46 ideal-LIVING.com ideal-LIVING • WINTER 2017
live in Florida and could drive the four hours to the Port
of Miami, so a cruise held a lot of appeal. A number of
people on the ship expressed the same push for traveling to Cuba now: they wanted to see Cuba before it was
“changed” by the in;ux of Americans. (As an aside, the
cost for the week-long cruise, including taxes and daily
tips, was about $3,500 for the two of us; we booked a
room with a large window.)
The Ports: Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago
Our ;rst stop, Havana, is a walkable and vibrant capital
city, as well as a UNESCO heritage site. ;ere are lots of
classic and pristine American cars (most of the cars’ seats
were covered in plastic – the ones we saw were taxis), and
the buildings and churches are in various stages of re-pair/disrepair. We toured four major squares in Havana;
visited the Colon Cemetery, founded in 1876, complete
with elaborate mausoleums and vaults housing notable
“residents” and were told about their interesting stories/
legends; and ate lunch at an open-air government-owned
restaurant (complete with mojitos, of course!). By the
way, all our city tours with our Cuban guides were included in the ship’s fare.
Cienfuegos, nicknamed “Pearl of the South,” is a
UNESCO Heritage site and a major port in Cuba. ;is
city of 100,000 is quaint and charming, and we enjoyed
a walking tour, a private musical performance in the
Tomas Terry ;eater, and a delicious lunch at a family-owned restaurant (called a paladare) in a private home.
In Santiago de Cuba we visited the famous San Juan Hill,
of Teddy Roosevelt fame; explored a 1637 Spanish Fort,
Castillo del Morro (designated a UNESCO Heritage
site); enjoyed a rum tasting; and visited a community
How will American in;uence change Cuba and its
government, which is de;ned as an independent socialist republic that is controlled by the Cuban Communist
Party? Interesting times are ahead for the Cuban people,
and Fidel Castro’s death on November 25, 2016 and the
U.S. Presidential election adds additional layers of uncertainty. We’d like to return for another visit in several
years. Some describe Cuba as 90 miles away and 50 years
in the past. I’m pretty con;dent that description is going
to change. Consider a trip to Cuba to decide for yourself.
Here are some interesting tidbits we observed,
learned from our guides, and/or picked up
from our interactions with the Cuban people:
• The average salary in Cuba is $20-$40/month
(I found this shockingly low).
• Cubans are given coupon books based on the
size of their family that they can exchange for
items such as cooking oil, rice, and beans for very
inexpensive rates at a government store. The
coupon books only cover about half of their food
• Medical care is free (when I looked up the statistics, the U.S. ranks 37th and Cuba ranks 39th
in the World Health Organization’s ranking of 190
countries on quality of health care).
• Education is free (the literacy rate is 99.8% in
Cuba compared to 99% in the U.S., according to
• Cubans, like Americans, hope to benefit from
the increased tourism (Cubans especially like the
tourist industry because they can keep the tips).
• Cuba brought more than 800,000 slaves to work
on the sugar plantations; this is more than twice
the number of slaves that were brought to the
United States. Slavery was abolished in 1866.
• The largest organized religion in Cuba is Roman
Catholic; Santeria is also widely practiced. Santeria is an Afro-Cuban religion that melds the West
African religion of the former slaves with Roman
• Privately owned restaurants are on the rise, as
well as other privately-owned businesses in Cuba.
The Communist hold on businesses is definitely
• Cuba has a dual currency: CUPs, Cuban Pesos,
which is the local currency; and CUCs, Cuban
Convertible Pesos, which are used by tourists.
CUCs are 25X the value of a CUP. Needless to say,
Cubans love that tourists pay and tip in CUCs.