Guide The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World

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He looks at the Wasp Network—a group of five Cuban intelligence officers who were convicted by a Miami jury in —and the case of accused spy and former U. Both cases—and the more recent arrest June of former U. State Department employee Kendall Myers and his wife on similar charges—underscore the effectiveness of Cuban intelligence.

Erikson, who conducted extensive interviews for the book mostly outside Cuba , lets his subjects speak for themselves. And, occasionally, their words speak volumes. Apathetic and pessimistic about the future, this younger generation, given a chance, will vote with its feet and leave the country. Those who do leave Cuba join a diaspora that stretches from Miami to Moscow. There is much to choose from in this book—essays, reflections, poetry, and drawings.

My favorites are three essays that together provide a comprehensive look at little-known nuances about the Cuban people. The ironic consequence of this failure to develop an independent and viable national project is the hyperbolic sensibility epitomized by the tirelessly iterated slogan socialismo o muerte socialism or death. This slogan, like many things Cuban, is often associated with the infamous image of Ernesto Che Guevara. With the mids came a new marketing opportunity.

But the Korda image also needed a marketer-in-chief, a visionary who understood that his revolutionary religion needed both a myth and a saint. That man was Fidel Castro. Change is on the way. This catchy slogan also applies to Cuba, but accompanying this inevitability is the certainty of its own melodic and unpredictable rhythm. Change will come, but on Cuban time and with those who live in Cuba as protagonists.

All three books under review here provide important clues about the people and the politics of this magical island. No matter what kind of travel adventure you are after, you can be sure that backpacking Cuba will be a truly epic life-experience. There is something for every backpacker to discover! Cuba is made up of several distinct geographical regions and landscapes and many more sub-cultural regions.

Cities like Havana and Santiago de Cuba make up the most populous urban centers. Of course, Cuba is an island so there are world-class beaches and coastal stretches too. The main highways of the country determine what is accessible and what is not. Large sections of the north coast of Cuba are not developed and there the main continuous highway does not run along that portion of the country.

Cuban cities offer up the biggest dose of Cuban culture. There are at least 10 major biospheres, nature reserves, and national parks in Cuba. Each one has something unique and interesting for backpackers. In fact, the diversity of Cuban landscapes make up a large part of what makes Cuba such an awesome place to visit. Now, let us take a look at some of your itinerary options for your backpacking Cuba adventure…. Looking for a Cuba backpacking itinerary? Whether you have 2 weeks in Cuba or a month to really explore, I have assembled several Cuba backpacking itineraries to help you make the most of your time in this epic country.

Cuba is a surprisingly big place. A realistic 7 day itinerary for Cuba does keep you moving, though with some restraint so that you can actually enjoy and experience the places you are visiting! To get to grips with Cuba, you are going to need a few days getting to know the great time machine that is Havana. I recommend spending at least three days in Havana. Over the course of your three days in Havana, you will start to picture what modern life is like in a country slowly stepping into the modern world through a communist filter.

Here is what you should do with your time in Havana:. Vinales is one of my favorite places in Cuba. Spend a day or two exploring the beautiful green limestone mountains. Check out a tobacco farm. You can hire horses to visit a far-flung farm in the valley. Next stop is Trinidad. This day itinerary allows for a bit more in-depth exploration of a few places mentioned in the 7 day itinerary above. Choose between places and really experience those places.

Backpacking Cuba is all about taking things slow, so embrace it! For this 14 day Cuba itinerary, you will be taking another route out of Havana, saving Vinales for the end. After exploring Havana for a couple of days, head to Cienfuegos. On your second day in Cienfuegos, you can cross the bay on the ferry to Castillo de Jagua , an 18th-century fortress.

After Cienfuegos, take between days to really settle into Trinidad. Waterfall hikes, gorgeous beaches, tobacco farm tours, and horseback riding adventures are all on offer here. You can spend your final few days in Cuba falling in love with beautiful Vinales. If you have a month or more to explore Cuba you can really see a good chunk of the country. This Cuba itinerary will take you off the beaten path and allow you to get to know a part of Cuba that few travelers ever get to see.

With so much time on your hands, there is no need to rush. Really like Havana? Spend a week there. Fall in love with Vinales? Stay a little longer.

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Another benefit of having a month to backpack Cuba is that you can make it to the less visited eastern part of Cuba. Point being, there is no real time pressure on you so you can take the opportunity to be spontaneous, explore the national parks, go scuba diving, learn Spanish, etc.

If you manage to extend your visa for another 30 days, I recommend volunteering on a farm or in a school during your Cuba backpacking adventure.

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Remember, you can always fly or take the train from Havana to Santiago de Cuba and start your 1 month itinerary from there. You should note that internal flights within Cuba are expensive. Since you are in no hurry, a combination of bus, train, and hitchhiking is the way to go. Havana is without a doubt the beating heart and vibrant soul of Cuba. Cuban music wafts out of open windows. Street vendors sell tasty treats from carts sometimes drawn by horses.

