Gay Snowbird thinking about flying to Cuba
December 9, 2006 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Gay Snowbird thinking about flying to Cuba. Any thoughts? Good experiences? Horror stories?

For the first time in twelve years I am finding the Toronto gloom intolerable. My partner and I (a thirty somethingish gay couple) are thinking about a respite in the sun. We're not beach people, and we both grew up working in tourist hells (Niagara Falls and Wisconsin Dells) so we have a low tolerance for touristy places. Resorts are probably out. We love cities and love water so we were thinking about going to Cuba, hopefully Havana. We're assuming Cuba is pretty homophobic, so we thought we'd ask if any gay or gay friendly Mefites had any advice, or would share any experiences.

We'd love any suggestions for inexpensive gay safe/ gay friendly places. We don't need a big gay scene, we just want to find a sunny and interesting place to relax where we won't feel threatened, or feel like we're exploiting the locals.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (18 answers total)
Response by poster: This is something we've talked about. We don't feel good about the Cuban government at all, but are curious to see the country. If we thought Castro's legacy had a chance of lasting, we wouldn't go. But we don't. I do, however, respect your opinion. My flexibility comes not from a blind eye to Cuba, but rather from a cynical view of most Latin American governments.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:06 PM on December 9, 2006

Response by poster: p.s. What I meant, is I do not want to go to a place that is off limits to locals, or where I can't spend at least some of my money at independent business.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:09 PM on December 9, 2006

Best answer: Cuba: awesome place to visit, beautiful, friendly people, full of paradoxes. Have fun.

Gay in Cuba: (this is all experience ca. 2003, I spent a summer mostly in Havana but travelled around a bit). It's not someplace to be openly affectionate as a same-sex couple, but there is a little bit of a "scene," and homosexuality is not unheard of but certainly not publicized. In front of the Cine Yará in Vedado is/was one of the big places to go, and everyone in Havana knows that, it seems...

Loving water: Do you mean just being on it or being in it? The malecón is beautiful in Havana, but you can't get into the water until you're at Playas Del Este, about 20, 30 minutes east of the city. The real beaches are at Veradero, but that puts you in resort hell.

If you need to be on the beach but don't want the resort experience, you might consider spending some time in Havana and then getting somewhere else on the coast. Cienfuegos is pretty nice and close by, it's a huge destination for Cubans on vacation, for those who can afford vacations...
posted by whatzit at 5:10 PM on December 9, 2006

Amnesty International Report

"Amnesty International is also seriously concerned about the number of dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders that are reportedly being arrested under charges of ‘pre-criminal dangerousness’. According to article 72 of Cuba’s Criminal Code (Law 62), "any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality." Article 75.1 of the same law provides that any police officer can issue a warning (acta de advertencia) for "dangerousness". A warning can also be issued for associating with a "dangerous person."(4) The declaration of a dangerous pre-criminal state can be decided summarily according to Decree No. 129, issued in 1991.(5) Any person who has received one or more warning can be convicted of dangerousness and sentenced at a Municipal Tribunal for up to four years in prison.

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, during 2005, more than 20 dissidents were arrested on charges of "dangerousness".

I just don't think that touristic curiosity justifies visiting.
posted by A189Nut at 5:15 PM on December 9, 2006

Best answer: On seeing your recent comments:

You should definitely spend time outside of Havana. If you can, stay in a casa particular (legalized guest house, basically a home stay). At most hotels in Havana, Cubans aren't allowed anywhere near the rooms because of past(?) prostitution problems. Outside of Havana, a hotel is more likely to have Cuban guests.

"Independent business" as you know it is limited, really, to casa particulares, a few private restraunts run out of homes, and anybody working in the informal sector (this includes anyone from street vendors to cab drivers). Most things you would consider independent business still have to be licensed by the government, which still takes a fair share of the proceeds.

One of the things that you'll find if you go is that people are pretty open about what they do and don't like about the system and their country. You'll find you can go just about anywhere you want to - including rations markets and other not-so-shining landmarks of the socialist economy.

If you really want to learn what life is like there and really want to support Cubans, try spending pesos cubanos there instead of pesos convertibles. You'll see first-hand what the dual economy has done to the country, and how limited options are for most people.
posted by whatzit at 5:17 PM on December 9, 2006

I just don't think that touristic curiosity justifies visiting.

by your logic, no one should go anywhere b/c of bad gov't??

Travel is the most effective way to represent change if done properly
posted by jonnygemini at 5:19 PM on December 9, 2006

I would highly recommend having the opportunity to travel in socialist economies... good luck!
posted by k8t at 5:25 PM on December 9, 2006

You shouldn't show gay affection in public in Cuba. Then again, it's considered rude to show straight affection such as kissing or holding hands in Thailand, so don't feel like it's state oppression. Go, have fun.
posted by furtive at 5:29 PM on December 9, 2006

we have a low tolerance for touristy places

What was it that bothered you? You might find the same thing lurking in Cuba. You'll definitely be a tourist, and be treated as such -- which can get creepy and/or tedious.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:33 PM on December 9, 2006

Response by poster: How does one find a casa particular? Is it acceptable to show up at the border without the address of a hotel?

I truly respect the idea of boycotts. But isolation doesn't necessarily bring about change. If so, North Korea would be on the brink of revolution. If we have to stay in a state sposored resort, we're not going. If we have a chance to interact with normal people, we'll go.

