Published on September 1st, 2015 | by Mark Chesnut
Cuba Travel Tips: Photographer Cynthia Carris Alonso on the Island’s Best Experiences
Cynthia Carris Alonso knows Cuba better than most people from the United States — in my last post on LatinFlyer.com, I ran part one of an exclusive interview with this New York City-based photographer, who this year published a beautiful photo book called Passage To Cuba: An Up-Close Look at the World’s Most Colorful Culture (Skyhorse Publishing). Now, in part two of the interview, she talks about some of her favorite places in Cuba to take photos, and offers insider travel tips for anyone considering a visit to this beautiful Caribbean island.
What are your favorite places in Cuba to visit and photograph?
As a photographer in Cuba, the beauty of the country is both in its fascinating, surreal and unique visuals, which are like eye candy, as one witnesses pastel colors, contrasting representations of modern and traditional, urban and rural splendor, as well as the opportunity to experience such a vibrant, creative, surreal, passionate place and people.
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Although I enjoy visiting all of Cuba, I am particularly drawn to the cities and coast, especially Havana, as I am more of a city and coast person rather than rural. I particularly enjoy the diversity, vibrancy, energy, music and artistic culture one can experience everywhere in Havana. Moreover, Havana is bordered on the north side with the Malecón, the famous wall that wraps around Havana along the Caribbean ocean, where people can enjoy the beautiful views, hear, smell and feel the ocean air and breeze, when taking a break from the activities of the city. I also love spending time at Cuba’s incredibly beautiful beaches, with clear, warm Caribbean water, hot sun, and soft, white sand.
Of course, Cuba’s countryside is also spectacular, with so much undeveloped land, fresh fruits, native flowers, trees, birds and more!
What would you say are the biggest misperceptions that people in the USA have about Cuba?
The Cuban people are actually not “enemies” of the United States, nor do the Cubans see American people as “enemies.” Cubans make the distinction between government politics and the people. Our two countries have a long history of doing business together, as well as sharing our resources, values and cultures. The embargo did not change the personal respect and connection for people of both countries; it only changed the political and economic terms between them. Most Cubans still living in Cuba are very welcoming, warm people who are eager to share their country with Americans, who are also very interested in enjoying Cuba once again, as well as doing business once again with a country just 90 miles from U.S. shores.
Another misperception might be that Americans do not realize that Cuba is not yet ready to accommodate all the Americans and foreigners who want to travel to Cuba to experience the country “before the Americans develop it.” The infrastructure in Cuba still needs resources to repair roads, hotels, develop Internet access, and more. However, I hope that political changes between Cuba and the U.S. will also bring economic benefits for the Cuban people as well as for foreign investors, while preserving the beautiful spirit and culture of the Cuban people. My images try to reflect that spirit and culture which has always valued art and its artists, community, family, and the natural beauty of this very special Caribbean island.
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How do you think the changes in diplomatic relations will affect the experience of travel to Cuba?
In the short term, there are already a lot more big tour buses and tourists in Cuba, as people from around the world are flocking to see and experience Cuba before it is further developed. I hope as tourism continues to grow throughout the country, Cubans will get better access to basic resources. However, the U.S. economic embargo has still not been lifted by American politicians, so although more Americans are able to visit Cuba on people-to-people licenses, Cubans in Cuba are still struggling to get things we take for granted here in the United States like food, gas, school and medical supplies, and even toilet paper.
Perhaps changes in diplomatic relations will lead politicians in both countries to change economic restrictions. As the politics of the world change, I can only hope that the unique and exotic aspects of Cuban culture are preserved, while the economic hardships and lack of material resources of the past, become opportunities for dramatic growth and change for everyone.
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What would be your best advice for someone in the USA who’s interested in visiting Cuba?
I highly recommend that any American interested in going to Cuba, should go with a group that shares a like passion and interest. If you are interested in art, there are wonderful trips with museums and cultural organizations. Religious groups make regular trips. Many American Schools offer trips for teachers, students and alumni to visit Cuba and learn about the culture and education in the country. If one wants to learn more about the medical structures and developments, there are medical groups to travel with to visit hospitals, meet doctors and learn more about the medical research being done in Cuba. Musicians can go and study in Cuba and/or collaborate with Cubans during performances and musical festivals. And there are many more travel groups offering cultural exchange trips for Americans to visit Cuba and experience this very unique country.
Do you have any more projects coming up about Cuba?
Yes, I’m working on a few more books about Cuba, and looking for co-sponsors to help fund the projects. If anyone is interested in talking about the possibilities, I would greatly appreciate hearing from them.
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What’s the best way for people to follow your work (and buy your book)?
People can follow my work and/or contact me through my web site: http://www.photosolutionsnyc.com/ or contact my publisher, Skyhorse Publishing. My book, Passage to Cuba, is available in most bookstores and online. You can order a copy here: http://www.amazon.com/Passage-Cuba-Up-Close-Colorful-Culture/dp/1632206528/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427997711&sr=1-1&keywords=passage+to+cuba or here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/passage-to-cuba-cynthia-carris-alonso/1120667862?ean=9781632206527 or find a local book store by entering your zip code here: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781632206527