To start, head directly to Old Town Havana to walk the cobblestone streets and soak in the colonial architecture from the Spanish era. Whilst Old Town is charming as hell, Havana Centro is where the real action is. They often offer cheap, delicious eats. And if you are looking for somewhere awesome to stay in Havana? Check out my ultimate guide to the best hostels in Havana. Rolling green tobacco farms and impressive rocky outcroppings make a big first impression. The mural itself took 18 artists a staggering 4 years to complete!

Very impressive indeed.

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Be aware of scammers offering fake tours. For one of the best sunsets of your life, you can head to the Valle Del Silencio. Not bad, right? Cueva de la Vaca is one of the best climbing spots! For some reason, few backpackers head further west to the coast after visiting Vinales. Be sure to negotiate heavily for a fair return price. Also, confirm the exact time you want to head back as many drivers will not make the journey after dark.

Not pictured: the swarms of mosquitoes. The French colonial town of Cienfuegos is a charming Cuban town on the south-central coast.


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The city center is the natural place to begin your exploration of Cienfuegos. Blessed with beautiful French colonial architecture and attractive streets, the city center of Cienfuegos has been a UNESCO world heritage site since The beaches around the city have the reputation of being polluted and dirty, but certainly, the severity of this depends on the season. In the dry season, it might not be so bad. Bring your A-game. Cubans really know how to cut a rug. Trinidad is another Cuban city that makes you feel like you woke up in a different decade: classic cars and stunning colonial architecture abound.

In the boom years of sugar cane, tobacco, and cattle production often worked by African slaves in the past , the town became very wealthy indeed. The extravagant plazas and brightly painted houses are a reflection of that economic period. Trinidad is an excellent place to keep it simple. One could easily spend days in Trinidad, walking the cobblestone streets, catching live music shows, partying when the sun goes down, or just relaxing in a cafe after hitting up a museum or two.

The Cave Disco Club is a pretty happening spot to catch some nightlife. When the urge arrives to hit the beach, head down the road to Playa Ancon. Be aware that at certain times of the year, the mosquitoes can be fucking terrible at Playa Ancon. I itch just thinking about it. Shady history aside, Playa Larga is a must-visit beach if you are in the area.

Playa Larga is one of the best places in Cuba to go diving. Another fun option for the afternoon is to rent a bike. On one hand, this crocodile farm essentially saved a nearly extinct species of Cuban crocodile. On the other hand though, some are eaten or made into leather handbags. Individual judgment is for you to decide. If you have even the slightest interest in learning about Che Guevara or the Cuban revolution, you will find Santa Clara to be a fascinating place. In addition to being a great museum for all things Che, it is also where Che is buried and home to his mausoleum.

You can take a laid-back tour of the factory and sip locally roasted coffee—cigar in hand— at tours end. Any given night of the week there is something interesting on here. Che Guevara. Why is the Siera Maestra important? The high mountains averaging 4, feet are draped in thick tropical vegetation, mist, and well, plenty of places to hide. To familiarize yourself with the park, you can climb P ico Turquino. A hell of an adventure and epic views of sprawling tropical forest await. There are various routes to choose from to get to the summit—each of which will take you at least days round trip.

Unfortunately, guides are mandatory in order to tackle this hike. I do not have any information about doing this hike independently, other than it is technically forbidden. The police may or may not enforce this. Definitely hike Pico Turquino in the dry season. For music lovers, a night at the Casa de las Tradiciones will be one for the ages. Spend a few hours taking in the scene at the often crowded, smoke-filled bar, and get the essence of what backpacking Cuba is all about. Carnival in Santiago de Cuba July is a real treat. If you happen to be in Cuba during July, plan on spending 10 days in Santiago de Cuba for a marathon period of parades, music, rum, and dancing.

That said, if you just want to hang out in the town center, play some dominoes, and relax on the beach, I understand. The water is a clear turquoise-blue and the vegetation snakes its way up the steep canyon walls in a sea of green and tangled vines. Hiring a boat is the best way to see the canyon and all it has to offer.

For live music, head to the Uneac Club. For one, the island is fairly big and large-scale, wide-spread tourism infrastructure does not exist yet. To get the most out of your backpacking Cuba adventure, getting off the beaten path will allow you to experience life like the locals, which is crucial to understanding and capturing the magic that is Cuba. The wild north coast of Cuba is not heavily trafficked by foreigners, making it a prime candidate for exploration. The small towns and villages in the rugged and remote interior are full of untapped cultural gems and beautiful natural landscapes.

Some of the best beaches in Cuba are not famous and do not see the same tourist hordes as the others. Camping and doing a bit of cooking for yourself is also very crucial to getting off the beaten path in Cuba. If you are self-reliant, you can really discover a whole other side of Cuba.

