Photo: László Wiandt

Cuban adventures

The Star of the Greater Antilles

Cuba - the largest island in the Greater Antilles, the most populous Caribbean island nation, halfway between North and South America, and nestled between the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Yucatán, Cuba occupies a special place in every sense of the word. Its rich history and mixed population have given rise to a very special culture, with unique characteristics and elements in music, gastronomy and even dance, but the truth is that Cuba is quite simply magical and enchanting and it is a great fortune if you ever get to visit and be part of this fascinating country, even if only for a few days or weeks.


The pearl of the Antilles, the Paris of the Caribbean… These were the adjectives used to describe Cuba’s capital, Havana, back in the last century. Well, the adjectives are not exaggerated – Havana is a stunning, breathtaking city that gives you a feeling like no other as you drive or walk through its charming streets and stunning Spanish-style colonial buildings. One of the oldest and once wealthiest cities in the Caribbean, this vibrant city is full of architectural wonders that recall its rich past. Today, the palaces of the once wealthy Spanish merchants still ooze history, and you can see and feel the opulent life they once lived here. The narrow streets of the old town, the Caribbean-coloured buildings and the monumental squares all contribute to Havana’s unique and incomparable charm. Some of Havana’s palaces are a little dilapidated, but Havana has a special charm.

I’m going to write a few sentences about the fascinating Havana, because that’s really the subject of another article. However, wherever you go in the country, Havana is unmissable and unmissable. The port city, originally built in the 16th century, has been the scene of much history, largely under Spanish rule, although the United States has tried to take it over on several occasions. It became the capital of Cuba in 1607. The current capital is home to about 2 million people.

In addition to its commercial importance, it became one of the largest entertainment cities in the region in the 20th century, but after the 1959 revolution the nightclubs and gambling dens that operated here were closed. This period is brilliantly chronicled in the film Havana, one of cinema’s greats.

Photo: László Wiandt

Havana – the film

One of the best films to show the city’s heyday is indeed Havana. It takes place at a time when the revolution breaks out and the rich, the fun-loving, the holidaymakers, the gamblers and many of the local leaders, who have lost their positions and are in danger of losing their lives, leave the city in a panic. With stunning realism, it recreates the opulence and vibrancy of the city, which is suddenly reduced to nothing and never returns, even in its elements. The story is about Jack Weil (Robert Redford), an American professional gambler who visits Havana, Cuba, to try his luck and falls in love with the wife of a local revolutionary leader. On New Year’s Eve 1959, after the revolutionaries’ victory, members of the upper class, the failed government and the secret police all leave the city and rush to the ports in a panic to leave the country on the ferries, small and large chartered boats and planes still operating between the two countries.  The film was made by brilliant actors such as Robert Redford and Lena Olin.


Those charming old cars

It was with great excitement that I was looking forward to seeing the famous 50s cars. And the great experience was there, many times, step by step. Cuba is truly unique in that there are some 60,000 American cars built before 1959 in circulation, and you can see them everywhere in the country. Their condition is mixed: most of them are fully restored, well-maintained beauties, gleaming, technically restored and maintained, and many of them are used for tourist purposes: they can be rented, with a driver, for sightseeing, taking photos in front of the city’s famous buildings or on the ocean beach. We later saw them in other parts of the country. Some of them have not had their bodies restored, but technically they probably have, as they are used and we have seen several of them on the road. The reason why these cars are still in the country is that no American cars were allowed to be imported after 1959 until 2016. I also noticed that there are still some products from the former socialist countries, Moskvichs and Zhiguli, which are still on the road, but we don’t have any trace of them here. And of course there are modern cars, but they don’t get as much media attention.

Photo: László Wiandt

Speaking of cars, let’s talk about buses – we have a few Ikarus buses here, but most are from Canada or the former Soviet Union, and there are even former Dutch ones.

The road network is extensive, and we took one of the major motorways to Jardines del Rey, with a total of 61 000 kilometers of roads. The country has some 64 airports, some of which have international traffic. José Martí International Airport, near Havana, is Cuba’s main international gateway and serves millions of passengers a year.


The FIT Cuba 2024

One of the main objectives of our trip was to participate in the biggest event in Cuban tourism, the FIT Cuba (Feria Internacional de Turismo de Cuba), which took place in May 2024 in the Jardines del Rey Islands, in the northern province of Ciego de Ávila, one of the most promising Caribbean holiday destinations. This is no coincidence, as Cuba’s tourism authorities are keen to promote tourism on the islands at the annual international tourism exhibition.

Photo: László Wiandt

Again this year, a large number of tourism service providers, around 5,000 tourism industry professionals, more than 570 business people and 51 airline representatives were present, providing an opportunity to network and do business with the global tourism market. The event also included conferences, seminars and other professional programmes, and gave participants the opportunity to learn about the latest industry trends and innovations.

As proof of the importance of the event, the Prime Minister of the country, Mr Manuel Marrero Cruz, and the Minister of Tourism, Mr Juan Carlos Garcia Granda, were present for several days, and gave several speeches and press conferences, and I had the pleasure of speaking with the Minister several times and interviewing him.


Professional glories

Cuba is a ‘multi-destination’ in itself, offering oceanfront tourism, culture, history, adventure, nature, health and tourism, and it is no coincidence that it won the Best of the Best 2024 at the Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards, where it was named the world’s number one cultural destination and the second most popular in the Caribbean. Cuba was ranked first in the “Trendy Destination” category in 2023.

To add to the list of glories, Varadero has been voted one of the world’s top 10 beaches in recent years, with Cayo Santa María beach ranking ninth in 2023 and Playa Pilar on Cayo Guillermo 12th. Similarly, Cuba was awarded the Gold Award for the World’s Most Wanted Island Destination by Wanderlust magazine at World Travel Market 2023.

It is therefore no coincidence that Cuba is paying particular attention to the development of tourism, one of the country’s main sectors, and one of the forums for this is the FIT Cuba exhibition.

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