A local guide’s perspective on US tourists in Cuba
Elevate trip designer Lana first met Jesus when she was a college student, studying in Cuba with a university course group. Jesus Noguera Ravelo led their trip and was the perfect conduit between curious students, culture and the socio-political and economic realities of Cuba.
Today, 12 years later, he’s still rocking the tourism industry. He’s guided thousands of travelers across the island of Cuba – including numerous university groups, celebrities, and individual travelers. He’s also a big traveler himself, having visited over 30 countries during his career.
We asked Jesus a few questions about his beloved Cuba and some of the changes he’s noticed since Americans started freely traveling to the dynamic island:
What are some of the most noticeable changes you’ve seen since the influx of American travelers to Cuba?
Jesus: One big change is the raise in the private sector. Economically speaking in Cuba, we are not ready for some of the changes; the state-run infrastructure is not ready, there are not enough hotel rooms, buses and tour guides. If you go to a restaurant it’s common to hear “we ran out of mango juice,” not to mention mojitos!
One big change is the increased in the number of private bed and breakfast to compete with state-run hotels. Private restaurants known as “paladares” are by far more efficient and competitive than state-run restaurants, so they are blooming all over the place. All that has increased the numbers of Cuban working in the private sector.
What are some of the lesser known, but special, not-to-be-missed sights when visiting Cuba?
Jesus: I especially like the Eastern part of Cuba. There is a lot to do and see in Baracoa, a town located at the north of the big Guantánamo province, where rivers, beaches, cocoa plantations, chocolate and coconuts trees abound. There are musical genres exclusive to this region such as the Changüí and Nengón, which locals play and dance to all year round.
The Sierra Maestra is the highest mountain range surrounding our second largest city, Santiago de Cuba. All along this range there are tiny towns full of things to discover. Coffee growers, unique landscapes and traditions kept for centuries over generations.
What’s the best part of your job?
Jesus: To interact with human beings, to know about their likes and dislikes and to make new forever-friends here in Cuba. I especially enjoy showing others my own country, our history, geography, our people.
Best Cuban cocktail and best Cuban dish?
Jesus: Best Cuban cocktail is Daiquiri frappe, served at El Floridita restaurant in Habana Vieja, where Hemingway used to go to drink dozens of those. So, if you want to win a Nobel Prize in Literature, now you know where to go.
Best Cuban dish is “moros y cristianos.” This is black beans and white rice cooked together. If served with roasted pork and yuca, then you couldn’t be more Cuban.
What makes a good Cuba traveler? How can we be better more conscientious travelers when we’re in your beloved Cuba?
Jesus: There are two types of travelers: those who behave like Christopher Columbus and those who behave like Marco Polo. Don’t come to Cuba like Columbus did, you will always be defeated no matter if it takes 500 years. Marco Polo types are more welcome and will always find friendship.