months after Hurricane Irma, Cuba is ready for tourists
been four months since Hurricane Irma slammed into the
Caribbeanís Leeward Islands, Cuba and the Florida Keys
leaving catastrophic damage in its wake in Anguilla, Barbuda,
St. Martin, and both the Cuban and Florida keys.
storm caused 163 deaths including 10 in Cuba, where Irmaís
impact was hardest felt in the resort regions of Cayo
Santa Maria, Cayo Coco and Veradero.
been there with my boys last May, I was most interested
in the stormís inpact on Cayo Santa Maria, but also the
capital city of Havana. And so it is under that premise
that I decided to visit the island shortly after New Yearís
Ė not that I needed a reason to visit Cuba in the dead
was only coindence that while I was away Ottawa was hit
by record low temperatures. My traveling companion this
time around was Chantal who I have known for years and
was eager to return to a place she hadnít been to in nearly
itinerary was similar to the one I kept in May with planned
visits to Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Cayo Santa
Maria which we saved for last.
Cuba is doing surprisingly well considering it is one
of the poorest countries in the Caribbean and still under
an economic embargo by the United States.
is completely back to normal, as are most other cities
in the country. Thatís a far cry from nearby Puerto Rico,
where 40 per cent of the population in the American territory
are still without power four months after being hit by
biggest issue is the ongoing drop in tourism. While thousands
of Canadians have returned to the islandís resorts, the
numbers are still way down from a year ago.
the Starfish resort in Cayo Santa Maria where Chantal
and I stayed, they had 1,200 registered guests during
the second weekend in January last year. This year they
had just over 800 registered guests. Thatís a 30 per cent
difference that is felt by everyone from the chambermaids
to the servers, to the artisans in the nearby marketplace.
we went we heard the same message from our Airbnb hosts
to the restaurtanteurs, to the taxi drivers and market
artisans Ė Cuba is back in business.
if it wasnít for a tour of the more damaged section of
the Starfish resort where we stayed, I didnít notice any
difference between the Cuba I visited in May and the post-Irma
Cuba I visited on our trip.
food in the privately-run restaurants was still amazing,
the hospitality of the people we met was off the charts,
and the beach at Cayo Santa Maria, which among the most
beautiful in the world, was still 99.9 per cent intact.
was nice to see that our flight from Montreal to Santa
Clara was full, as have many of the flights from Canada
since Christmas Ė but not all. So if you are thinking
of taking a trip south this winter to escape the Great
White North and have yet to formalize your plans, I canít
recomend Cuba enough.
is offering discounts of up to 60 per cent. Transat has
deals up to 30 per cent and Air Canada has a deal where
the second person booking can get up to 50 per cent off
the price of their package.
for my own trip, I will get into the details in my next
column. But for now I can tell you that we werenít disappointed.
stayed at an Airbnb right in the heart of Old Havana,
and while it was a bit noisy especially during the day,
it was well worth it.
second floor room was two blocks away from Calle Obispo,
which is the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the Old Havana
and it was two doors down from 361 Lamparilla, one of
the most original. delicious and outstanding little restaurants
I have ever been to in Cuba, or anywhere else.
you could pick it up and plop it down in the middle of
the Byward Market the patrons would line up around the
block. The biggest attraction, beside the food and the
decor, and the countless little details that make your
visit truly unique, were the servers who were eager to
please with a friendly smile and a willingness to speak
English even if it was in a limited capacity.
special shout out to our server Adame who was an absolute
our first night in Cuba we visited the famed restaurant
El Guarida, which is just south of the old sector. Unfortunately,
when we got there, the place was fully booked so we were
invited to go to the rooftop bar and terrace. Probably
not the best place to be on the coldest night in Havana
which was suffering under the same Polar Vortex as the
rest of the eastern part of North America was last weekend.
will tell you about our meal at El Guarida and the rest
of our amazing trip in my next column.
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