team's logos. The official standpoint might be that Cubans hate United States but we can't see that they really do. Today over one million Cubans live in the USA, that is roughly one for every 10 who live in Cuba. We guess that it is difficult to hate a country when you have relatives living there even if the propaganda says you should.
We are going to return to the effects of the US embargo in a later blog entry. We have some photos which nicely illustrates one effect the embargo has had on the Cuban society. You might think that something that illustrates the effect of the embargo is going to be ugly but it isn't. On the contrary it's something the Cubans are really proud of. In our fourth blog from Cuba you'll see what it is.
We went to the Museum of the Revolution
and we found that it holds a few exhibits we thought were worth seeing. They have the yacht Granma, which was used to transport soldiers during the Cuban Revolution, and a few remains of an American U2-plane, which crashed in 1962 during the so called Cuban Missile Crises.
The main attractions are the many colonial buildings.
The last thing we are going to mention here is the El Capitolio
. It is a very impressive building, built to look like the United States Capitol in Washington, which houses the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately it was closed for renovations when were there so we didn't get to see much of it. But when they open it again it is likely to be well worth a visit.
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