How to see the real Cuba through photography

How (photography) tourism aims to overcome its “apartheid”

“Plenty of tourists pass in Cuba, without letting Cuba pass through them” declares the Solidarity and Touristic Guide of Cuba of 2006. This refers to the traditional duality of the island when it comes to tourism. In previous years, concerns have been brought up regarding the way that the incoming flow of visitors was welcomed in this unique Carribean destination. Travellers coming from around the world, and especially from the U.S., would experience a superficial and incomplete image of Havana and its surroundings. Find out what caused this, how it is changing, and how to discover the real Cuba on a Cuba photo tourBy Gaia Rovelli

Tourism Growth in Cuba and “tourism apartheid”

In the late 1990s, the Cuban tourism industry grew exponentially, partly because of a large national investment in the industry. Holiday facilities started to appear on the island, including many fully self-contained luxury beach resorts. However, this improvement was not paralleled by an analogous boost in the standard of living for Cuban people. Two enclaves, tourists and natives, started to coexist in an environment full of contradictions: luxury resorts bordering poor neighbourhoods without any osmosis of wealth. Under these circumstances, the first accusations of “tourism apartheid” started to emerge, underlining the unfair nature and philosophy of this practice.

This situation was enforced by the government’s discouragement of contact between tourists and Cubans. Not only did it segregate some Cubans within their own island, also it often prevented tourists to experience the real nature and soul of the country. In 2008, many existing restrictions were ended by Raùl Castro, and Cubans could access area and facilities that has been previously restricted to them. While the majority of Cubans still can’t afford luxury services, this development at least encouraged a new exchange that, finally, takes the form of a dialogue among the two ‘enclaves’.

Showing travelers the real Cuba

With the end of this phenomenon, there is the chance to finally get to know a pure, fascinating and vibrant country for what it is. Cuba offers fascinating cultural history, natural landscapes and colours. Far from being conceived as a way to “fetishise poverty,” as some articles have argued in the past, Cuba, with its rich history, culture, and colors, deserves to be discovered for what it truly is. Instead of staying within the comfortable and predictable partners of mass tourism, visitors can instead decide to immerse themselves in something new and unexpected, and to fill in their senses with all the sounds and sensations that Cuba has to offer.

What is the role of photography in Cuba?

Beyond laws and national strategic frameworks, one simple tool has encouraged interest in Cuba’s true nature. As apartheid tourism started to be contained as a phenomenon, a growing number of photographers captured what they discovered through their lenses. Photography has the power to be a bridge among different cultures: projecting images of something unknown, helping to tell stories that deserve a a creative narrative. Now, photography is a main reason for travelers around the world to visit Cuba.

Find out how to visit Cuba on a photo tour! 

Best ways to experience the real Cuba

There are amazing ways to immerse yourself into Cuban culture. If you are wondering where to start, here are five things that you should include in your holiday’s to-do list.

  1. Visit of Habana Vieja
    This is a highly photogenic part of Havana. Bring your camera to the ancient part of the city to discover its inner beauties.
  2. Walking tour of Trinidad
    Exploring the streets of this Cuban city will give you a new perspective on the reality of the island, beyond the more commonly visited Havana.
  3. Salsa classes with Cuban dancers
    For music lovers, a trip to Cuba should surely include salsa. You will find plenty of opportunities, from organized classes to improvized parties, to start learning the Cuban art por excelencia!
  4. Trip to Valle de Vinales
    If you have the chance to stay a while in the island, you might want to visit this valley, which offers a view of Cuba’s countryside.
  5. Try new tastes: discover guarapo, batido de mamey…and Cuban coffee!
    Find out about the Cuban culture and flavours by sharing a drink with some locals: it is a great way to meet Cubans, learn about Cuban culture, and taste unexpected flavours!

Photography that sees beyond

Visiting Cuba can be exciting and inspiring, especially if you are interested in photography. To make the most of your experience, it’s worth considering visiting Cuba during a photo tour. This will allow you to improve your photography through professional guidance, and you’ll be taken to the best places at the best times of day – with exciting images as a result. Inspired to the spirit of photography as a means to tell stories, Penda Photo Tours offers photo tours that are aimed at discovering Cuba, in its raw nature and in all its shades. If photography provides a chance to be witnesses of something, then this opportunity is designed as the greatest source of inspiration for your testimony.

With the assistance of two professional photographers with plenty of local knowledge, these photo tours are lead in Havana and Trinidad. Cuba’s unbeaten track will be the setting of a unique photographic adventure.

 Cuba portrait
Images by Andrew Bell and Andy Scaysbrook

Find out more about Penda’s Cuba Photo Tours! 

Or, if you’re also interested in photography workshops in other destinations, find out why Iceland, the setting of the upcoming Iceland Photo Tour with National Geographic Photographer Tyrone Turner, is one of the most sustainable tourist destinations in the world.