Cuba has always been a curious destination. This curiosity might have arisen because of the island’s reputation, of being an unknown quantity just a surprisingly short distance from the coast of Florida. The glorious heat of the island contradicted its place in the Cold War, and it wasn’t until the Obama administration that diplomatic relations were formally restored.
And so it became easier for Americans (or indeed, anyone traveling directly from the US) to satisfy their curiosity, to see this magnificent destination that was sitting almost literally on their doorstep. American visitors were finally getting to easily experience the warm welcome that Cuba is known for.
2017 has been a trying year for the island, and there have been a few developments that might lead to some hesitation as to whether or not you should actually make the trip. The US State Department has in fact issued a travel warning advising US citizens and residents not to go to Cuba, which is unusual given the fact that country has traditionally been seen as one of the safest in the world (almost no incidences of violent crime).
Is there really anything that should cause you to reconsider your travel plans to Cuba, or is it all much ado about nothing?
When Hurricane Irma wreaked her mayhem in late summer 2017, it was nothing short of a tragedy. The northern coast of Cuba was right in the firing line, as were many other Caribbean islands and the US mainland. It’s a logical thing to consider, whether you should still travel to a destination that has been affected by a significant natural disaster. A huge amount of Cuba’s economy is dependent on the tourism sector, and so it’s not as though infrastructure relevant to tourism is going to be left to its own devices.
The Cuban government took the interesting step of broadcasting on Facebook Live, making the announcement that the country was still open for business, despite Irma’s impact. It also shows how much of a role the internet is beginning to play in Cuban life, a remarkable change from just a few years ago.
Cuba was expecting to play host to just under 5 million foreign tourists in 2017, although this number might be adjusted downwards in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and with the implementation of the State Department’s travel warning. The clean up was swift, and in the major towns and cities, exhaustive. Aside from some road closures along the Malecon, visitors to Havana in the weeks post-Irma wouldn’t have noticed much disruption to their activities.
It was mainly Cuba’s northern Cuban cayos (islets) which were hit hard, and recovery efforts there continue. Havana and the rest of the beautiful countryside such as Vinales, Trinidad, Cienfuegos Santa Clara, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba to name a few, fully recovered. Nearly 100% of Havana’s tourist destinations, including Old Havana sites, cafes, private restaurants, and nightlife are restored and back in business!
If you’re at all concerned about your planned trip to Cuba, you might want to make contact with your travel provider to confirm that it is in fact business as usual. After the destruction of such a potent natural disaster, the money that tourism brings to a country like Cuba is needed more than ever, and so it shouldn’t be a reason to delay or cancel your trip. Those who do make the trip can benefit from those who don’t. Key areas of interest might be less crowded than they ordinarily might be at this time of the year.
A natural disaster can be a solid reason for a government to issue a travel warning against a country, but the US State Department’s reason for doing this is related to another matter entirely. It’s a curious, unexplained matter, and while interesting, it’s probably insufficient grounds for you to reconsider your trip to Cuba.
Some US diplomats serving in Cuba have noticed some rather odd things. It’s as though they can hear a sound so loud that it’s agonizing. If they walk a few steps, it stops, like some kind of invisible barrier. This has only affected them while they’re at work, or in their official residences. It’s a true mystery, and much of what has been discussed is pure speculation. A theory is that some kind of precise sonic weapon has been used on US diplomats by persons unknown. The US has, in fact, recalled a number of their diplomatic staff from Cuba, and expelled a small number of Cuban diplomats to protest against the seeming lack of protection offered to their staff while on Cuban soil.
The mystery of the supposed weapon makes protection difficult, and it’s difficult to consider why the Cuban government would attempt any such measures after the resumption of economically beneficial diplomatic relations. The Cuban government is at a loss to explain the incidents, as are the US government, although oddly, the US State Department implemented a travel warning at the end of September 2017, when the first sonic incidents were reported in late 2016. It’s unclear whether there is any kind of political motivation behind the events, and it might be that a third party is using Havana as a staging ground for a sonic weapon.
It might also be the case that the events are all some kind of unexplained phenomenon, and are not the results of a targeted weapon at all. The travel warning against Cuba is a cautious, though unexpected political reaction to such a curious set of circumstances. It shouldn’t deter the average citizen from visiting Cuba, since whether by design or by accident, it has only been diplomatic staff who were affected.
Please bear in mind the following:
- US travelers to Cuba will still have access to visas as the reports of the embassy ceasing issuance of visas is related to Cuban citizens visiting the U.S.
- The U.S. Foreign Service Association, the powerful union that represents U.S. diplomats around the world, opposes any decision to withdraw diplomats from Cuba. The U.S. Travel Association opposes the travel warning.
- The reason for the travel warning: mysterious sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats, were first reported over one year ago under the Obama administration. Cuban authorities responded immediately to open an investigation and invited the U.S. government to cooperate.
- None of the 500,000 U.S. travelers to Cuba this year have reported similar health issues.
So while 2017 has been an interesting year for Cuba, the events of the year don’t mean that you need to reconsider your travel plans.
Cuba is ready to embrace you with the warmth and passion it is famous for.
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