Cuba is the promise of a unique trip. A heritage shaped by the twists and turns of an atypical history, where Cuba of Yesterday and Today shape an imaginary between myth and reality…. Visiting Cuba means being confronted with a country difficult to understand and to explain.
However, to ensure the preservation of the Cuban heritage and the development of a sustainable economy, tourism must take into account the realities of the country.
So, how to understand the Cuban enigma? How can we develop a sustainable tourism that will be profitable for Cubans and that will allow the promotion and conservation of their heritage?
To find it out, we have met Bruno Menu and Bérénice Ferrentino from R-EVOLUTION CUBA, the travel agency that puts its energy into the discovery of the “real” Cuba, emphasizing on the incredible creativity of the Cubans more than on the “everything that’s missing”.
It is often said that it is the knowledge of the past that allows us to understand our present. Of course, it is impossible to tell the history of Cuba in this article.
However, understanding Cuba means being able to develop a tourism that is in tune with the issues of the island and its inhabitants. However, understanding Cuba means being able to develop a tourism that is in tune with the issues of the island and its inhabitants.
The history of Cuba does not begin in 1492. However, historians know just a few things about the people who lived on the island before the arrival of the first Spanish settlers.
The colonization has left a strong architectural heritage.
Discovering colonial cities classified as UNESCO sites, such as Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey or the city centers of Havana and Cienfuegos is a must to understand Cuba.
The tourism development of this architecture and its classification in UNESCO, allow to create an object worthy of interest and therefore worthy of being protected and preserved.
Trinidad and its colonial architecture, its colorful houses, ©️R-EVOLUTION CUBA
Cuban history is also the history of slavery. Sustainable tourism is part of this duty of remembrance.
In the Trinidad area, for example, you can visit old sugar cane plantations to understand this history.
Old sugar plantation, ©️R-EVOLUTION CUBA
The other heir of slavery is the cultural mixing. Today, it makes the richness of the country. It can be found in many aspects of Cuban culture, such as religion and music. For example, the son (the music of Buena Vista Social Club), mixes Spanish musical characteristics with Afro-Cuban music.
Musicians in Havana, ©️R-EVOLUTION CUBA
💡Did you know ? 💡
Cuba celebrates Santería, a religion that blends Christianity and Yoruba, a West African belief.
On May 20, 1902, Cuba becomes independent. It is the end of four centuries of colonization. In 1952, with the support of the CIA, the dictator Fulgencio Batista comes to power and Cuba becomes the paradise and refuge of the mafia: gambling, prostitution, drugs, etc.
In 1959, revolutionaries overthrew the dictatorship. Fidel Castro breaks with the United States and gradually moves closer to the USSR in terms of economic cooperation: redistribution of agricultural land, free health and education, etc.
In 1962, the United States put in place an embargo that still weighs heavily on the lives of Cubans : supply difficulties, food shortages, communication problems with the outside world…
This history has shaped the philosophy of life, the unique and offbeat culture, which makes Cuba such a difficult enigma to understand.
To talk about Cuba, some authors and journalists use the term “Cuban paradox”.
But what does it mean? We asked the team of R-EVOLUTION CUBA.
On the one hand, Cuba is a paradise island, perfect for the tourism of sol y playa. On the other hand, Cuba is a country that in many aspects seems to have being frozen in time.
The R-EVOLUTION CUBA team assures us: going to Cuba puts the priorities back in place, shows us what is essential.
In Cuba, the paradox is that you have nothing but you give everything.
In a previous article with R-EVOLUTION CUBA, we explained the origin of the Cuban permaculture, nowadays put in tourism.
Cuba has exported permaculture to the Western countries: a practice that is becoming popular for ethical and ecological reasons. But the reasons for its appearance in Cuba are quite different.
