HAVANA, Sept. 21st. In the heart of Old Havana, near the waterfront and the Parque Central, old American cars from the 40s and 50s are lined up by the dozen at attention, waiting for foreigners eager to discover the capital. “There are almost no Yumas (foreigners),” assures this Havana woman. If the months of September and October attract fewer travelers due to the risk of cyclones, tourists are rarer than usual.
The Cuban government has invited many Spanish influencers in recent months to promote the island, but the destination is struggling. Several European and Canadian tour operators have even recommended against it, citing shortages and even insecurity.
“Exercise great caution in Cuba due to shortages of basic necessities, including food, medicine and fuel,” Canada’s ever-cautious Foreign Ministry warned earlier this month. France Diplomatie, for its part, is more “soft”.
The travel advice service warns of problems with on-site payment and fuel shortages which can hamper travel. The United States’ policy towards Cuba – classified as a state sponsor of terrorism, which requires a visa to visit the United States afterward – is now also harming the destination.
“My tour operator clearly advised me against Cuba for my family trip with my grandmother at the end of the year, telling us that travel would be complicated,” says Chloé, a French woman.
Following the professional’s advice, she will finally head for another sunny winter destination, in this case, Thailand. For those who prefer the Caribbean, Jamaica, Yucatán or Santo Domingo are sometimes put forward by travel agencies as an alternative to Cuba.
In fact, the warning could not be more accurate when it comes to shortages. Cuba lacks everything and it’s getting worse. The Canadian ministry lists a long list of common sense tips to fully enjoy the island.
Cuba has always dealt with food and, cyclically, gasoline shortages. But the lack of medicines, born from the Covid pandemic, is relatively new.
The island has a large pharmaceutical industry, but now exports the vast majority of its medicines abroad, due to a lack of foreign currency to cover the food needs of the population. American sanctions and restrictions, combined with the pandemic and absolutely catastrophic regime management, have worsened shortages for Cubans and, to a lesser extent, for tourists.
“Leave without having too many expectations…”
Considering visiting Cuba in the coming months means first asking yourself what you expect from a trip to the island. An organized stay should take place without unpleasant surprises, as tourist guides always anticipate difficulties.
To the point of prioritizing the well-being of tourists over that of Cubans. “A Guagua (bus) of tourists stopped at the bank. The guide pushed aside the Cubans who had been waiting for their turn for 30 minutes and put the Yumas before everyone else,” complains Pedro, a Havanese.
All-inclusive hotels remain a safe bet, even if the choice of food is much less than in Mexico or the Dominican Republic, for example.
It’s all a question of means and what you’re looking for… Because, in fact, it would be better to opt for a five-star establishment from an international hotel chain if you plan to visit the country in the coming months. Hotels with exclusively Cuban capital are struggling.
And the Canadian daily Le Soleil headlined a few weeks ago quite aptly: “All-inclusive hotels in Cuba: leave without having too many expectations”.
What about insecurity?
An individual trip requires more organization, especially since the situation differs from one city to another. The island’s first destination and preferred arrival point, Havana suffers little.
Despite the shortcomings, good hotels, Casas Particulares (homestays), and restaurants remain numerous and the traveler with euros in his pocket will find what he needs, provided he is not too demanding. Cuba is a country outside of time and the latest capitalist fashions.
The second destination is seaside resorts. Even the rigorous Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives satisfaction to the resorts of Varadero, Cayo Santa Maria, Guardalavaca (near Holguin), Cayo Largo and Cayo Coco.
On the other hand, traveling to the Oriente (east of the island), to the regions of Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, Holguin, and Baracoa, is more hazardous, due to the lack of basic necessities. “My family lives in the Oriente where the daily Apagones (power cuts) last for hours,” confides Yamile, a Havana woman.
Whatever the mode of travel chosen, it is better to bring to Cuba everything you will need, especially medicines. Cuban doctors are excellent, but sorely lacking in the latter.
Several independent Cuban media and social networks have mentioned an increase in insecurity on the island. For the moment it only affects Cubans among themselves, at a level considered worrying. Attacks against tourists remain truly exceptional. Thefts in Casas Particulares are very rare.
The victims are often single foreigners bringing unknown Cubans into their rooms. The owners of the Casas keep an eye on things, but they can’t always plan everything.
And a Western diplomat tells this story: “A few years ago I saw a man arrive at the embassy in his boxers and a t-shirt. Everything had been taken from him.
He was accompanied by a very beautiful Cuban woman and certainly did not understand that with accomplices she had stolen his money.”