Suggestions of how to find casa particulars is very welcome. One caveat: we don't speak spanish.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:32 PM on December 9, 2006

Travel books geared towards young and budget travelers will include them, and I'll more than a few can be contacted online through their own sites or those of the city they are in (yes, there is internet in Cuba! It's slow and pricy though).

If I were you, I'd want to show up with at least the first night booked somewhere, especially if you don't speak any Spanish at all. Lots of people speak, or read, at least some English. On this I don't have any particular recommendations for Havana, but I'm sure others will.

(Isolation in Cuba... hm. It's isolated from America both ways, with the exception of pirated media and the VOICE OF AMERICA, but that's really it. Foreigners from the rest of the world can be found all over, and a lot of people have relatives in the States who they get news or money from, or even visits (it's one of about 3 ways to visit Cuba legitimately now). Oh yeah, and Cubans generally can't leave the country both because of the cost and the need to get permission from the government to leave.

And on the resorts: Most of the nice ones are joint ventures with European companies - primarily Spanish and Italian. But still, they're resorts, yuck. The only Cubans you'll meet at them will be cleaning your room and bringing you drinks. There is no way, though, to avoid the fact that a lot of your money is going to go to the government. Well, the one way to do it is to bring things to trade in instead of cash. Anything from OTC medicine like Tylenol to new jeans and sneakers and jewelry and fancy shampoos or perfumes is in demand, and worth quite a lot in exchange, but whether you want to do this depends on how you feel about barter and how much chutzpah you have. It's really quite common to do there, but there's some places it's just not done (fancy hotels, sit-down restaurants, duh), and that's usually quite easy to tell.)
posted by whatzit at 7:45 PM on December 9, 2006

blech. All those thises and thems above refer to finding a casa particular.
posted by whatzit at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2006

Best answer: I can't tell you too much about the gay specifics of Cuba but I can tell you some stuff based on my last trip there in March.

If you're going to stay at a casa particular, don't be afraid to spend a little more. I stayed in one that was $20 a night and apparently, while they do have modern toilets in Cuba, they lack toilet seats. Also, there was a circuit breaker in the bathroom (that's socialist architecture for you). So, if you're going to stay in a casa particualr, spend the extra $5. Since you said the two of you like water, get one by the Malecon. The Malecon (the Havana seafront) is beautiful but sadly, polluted and you can smell the garbage.

Just to note, all casa particulares should have one of these signs out.

Definately get some cash in monedias nationales. You can eat at the places locals do, and a lot cheaper too (think $1 for a nice sized ham and cheese sandwhich, or a nickel for an ice cream cone).

Just to warn you, it might be difficult to interact with locals, if that's your thing. I was able to talk to a Cuban gentleman on my last trip and he told me how if the police found out, he could get in trouble as Cubans aren't allowed to associate with foreigners. So just to warn you. Nonetheless, you can probably find normal people who aren't asking you for money (trust me, they will).

Anyways, a good site with information on Cuba travel is this site. It's run by a guy from the Lonely Planet forum who's well acknowledged on his Cuba travel advice. E-mail him and I'm sure he'll be glad to tell you about Cuba's view on homosexuality and what to do. Finally, since you hate touristy stuff - stay away from old Havana. It has a nice European charm but it's filled with Swedish and British tourists with copies of Lonely Planet's "Cuba" in their hands and tons of Cubans trying to make money off them.
posted by champthom at 8:10 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Mod note: a few comments removed - please answer the question or take it to metatalk, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:10 PM on December 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks. These comments have given me a lot to explore.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:37 AM on December 10, 2006

Go, by all means. The people are warm, the countryside is astonishingly beautiful, and the society is like no other. It is also an oppressive police state, and your going there and spending money at the independent restaurants and such is the best way to begin to change that system. In Cuba you are largely outside the currents of globalization--a strange thing to be expereinced almost no where else.

A valuable resource is the Lonely Planet Cuba Forum.
posted by LarryC at 6:58 AM on December 10, 2006

Anything to break the proposterous US blockade of Cuba is good. Go , enjoy, consider what the globe without rampant imperialsm could be like. There is no one model of democracy or of socialism, as for it being a police state! tush. Try migrating to europe from africa without a visa!
posted by SwissTommy at 8:21 AM on December 10, 2006

If you like the climate promised by Cuba you might consider Key West.

Wait, come back here!

While Key West is certainly a tourist destination and possessing a lot of overly touristy sections, there's also plenty of it that could be any other town. It's also gay friendly and if you drop me an email I'll give you the name of my friend's family's bed and breakfast which is gay-friendly (vs how it was run about 20 years ago when it was gay exclusive, or straight-hostile, if you prefer).

It may not qualify for 'cheap,' depending on your definition, but then again I'm not up on what the actual costs are of visiting Cuba. The stories I used to hear about visiting Cuba back when I lived in Miami indicated there was a fairly sizable "hidden cost" of visiting simply in tipping your way through the day, though perhaps that was because the people I was hearing it from were leaving the resort area to see other sections and explore rather than just staying on the grounds of their resort.

Feel free to drop me an email about KW if you're interested, I can steer you in the non-touristy directions and make several destination suggestions. If you're interested in some roughing it you could go camp at the Dry Tortugas for a few days too.
posted by phearlez at 11:42 AM on December 11, 2006

« Older Cameras and batteries   |   How can I stop getting sick of new songs quickly? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.