“During the Cold War, Cuba traded “grey materials for raw materials” with the Eastern bloc. When the wall came down, this stopped and Cuba entered the “especial” period. “The Cubans developed compost because there was no more fertilizer. They brought back oxcarts because there was no more fuel and permaculture was born on the roofs of buildings and houses.”
Urban farms in the form of cooperatives, like the Soviet kolkhozes (cooperatives) and sovkhozes (state farms), have bloomed all over the country.
Today, we can visit them, take part in a day’s work, share a meal at the farm, taste their cheeses, feast at a country dinner, etc.
This rural heritage is important in Cuba because the territory has little wealth. A little bit of sugar cane, tobacco, honey…
Sugar Cane ©️R-EVOLUTION CUBA
💡Did you know ?💡
The economic crisis and famine that Cuba went through in the 1990s after the fall of the USSR is called the “special period”.
💡Did you know ?💡
Without pesticides because of the embargo, Cuban honey is one of the best in the world. A gourmet and sustainable gift idea to bring back from your trip!
Everyone knows the Buena Vista Social Club, the salsa and reggaeton of Gente De Zona…But no more.
However, the specificities of Cuban culture encourage the emergence of a creativity that seems limitless.
A multitude of local socio-cultural initiatives are being set up. A sustainable trip to Cuba can support them. As these artists and initiatives are not well known, we asked Bruno and Bérénice what’s their favorites.
Cuba is a breeding ground of unknown talents that we want our clients to discover.
An old oil factory bought by the artist X Alfonso and converted into a cultural center. The place is equipped with dance and music stages, restaurants, 5 bars and modern art galleries (sculpture, photography, handicrafts) that change every quarter. A real springboard for Cuban artists.
In the 1990s, the artist Salvador Gonzalez Escalona transformed this Havana street into a Mecca of Cuban street art: graffiti, works of recycled materials, etc. On Sunday afternoons, the street becomes a symbol of African heritage. Santeros come for celebrations where rumba and religious festivities are mixed. “It’s not part of the tourist circuit, but it’s undeniably a heritage to discover to understand Cuba.”
The Office of History of Havana deals with the promotion and regulation of socio-cultural projects.
R-EVOLUTION CUBA gives us the successful example of the Convento de Belém, a social service organization specialized in the care of the elderly (workshops to help women, create wheelchairs, etc.). The project is financed by the Oficina del Historiador and by money from tourism. A good example of what sustainable tourism can do for people.
Depending on the interests of the travelers, the R-EVOLUTION CUBA team can provide a moment of meeting and exchange with the holders of these projects.
In Cuba, no cultural agenda, no advertising…
But the strength of R-EVOLUTION CUBA is its local presence with a team based in Havana.
A daily fieldwork that led to the opening of a concierge service that makes it easier to access the country’s cultural and artistic events.
The agency’s team updates the agenda of different exhibitions, concerts, ballets… which allows travelers to enjoy an experience that they might have missed without access to this advice.
At the beginning of this article, we asked how to understand the Cuban enigma, how to develop a tourism that would be profitable for Cubans and that would allow the promotion and conservation of their heritage?
Although this may seem rather easy to you, we want to answer: by doing sustainable tourism!
The first advice when planning a trip to Cuba is to put away in a drawer the codes that govern our “European” way of life. We can ironically use the expression of some tourists who say “It’s not like back home!
Because of misconceptions and the lack of information, many people refuse to visit the country. That is why we must continue to promote the “real” Cuba, a country that is adapting to the present time, that has much to offer.
A sustainable trip to Cuba means coming with an open mind and the desire to understand the realities of the country and to protect its rich heritage. It means meeting its inhabitants, its actors of sustainable development. It means ensuring that your money goes directly to the local population, paid at a fair price.
Founded in 2006, R-EVOLUTION CUBA is a travel agency that invites you to discover the Cuba of its inhabitants. Against the current, the agency proposes to live a Cuban experience beyond the clichés generally proposed. The trips evolve along with the country thanks to a strong local presence with a double location Lyon – Havana.