I visited Cuba in December of 2002. I daresay the statue of limitations has long since passed, so I can admit it without significant danger
I flew to Havana via Mexico
. Other than flying in an airplane that looked as old as I (even though it actually was not), there was no significant danger
. I always felt safe. They do not stamp your passport, so you receive no evidence that you were in the country.
At least in 2002, Cuba was a place neatly divided between the tourist world and the world of actual Cubans. The tourist world is designed to extract as much money
as humanly possible by stacking you into pricey tour busses and taking you to expensive attractions. Unless there are specific sites you want to see, I would recommend random wandering over going through the tourist routine.
Wander the streets, photograph the cool but picturesquely decaying architecture and make some new friends.
It's technically true that you are allowed to visit Cuba all you want as long as you don't spend any money
. Of course the moment you dock
at the marina you have to break that rule
. I highly recommend trying not to break it in spirit, because when you are spending money in Cuba, you are supporting a corrupt and nasty regime that doesn't deserve your support. In other words, I don't really care about US law as a basis for morality, but I do believe it's bad form to support the nasty dictatorship, if that makes any sense.
Fortunately, as cruisers we can warehouse our food
out most days, and overall make our cruise
as economical as possible, without breaking a sweat. People using any other techniques to visit Cuba are in far worse shape in terms of having to support the regime during their visit.
Regardless of legality, everyone should visit Cuba at least once. Why? Because you can see the follies of a Communist system. It is both funny
and pathetic to see how badly it works and is run, and see how good people are hamstrung by it. You will never see Karl Marx in the same way again, as long as you talk to Cuban people instead of going on the regime's PR tours.
My favorite example was restaurants. Visiting a restaurant in Cuba, whether it's a $2 cafeteria style place for locals or a $200 luxury eatery, is a surreal experience. You see, they all are required to purchase
the raw ingredients from the same state-owned sources. The state-owned sources buy them from the farmers at giveaway prices. So the farmers save the best stuff for the private markets and give the dregs to the state, and the dregs then wind
up on your tables. The most horrendously expensive private restaurants buy food
from BOTH the state sources and the private markets and sell off the state food. Then they can finally give you high-quality meats and vegetables, but at prices higher than you'll see at fancy US places. Suffice it to say that Cuba is far from a gourmet's paradise and you will probably be relieved to rely on your own provisions purchased outside of the country.
I eventually circumvented this by having my casa particular (a private home you can stay in) cook for me. They would buy the food from the farmers' markets and cook it specifically for me. It was delicious! I asked them why they didn't open their own restaurant, and the above is the answer: It would have been awful, just like all the others ... sad.
Ironically enough, the best pro-American propaganda is going to Cuba and seeing how actual Cubans live ...
Please note that none of this represents actual experience in visiting Cuba as a cruiser, but I felt it would be of interest because relatively few people have actually done it. I wanted to see a Communist state before they all went away. I'm glad I did.