Argentines Walter Olivera and Rubí Barnatan visit Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewees

International visitors appreciate being able to stroll freely through safe cities of the island, a far cry from the violence of armed groups or criminals seen in other parts of the world.

Juliana Maria de Araujo, from Brazil, visited the Caribbean island from January 17 - February 5, 2015, as a member of the 22nd Latin American Solidarity Brigade with Cuba, based at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp, located in the municipality of Caimito, and noted that she had no worries when visiting the nearby town of Guayabal.

After completing the brigade program, she rented a room in the capital where she stayed for one week. “I never felt scared, it always seemed safe going out, both during the day and at night. It’s a positive experience which demonstrates the culture and advanced political education of Cuban citizens,” she stated in email correspondence with Granma International.

Argentine couple Beto Saraco and Laura Burkhardt, planned their own trip around the island in March 2016, during which they rented rooms in Cuban homes, and visited the cities of Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Santa Clara.

They described their visit as very pleasant, noting incredible experiences.
Laura recalled the time they met a fisherman on Ancón beach who they spoke to for several hours. Later he invited them to a dinner of freshly grilled fish. The fisherman’s home was very basic, but they were treated with great affection and his family shared their table with the tourists as if they were old acquaintances.

Beto Saraco and Laura Burkhardt from Argentina, described their experience in Cuba as incredible. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewees

Beto Saraco tells of his experience: “We walked more than eight hours every day, resting at places we found on the way. We preferred to eat breakfast at the B&Bs so we could talk to the families. We would trace our route for the day and they would clear up any doubts we had.

The families would help us get the things we needed to get to different places, and gave us advice about free things to do. We never faced any problems. We would ask people in the street for directions, and they would always respond patiently and give good advice. We took buses, trucks, horse drawn carts, and hardly any taxis.”

Both described Cubans as welcoming.

Another Argentine couple, Walter Olivera and Rubí Barnatan, traveled to the island on December 30, 2015, in order to enjoy the New Year celebrations, visiting Havana, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Morón, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa. They were eager to learn about life on the island, speak with the people and tour historic and cultural sites in order to better understand the political processes of the Revolution.

They also stayed in B&Bs and designed their own itinerary. The couple noted experiences, which from their perspective and in contrast to other countries, seemed extraordinary. For example: “There are no protective screens in the currency exchange offices or at ATMs. There is no need to prevent people from seeing you withdraw money, because you don’t run the risk of being assaulted or robbed.”

The two also visited the country at a time of increased tourist arrivals, which has led to a scarcity of rooms in B&B’s and hotels. They saw many foreign visitors in squares and parks at night, and as such, also noted a police presence in those places, in order to ensure everyone remained safe.

The two Argentine teachers also participated in the March of the Torches in Havana, an annual parade by students, held January 27, on the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Cuban national hero and independence fighter, José Martí, which also sees members of the Armed Forces and law enforcement authorities marching alongside students, not as a repressive force, but as participants.

Juliana Maria de Araujo (center) with other members of the 22nd Latin American Solidarity with Cuba Brigade, visiting the island from January-February 2015. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee

June Abarrategui and Cristian Varela from Bilbao, Spain, visited the Cuban capital, Viñales Valley, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara and spent a few days in Cayo Guillermo, traveling on the Viazul bus service and in shared taxis. In order to become more familiar with the island, they planned excursions into city centers.

“We got a friendly response from everyone when asking for directions, some even took it upon themselves to give us more details to help us better understand,” stated Cristian, a chauffeur for 31 years. “The B&B owners were always willing to help, even if we had to get up really early or if we came back late at night. They were instantly willing to assist us no matter the time or the weather,” he noted.

His 27 year old partner June, a seasonal gastronomy sector worker, explained that they had previously visited other Latin American countries, where locals would repeatedly warn them about crime, creating a sense of fear in tourists. They noticed that in the big cities in Latin America, houses are protected with high walls, fences and even security guards, to prevent people from breaking in.

In Cuba however, they saw open windows, people chatting to their neighbors on the sidewalks, children playing in squares, reflecting the sociable nature of the people.

Cristian added that although an inability to speak Spanish could be considered a barrier, the dynamics of Cuban society are such that tourists can get by without difficulty. “I would advise people to come with a backpack, be willing to have different experiences, forget about the stress of daily life and make it up as you go,” he stated.