Insights in Cuba: coronavirus

From sultry salsa to classic cars, Cuba has style. We chatted with our local experts about life and travel in Cuba in the era of coronavirus.
Colourful Cuban fruit and veg shop. Photo: Sarnia/Shutterstock
Colourful Cuban fruit and veg shop. Photo: Sarnia/Shutterstock

Cuba is a country full of iconic images, from charming colonial squares to hand-rolled cigars, communist billboards to 50s convertibles. A nation famous for its advanced health service, Cuba has tackled the coronavirus pandemic with fortitude. We caught up with two of our local Cuban experts – Adam and Romey – to find out what life currently looks on the Caribbean island, and their thoughts on the perfect Cuban holiday. 

Chatting with Adam 

Cycling in Vinales Valley with Adam (the front cyclist). Photo: private archive

Q: Havana is the dream of many – sipping mojitos in classic cars. How’s daily life for you as an expat in the city and for Cubans at the moment? 

A: A visit to Cuba really is a dreamlike experience, as upon arrival you are immediately transported to an intriguing parallel universe that exists only here under the Caribbean sun. Unsurprisingly for those of us who work in such destinations, I don’t spend much time sipping mojitos or driving classic cars – I drink a lot of coffee and ride my bike! Living here full time is a very immersive experience and one that involves juggling time between working and food shopping for basic provisions. Havana is unnaturally quiet at the moment after several months of lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19. There are no more besito greetings and the dancers must have itchy feet. The strict measures seem to have been effective however, and Cuba has kept transmissions under control through a system of widespread community-based surveying, undertaken by an army of young medical students. It turns out that testing and tracing works quite well!

Whilst there is still no definite date for reopening the country for international tourism, we are delighted that Cuba’s record as a safe destination with a strong medical safety net has been recognized by the UK Government. Cuba is an exception to the blanket FCDO travel advice against all but essential travel, and is included in the list of ‘travel corridor’ destinations, meaning that people won’t be required to quarantine upon their return to the UK.

 Capitolio building Havana. Photo: fotosaga/Shutterstock

Q: How have other parts of the island been affected? For example cities such as Trinidad or Santiago, or islands like Cayo Santa Maria?

A: The rest of the country outside Havana is now mostly back to normal in terms of there being very few/zero new virus transmissions, and no restrictions on people’s movements. In fact, some of the cayos are already open to charter tourism, with Canadian tourists taking advantage by coming down for some winter sunshine. I haven’t been able to travel outside of Havana since the start of the year, however we’ll certainly be keen to visit many of our key destinations and suppliers around the island as soon as that is possible again.

Sagua Community Mil Cumbres. Photo: Adam's private archive

Q: Besides privately guided tours, you also offer a selection of bicycle tours and other activities. What is your favorite tour/excursion and why?

A: Yes, we offer a range of cycling, active and experiential tours of Cuba that are designed to showcase the authenticity of the island and its rich culture. I particularly like our travel ideas that involve getting close to nature and interacting with local people. If I had to pick a favorite tour it would be our ‘Bike Cuba’ 5 day trip around western Cuba. As well as promoting healthy and active travel, it features a wonderful contrast between the city, the countryside and the beach, and in the process gives an insightful overview of what Cuba is all about. A short tour such as this one allows travelers to combine an active adventure with independent time either to explore in the capital or relax at a nearby beach.

 Cueva de Los Portales, Cuba. Photo:  Elliotte Rusty Harold/Shutterstock

Q: What's your favorite hidden gem in the country?

A: That would have to be a place called Mil Cumbres, tucked away in a mountainous region also in western Cuba, not far from the infamous underground cave network ‘Cueva de los Portales’ where Che Guevara was based during the Cuban Missile Crisis. With most visitors favoring the town of Viñales as their adventure base in this part of the country, the hidden gem destinations of San Andres, Sagua and Mil Cumbres park are almost entirely overlooked as a result of access being that bit more difficult. We have been sending trekking clients to Mil Cumbes for years, as it acts as a basecamp for climbing Pan de Guajaibón. But even if scaling the limestone karst mountain doesn’t appeal, the protected natural habitat area and friendly village of Sagua provide memorable walking opportunities and a chance to get well and truly off the beaten track. As a company we have many happy memories from here after having organized a getaway training weekend with 40 staff and guides in 2018.

Chatting with Romey 

Romey, the IG local Cuba expert. Photo: private archive

Q: What does your daily life look like at the moment and how has it changed from pre-corona?

A: For me it feels like I have stepped 10 years back in time. For the time being, my family and I have relocated back to our family farm. We are having fun here relaxing and enjoying rural life, but are always dreaming of the day we can get back to work hosting travelers in Cuba. Prior to the Covid-19 epidemic I was living my own dream, working with the most amazing people and making our travelers happy: helping people’s holiday dreams come true.


Q: What’s your favorite region/city/town in Cuba and why?

A: It’s very hard to say, because each town and region in Cuba has its own unique charm and point of difference. I really like Viñales, because it has a very relaxed pace and sometimes feels quite magical thanks to its landscape. 

Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Photo: Vadim Nederoff/Shutterstock

Q: What would you recommend a first-time visitor to see with 10–14 days on the island?

A: If you only have 10 days on the island, I would recommend focusing on the western half of Cuba – specifically Havana, Vinales, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. 

If you have 15 days on the island, you could explore further east as well. This would include Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa. 

Often travelers are surprised by how large Cuba really is. The drive times between destinations can be considerable. You certainly don't want to try and include too much and feel like you are in the car traveling the whole time. 

Paradise beach in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba. Photo: RICIfoto/Shutterstock

Q: Cuba is known for its friendly people. What is the easiest way to socialize and make friends with the locals when on the island? 

A: The best way to get to know people is through your tour guide. Your guide is the key to an amazing experience. Cuba is so unique and sometimes very confusing. Your guide can help you navigate the intricacies of Cuban culture and introduce you to the people that will allow you to have the best experiences. We encourage our guides to introduce our travelers to their friends and family so they get the most local experience possible.