Without getting into the politics of Cuba or the rights and wrongs of the Castro regime, there are some very good reasons why NOW is the best time to visit Cuba.
Following the recent relaxation of the US embargo on Cuba, things are likely to change swiftly and part of its charm is its shabby decaying chaotic vibrant structure that is visible now.
There is a big Unesco-led programme which is renovating the crumbling buildings of Cuba, and especially those in Havana. These old apartment blocks, grand mansions and the cobbled back streets are very carefully and painstakingly slowly being returned to their former glory. In its heyday Cuba must have been a cacophony of Colonial splendour. The old city of Cartagena in Colombia gives a glimpse of how Havana must have once looked before the Cuban capital began to crumble to dust. (click here for pictures of the splendid Cartagena)
Along with the falling down buildings, the vintage cars on the streets of Havana attract photographers in their thousands. Beautiful to look at and a memory of times long gone, old Chevrolets, Buicks and Plymouths cruise around, offering rides as unofficial taxis or, more often than not, are propped up on bricks as spare parts are currently impossible to come by.
A peek into a pre-globalisation world
What is quite striking are the lack of signs attracting you to eat at the local Western style restaurants or hoardings advertising fast food or fizzy drinks. Unlike other countries which have a homogomous mix of everything and many high streets all look alike, in Cuba you really feel that you are somewhere very different without the all-consuming consumerism and greed for materialism which is everywhere.
As the political situation changes then Cuba is almost bound to become like any other place in the world so the best time to visit Cuba has to be sooner rather than later.
Low crime levels
Crime levels are much lower than in other cities around the world, although this is not to say that crime is non-existent. Heavy penalties and policing deter many, and there are eyes everywhere in the form of informers. Another factor is that much of life is lived outside. Because of the heat and humidity, overcrowded living conditions and simply a love to sit outside and natter to the neighbours, there are very few places that are unobserved and therefore people think twice before committing a crime
Higher happiness levels
People express their happiness through music, dance and socialising. They promenade along the malecon, sit and chat in bars and parks and work together as a community. There is a Caribbean vibrancy to life – but let us not beat about the bush, it can be a tough life for many people.
I toured around Cuba in the spring of 2013. I flew out to Havana and I joined a small adventure tour group, visiting a lot of the island.
I trekked up into the mountain jungle region where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara holed up during the revolution and I slept outside on the verandas of haciendas. I adored the picturesque towns of Trinidad, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba and I drank my body weight in mojitos.
After the tour ended, I stayed behind and I lived in a casa particular with a Cuban family in the suburbs for four more days.
The best time to visit Cuba – before it changes
Cuba is a fascinating island with fascinating people BUT a lot of them live in substandard homes which are leaking or falling down around them. Cars break down regularily and the roads are atrocious with massive potholes and a very poor public transport system.
As tourists we want to see the vintage cars but be honest, if you had the choice between a rusty, unreliable heap of metal or a gleaming Chinese model (because of the US embargo the Chinese are in) – which would you choose to run your family around in?
Would you opt to take a donkey cart to the shops or jump on a bus or a tram? Would you want to struggle with the ration system in very poorly stocked shops or take your children out to a burger bar for a hamburger, fries and a shake?