Cuba is full of hidden gems… get to know some them! There are just a handful of hostels on the island as of now. Though luckily, the hostels that do exist are often found right where you need them, along the Cuba backpacking route. Surprisingly, Havana alone has over hostels! We wrote a guide on the top 20 hostels in Havana, here. Casas Particulares are basically glorified homestays of typically solid and dependable quality and less expensive than hotels. Hotels are without a doubt the most expensive option in Cuba, and a great way to eat a huge hole in your budget.

Couchsurfing is one of the best tools for traveling on a budget. Plus, you are always bound to meet interesting people!

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More on CS later in the article. Airbnb is just starting to catch on in Cuba—mostly in Havana— and you can find some awesome apartments for cheap prices if you need some chill time. Check out our guide on where to stay in Cuba for more information. Wild camping is legal in Cuba; I never heard otherwise. There are plenty of awesome places to pitch your tent. You might find camping to be rather uncomfortable at low elevations on the coast. Cuba is hot and humid and the mosquitoes can be insane!

Coastal camping might prove to be more trouble than it is worth. Pray for a breeze if you wind up camping at the beach! In general, if you pitch your tent around dusk and are gone by 7 am or so, no one should hassle you. The Sierra Maestra is full of awesome camping spots…. That is L a Havana Vieja. Cubans are mad about baseball, their national sport.

Cuba is blessed with some truly excellent scuba diving opportunities. The best part? Diving is affordable in most places! Scuba Diving in Punta Perdiz. Meet a badasstobaccofarmer. Its musical traditions go back centuries. Che Guevara is one of the most important and iconic revolutionary figures from the 20th century. His legacy in Cuba is forever enshrined in his museum in Santa Clara.

Pretty powerful vibes at the Che museum in Santa Clara. Climbing Pico Turquino makes for an awesome few days of trekking.

Vinales and the surrounding area offers up some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Cuba. Fuck yes. Like in most Latin American countries, Carnival is a big deal. Cuba is no different. Come and experience the biggest festival on the island, and remember to pace yourself… it is indeed a marathon.


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Everyone is having a good time at Carnival. Below I have covered a ton of essential information on backpacking Cuba, including books to read, what to wear, backpacking travel costs, and how to travel around Cuba…. Get your copy here. Told in a language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.

It is an espionage thriller, a penetrating character study, and a political satire of government intelligence that still resonates today. Very interesting even if you do not intend on fighting in a revolution. I have read it twice lol. Learning a bit of Spanish is a great way to get the most out of your trip. When I became fluent in Spanish, it really changed the way I was able to travel in Cuba and beyond. It is such a useful language to know!

You can speak it in over 20 countries! I am pleased to report that Cuba is one of the safest countries to visit in all of Latin America. Certainly, in terms of other Caribbean nations like Jamaica for example , Cuba is super safe. I have heard very little about backpackers being the targets of pick pockets, and even less so of violent crime pretty much unheard of. Maybe this safety situation is partly due to the extreme and authoritarian nature of the Castro regime spanning the last 50 years. If you are planning to rent a motorbike, always wear a helmet! Jineteros are dudes that will offer to take you to the closest casa particular…with a catch.

For even more inspiration have a look at my in-depth review of the best travel money belts for backpackers. I strongly recommend traveling with a headlamp whilst in Cuba or anywhere really — every backpacker should have a good headtorch! We use it on our own adventures to purify often nasty looking water and it does a beautiful job — we have yet to get sick! Drug laws in Cuba are severe.

Meet Cuban-born anthropologist Ruth Behar, this year’s Stroum Lecturer

Whilst you can get a way with smoking a joint or two, even buying weed can be risky. People may try to sell you cocaine that actually ends up being laundry powder! The obvious drug of choice in Cuba is alcohol. I suggest that if you Couchsurf or befriend a local whom you TRUST, inquire where you might be able to discreetly buy a little pot. Get travel insurance! Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside — you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off.

This is hands down the best way to hide your cash. Pocket Blanket : This lightweight, waterproof, super compact pocket blanket is a must for all adventures. Doubling up as an emergency poncho, this picnic blanket is worth its weight in gold when chilling, or camping, on the beach. It comes with a carabiner, a secret zipped pocket where you can hide stuff and pocket loops which you can weigh down using stones. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff. As Cuba is a Caribbean island, it enjoys fairly mild weather year round…with a few exceptions. Hurricane season in Cuba is NOT to be underestimated. That said, you will find lower prices and fewer tourists in September and October.

Also you could be lucky and have long stretches of fine weather save for a little bit of rain. Get your haggle game ready and you can score some seriously good deals on things like car rentals, accommodation, and food. Pick up a good rain jacket , especially if you plan on visiting during the hurricane season. Having a waterproof backpack does have its advantages as well.

This app is definitely for you. My favorite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking Cuba. It is a great help while calculating expenses. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages. Surprisingly though, there are 10 international airport in Cuba! That said, flying into Havana will be the cheapest option.

All travelers to Cuba must possess a valid passport, a return ticket, travel insurance policy with medical coverage, and a visa or tourist visa.