If you want to experience this Caribbean island and its culture while both are still authentic, don’t wait for Washington to drop its anachronistic embargo. Go now.
After 54 years, a US embargo designed in part to discourage Americans from traveling to Cuba still clings to life, defiant in the face of logic, failure and common sense.
Still, it seems inevitable that this foreign-policy T-Rex will go the way of all dinosaurs. And when it does, Americans will be able to visit Havana as easily as they now can visit Moscow, Beijing, Tehran or the capital of any other nation whose policies have Washington “throwing shade.”
It’s just a matter of time.
There is a school of thought, however, that says you shouldn’t wait for that. Especially if you want to see Cuba in her most authentic form.
For all our love of travel, we understand that mass-market tourism can have dramatic — and not always positive — impacts on the culture of a nation, on its atmosphere, its “vibe,” if you will.
And ultimately, on its authenticity.
There are still people in Mexico who can tell you what places like Acapulco, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Huatulco or Manzanillo were like before the sprawling resorts, high-rise hotels, upscale restaurants and trendy nightspots swept over the landscape.
It’s all lovely, comfy, glitzy, sexy and fun — but is it real? This is an ongoing discussion, even argument, within the travel industry.
Mass-market tourism has an unfortunate way of turning wonderful destinations, especially the tropical locations with long coastlines, into over-sized cultural theme parks. Disneyland with booze and beach towels.
What’s worse, says this school of thought, is that as the landscape changes under the influence of mass-market tourism, so do the people. As mass-market tourism changes their world, they pour into the service jobs that tourism generates.
In many case, that means putting on a sort of cultural “show” for the masses of tourists. It all feels artificial, less a cultural experience than a mercenary exercise.
And sometimes, as they deal with ever larger numbers of tourists, genuine local warmth and hospitality become casualties.
Mass-market tourism is not a villain. Nobody intends for these things to happen. But happen they do, quite often.
And I’ve met more than a few people anxious to see Cuba before it all happens there.
But I promise you, the changes she’s seeing already are only a forestaste of what’s in store.
Now, it’s not as if nobody visits Cuba today because of the embargo. The country has had substantial numbers of visitors from around the world for many years.
But those numbers will pale to insignificance when Washington lifts its embargo against Havana.
American visitors will descend on the island like a human tsunami,a replay of the Oklahoma Land Rush, only with airliners, cruise ships and pleasure boats instead of covered wagons.
Some impacts, like the ones elsewhere that we’ve mentioned above, are easy to anticipate. Others are beyond imagination. All will be profound. Both for better and perhaps worse, pre-embargo Cuba will neither look or feel like post-embargo Cuba.
So if you have any desire to see what Cuba is like before that tsunami arrives, you might want to seriously consider planning a visit in the near future.
If you want to do that legally, there are licensed travel organizations in the United States offering cultural “people-to-people” visits and tours to Cuba.
If you’d rather thumb your nose at the embargo, there are travel outlets in Mexico and Canada that will help you do that, too. And thousands of Americans do that every year.
Either way, if it’s a culturally unspoiled Cuba you want to experience, time may not be on your side. Because the moment the embargo comes down, that Cuba is likely to become an endangered species.