I just got back from a Ciao Bambino scouting trip to Cuba, and this destination far exceeded my expectations in many different ways. Cuba is one of the last Communist countries to open up; despite its location just 90 miles from Florida, it could not be more a more foreign experience for families. Other than the 1950s vintage cars, there are essentially no American brands reminding visitors of home or other destinations inundated by Starbucks et al. Given that travelers spend much of their time in countries visiting museums to see artifacts of the past, Cuba, in contrast, provides an opportunity to see a real version of the past in action.
After the Communist revolution in 1959, Cuba was isolated from the rest of the world except for a few key allies. To that end, development came to a standstill. From the historic architecture spanning centuries to rural traditions like using a horse and buggy for transportation, the feeling of going back in time is palpable and fascinating. Tourism to Cuba is on the rise and this development will inevitably shift the unique opportunity to experience Cuba in its historic stage. Time is of in the essence! Get to Cuba with kids now.
Cuba provides an unbelievable educational opportunity for families, but it’s also just plain fun: incredible people, a vibrant music and arts scene, and a beautiful coastline with all the associated beach vacation joys. Here’s a look at the highlights that make Cuba a fantastic family travel destination:
People-to-people may be part of the official visa check box when you go, but it’s not just administrative protocol; the chance to forge deep bonds with the Cuban people is absolutely a highlight of this destination. Cubans are open to sharing their stories and life experiences with visitors. Americans in particular are new to Cuba in the last 50 or so years. The opportunity to break bread with the people of a nation after a period of intense negative government relations is incredible and invaluable. We all know that a government isn’t always representative of the people and vice versa. Whole families have the opportunity to learn this critical life lesson together in an indelible way in Cuba.
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The lack of private enterprise over the past several decades slowed the pace of modernization in Cuba. As the country has been politically and economically isolated, the sheer lack of raw materials and imports has deeply impacted their ability to grow and innovate. And the lack of private disposable income has meant that people do what is viable from a cost perspective. Horses, for example, are still a primary source of transportation in the countryside. Ox-led carts are still used to plow fields. Tobacco is harvested, dried and rolled by hand. It’s incredible to see how Cuban traditions have remain unchanged by time.
The Internet is still scarce. It’s not in private homes and only available in the larger hotels and public squares. While this can be a source of travel frustration, it’s likewise a optimal “be unplugged” travel opportunity. Cuba must be one of the few places in the whole world where people aren’t running around staring at their phones all the time.
Cuba is incredibly poor. This is not a land of have and have nots, but a land of have nots … and because of that, there is a deep sense of community between the Cubans. They share with one another and with strangers alike. They feed a neighbor if they need food; if someone needs a ride, they hitchhike, and this is an expected and appreciated part of their society. Of course, we only engaged with the Cuban people who chose to stay in Cuba, not those who chose to leave, but we were struck by the resolve to make the most of life — however difficult — and their resiliency as expressed through their art and music. And the joy for life there is contagious.
Visiting Cuba isn’t just about showing your kids poverty, but showing your kids how people make the best of their circumstances and rise above them.
We have our American version of the history with Cuba, and they have theirs. The truth is somewhere in between the politicized versions that have been distributed in each country, but irrespective of which version is most accurate, the fact of the matter is that Cuba plays an very important role in American history including who we are, what and why we’ve made geopolitical decisions, and where we are going in the future. What families can learn in Cuba is invaluable and will enhance their perspective and understanding of world politics.
Cuba reminded me of Italy in that a big part of the tourist fun is just being there and watching daily life happen around you. In fact, I will recommend that all of our client itineraries incorporate plenty of unstructured time in addition to touring and sightseeing. Cuba also has a stunning coastline with snorkeling and diving opportunities for families who want to combine the best of a cultural trip with a beach trip.
The resort infrastructure is still a work in progress in Cuba, but our ground partner has a ready list of the best beach options that we can book for families. Ready to visit Cuba? We’re ready to plan a vacation of a lifetime for you!
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received media rates to explore Cuba for families. As always, all opinions are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy.
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