Day 226 – Rural Cuba and tourism

2009/04/23 § Leave a comment


While the countryside to the west of Habana in itself is beautiful an enjoyable the circumstances under which the towns here have been developed are not. Viñales is one of the so called tourist “musts”, but that turns out rather negative. The problem with the place simply is that it is as authentic Cuban as Cuba is authentically communistic. Not really quite at all- in case I have to spell it out.

Some three hundred family homes offering accommodation in a place that only feels like 350 families in total and dozens of offers to ride, hike or bike the areas, along with access to the sea not too far away make the place easy access for tourists. This understandably kills a lot of atmosphere though. The family homes are not too expensive (some for 15 CUC- about 13 €). But they all try to sell you extras as dinner, lunch, breakfast, water, tours, transportation to somewhere and so on. Seems nice at first, but when looking at the guest book at my family house, most complaints are about the price and some hidden charges (like that they serve dinner for 8 CUC but then add some CUC extra for water and other things assumed to be included).

I know that I might come across as winy telling about it, but I assume that someone out there wants to do a Cuba trip and might want to know the details. I get the feeling that some here restrain themselves from almost any type of criticism. I am not sure if it is due to sympathy with the suppressed Cuban people (which I share), or some kind of ideological blindness (cannot criticize the last carrier of the political idea you love so much?) or maybe simply because people coming here often have quite a lot of money and simply cannot be bothered by it (while some of us obviously do have to care)?

Whatever it is, beware. I would not really recommend Viñales too much. That means it is OK, when considering that you may just be on a holiday and not a long trip as me. In that case I am sure you can find some relaxation here and some nice experiences too. If you are into horseback riding through the agricultural region here you will be pleased. If you like some walks or a day-trip to the beaches north or south you should be happy as well. If you though, as I did, plan to dive, again be aware of the prices.

Transportation can easily cost 50 € or more for a day-trip and that does not include the diving (an extra 42 € per dive). I decided to instead go to do an organized hike (10 €) and see some farms. It was great to see how they grow tobacco and how cigars are made. We watched the hand rolling of cigars, drank some local alcohol mix, smoked hand rolled cigar and got to eat some exotic fruits. To many peoples annoyance though none of the tastings were really included in the price of 10 €. Asking for tips is a constant companion.

You cannot blame the locals for that. If what our guide told us is true, then he receives 18 CUC per month as payment, while our group payed some 130 CUC for this one tour, meaning that just the tours might make them some 4000 CUC a month! The rest, it seems, pays salaries of a few office employees and the guide (4000 € minus ca. 70 €) , the rest goes to Fidel again. I can see that, when talking to people a bit more in private, frustration is huge. Our guide for example was educated botanist and had studies botany for many years at university level.

While Fidel still is some kind of hero, and you see propaganda constantly (telling you how great it all is, and that the revolution may live long) it sure smells as this experiment is coming to an end. Fidel’s Cuba already seizes to exist in peoples heads. At the latest after Fidel’s death, which is going to be soon, the real Cuba will follow peoples inner image.

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