What to do in cuba?
Neighborhoods of Havana
The first time you enter the narrow cobblestoned streets of Havana Vieja, you’ll bask in five centuries worth of majestic Spanish architecture. Here you will find the magnificent El Morro Castle looming across the Bay of Havana like an image from a fairytale. You might be walking along a quiet residential street where laundry hangs from windows and buildings crumble next to those that have been restored to perfection, when suddenly Salsa music reverberates through the air and a family of Cubans welcomes you into their home.
Vedado is all about the spirit of Havana’s people and provides a firsthand look at the promise of the future. Children play kickball on an elevated pedestrian oasis in the middle of wide avenues while classic American cars cruise by. Parents return home from work as students close their books and unwind with friends along the Malecón. No trip to Vedado is complete without a stop at Coppelia for some of its famous ice cream. Here, you’ll sway to the melodies of life and groove to the music at clubs frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway.
The neighborhood of Miramar is simply stunning. It’s comprised of grandiose mansions and palatial estates. Prior to the Revolution, Havana’s most affluent citizens lived here. Today, it’s an ideal place to enjoy a peaceful walk along the avenues in the shade of broad leafy trees. If there is a foreign presence in Cuba, it’s here at the embassies, office buildings, international banks and European-owned hotels. Right along the waterfront you’ll find saltwater pools where Cubans come to beat the heat, and for a truly authentic Cuban music experience, it’s hard to top Casa de la Música’s performances.
Located just 5km east of historic Old Havana, the “bewitched” town of Guanabacoa beats at the heart of Afro-Cuban religion. Explore a city bustling with the activity of Santería practitioners immersed in ritual, and become mesmerized by manifestations of traditional African faiths involving magic. A short ferry ride across the harbor from Old Havana rests the former fishing village and current port town of Regla, whose history has been shaped by the sea …or the spirit who controls it. Here you can join the faithful and behold “La Virgen de Regla” – the patron saint of Havana, protector of fishermen, and African goddess of the sea.
What you need to know
Cuba is the only country in the world that met the World Wildlife Fund criteria for sustainable development in 2006, making it one of the “greenest” nations due to its low environmental impact. There are six UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Cuba and nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Cuba measures 770 miles wide and is the largest Caribbean island. It has 3,570 miles of coastline and the longest river, the Rio Cauto, is 213 miles long. The nation is also home to the world’s smallest bird, a hummingbird called a Zunzuncito.
The country-wide literacy rate is 99.8 percent, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations’ Institute for Statistics. This is the 2nd highest literacy rate in the world. The Cuban government spends ten percent of their central budget on education, making it free for all at every level, inclusive of all materials such as books and uniforms. Class size is limited to 25 students and if a student can’t come to school, a teacher is sent to their home. Cuba has 47 universities with 112,000 citizens enrolled.
Cuba’s story is one full of perseverance. The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and soon became a territory of Spain. In 1898, the U.S. claimed Cuba during the Spanish-American War. However, in 1902, Cuba gained its independence. The Cuban Revolution occurred between 1953 and 1959, which removed Fulgenicio Batista and installed a government run by Fidel Castro, who declared Cuba a socialist state in 1961. Castro remained in power until falling ill in 2008, at which time he relinquished control of Cuba to his brother, Raul Castro.
The Cuban state follows a socialist economic model. The state controls most resources and the majority of citizens are employed by the government, however, there has been a noticeable emergence of a private employment sector. Recently, a new legislation is introducing private ownership of homes and cars. In 2006, the private sector employed 22 percent of citizens, which is 14 percent more than in 1981. The main industries of Cuba are food production and industrial products and their main exports are sugar, nickel, seafood, citrus, tobacco products and rum.
Spanish is the official language of Cuba. Please note that Cuban-Spanish contains variations, making it difficult for native-Spanish speakers who may get lost in translation at times. The majority of Cubans only know Spanish, but in larger cities and tourist areas, English is commonly spoken. Insight Cuba’s English-speaking hosts will translate throughout the program. Although knowledge of Spanish isn’t required, we encourage you to learn some simple words and phrases to maximize your experience with the Cuban people.
Over half the population considers themselves Catholic. Santeria also plays a large role in the nation’s self-identity. Santeria was brought over to Cuba by Africans and the most common form of Santeria combines Catholicism with Yoruba beliefs. Other religions practiced in Cuba, though minimal, are Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are many beautiful churches and synagogues scattered throughout Havana, but no mosques.
Cuba is the most populous island in the Caribbean and home to over 11 million residents. It is a multi-ethnic melting pot with a population that is 65 percent white, 24 percent mixed-race, 10 percent black and 1 percent Chinese. Due to the free education system, the cities are becoming filled with people pursuing higher education. To increase the population in rural areas, the Cuban government has offered land incentives to city-dwellers and Cuban citizens must have governmental consent before moving to Havana.
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