Lonely Planet: Cuba
One of the smarter habits I acquired when I started to plan my own international trips was to read the Lonely Planet guides. To be sure, the guide are not perfect, but they do present a great deal of information and give the reader a lot of insight into the feasibility of doing certain things. I have not always taken up the writers of the guides on their more adventuresome suggestions, like how to travel across international borders in sketchy transportation options, but at the same time I have always found myself being given lots of ideas and worthwhile advice that has made me a less vulnerable traveler, and that is something I always appreciate as a moderately clueless person who happens to like being abroad. At any rate, if this book was not entirely useful given my plans to visit Havana and perhaps the immediate area outside of the city, it certainly did provide some useful information about food to try and places to visit, and that is always something to appreciate. You will obviously get more out of this book if you plan on seeing more of the country, but the benefit of reading a book like this one is that it is useful so long as one plans on visiting the country at all.
This book is more than 500 pages long and well organized in the typical Lonely Planet fashion. The book begins on how to plan one’s trip with a welcome, national map, top 21 sights, need to know information, suggestions for first-time visitors, month-by-month information, itineraries, and a glance at Cuba’s regions. After that the vast majority of the rest of the book focuses on the usual detailed information about Cuba’s various regions including the population of cities, maps of a lot of cities and towns, tourist sites, hotels and other places to stay, restaurants, clubs, and the like. This begins with Havana and then progresses through the Artemisa & Mayabeque provinces of Eastern Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, the Valle de Viñales and Pinar del Río Province, Varadero & Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Trinidad & Sancti Spíritus Province, Ciego de Avila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo Provinces, making notes about which places have been overrun by touts and which remain available for tourists looking for more quiet and peaceful places to travel. The book ends with some information to help the reader understand Cuba today as well as its history, food & drink, way of life, literature and arts, architecture, music and dance, and landscape and wildlife. The book then ends with a survival guide that includes a directory, transportation, language help, and a glossary.
Admittedly, some aspects of this book will put off some readers. The authors seem to think that naturists and the alphabetical community are a big part of their reading audience and so quite a bit of the discussion of places and their desirability is based on that, which is not particularly helpful for me personally. More useful is the book’s advice on how to avoid touts and their offers of cheap cigars and overpriced products. The people who wrote this book have clearly been to Cuba and seen a lot of the country and have plenty of insight to share about their trips, and that is something that one can appreciate even if they give advice on a lot of areas that the reader may not be interested in at all. Given the way that many parts of Cuba are very obscure despite interesting histories and worthwhile sights, this book is useful in encouraging its readers to step beyond the usual tourist norms, and as someone who strives not to be an ordinary tourist, this advice is something worth taking to heart whether it talks about Cuba or any other nation.