TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 November 2011
Written for people who like to get around rather than the hotel/bar/beach/dining/bed brigade, Top Ten guides have been constant companions on trips for many years; written in an accessible style, organised in a logical way, well illustrated with lots of pictures and usually with a fold-up map, they are small in size but not in content. Having previously ignored suggestions in Crete, recently we followed the "Top Ten" and discovered an idyllic area of absolute joy, making us fall further in love with the island all over again. (We also saw a large shanty town there, within three kilometres of the airport.)
"Top Tens" give good lists of "Tens" in places to go, where to eat, visits to make and their recommendations are good (even if some have become out-dated). Sections on Havana are particularly good and, if travellers are there for two weeks, I recommend a two-venue visit, e.g. Havana and Varaderro. In Havana, remember to visit the old quarter, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba and watch out for the entrepreneurial cigar sellers; you may be lucky but they are probably banana leaves, not Cohibas and not rolled on shapely Cuban thighs! The "Top Ten" has other helpful hints too.
Although I agree with the reviewer who pointed out that guides are out-of-date as the ink dries, some seem more out-of-date than others, especially (as one other reviewer points out) in somewhere changing as fast as Cuba; it is always helpful to check a book's publication date. In the times we have been, we have noticed the growth in new hotels (especially in the north west of the island), the increase in newer cars, the continuation of re-development of housing beyond the tourist areas. However, there has been little growth in the number of bars visited by Ernest Hemingway, a Cuban hero and celebrity; yes, he had already been to them all!
"Top Tens" are worth the investment. A fascinating country which will probe deeply into the thinking tourist's mind and heart, so follow Top Ten to get a quick insight and list. But another bigger guide for in-depth information, e,g, "The Golden Book - Cuba". Buen viaje. Que lo pases bien!
For many years, Cuba has lived in the Spanish colonial time-warp (which was obviously glorious going by the buildings), proud of its past and its ability to stand by itself in the face of American might. This is not the place to discuss the politics but, without doubt, visitors who step outside the hotel perimiters will find themselves doing this, if only to compare its socialist government with their own, Cuba's poor human rights record, its 99.8% literacy rate, an infant death rate lower than some developed countries and an average life expectancy of 77.64 years. It is an islad of contrasts.
Getting around is not as easy as in other Caribbean destinations; car-hire is becoming easier but not recommended as the older ones break down and petrol stations are infrequent, but it is fascinating to see the island and meet the people, something we always do wherever we go. How else does one come to know the place rather than the touristy myth?
"¡SOCIALISMO O MUERTE!"(Socialism or Death)... is the slogan seen everywhere, often in huge letters, e.g. stepping off the plane in Havana; although some say "¡SOCIALISMO ES MUERTE!"... (Socialism is Death) would be more appropriate, enjoy your time in this unique and wonderful country undergoing change. In our visits there, we have never encountered an unpleasant Cuban and we have travelled off the beaten track to meet students, doctors, nurses, workers and the less well-off, of whom there are a great many living off the land. (Unfortunately, "off the beaten track" is not in Top Ten, I hasten to add!)