Wednesday’s shocking news that President Obama had brokered a secret deal with Cuba to restore full diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba after over fifty years took the world by surprise. Last year while I was in Cuba on a “people to people” cultural tour, one of the only legal ways for Americans to visit Cuba, Obama was secretly meeting with Raúl Castro in Canada and already in the midst of negotiations. The news has angered many who believe it only rewards Castro’s repressive regime yet others believe it is about time we open the doors to Cuba.

Whatever your views are and whatever ends up eventually happening I am glad I was able to go before the floodgate of tourists arrive. Only 90 miles off the shore of the US, Havana is an inviting place. It is the once forbidden fruit that will soon be open for more Americans to see. Will it change for the better? Will it help or hurt the people? These are questions that only time will tell. Like Nick Kristof, a rather liberal New York Times journalist, I believe that allowing the free flow of goods and people into Cuba will help. Will it topple the repressive Castro regime? No. But still, I believe democracy is a good thing and allowing the flow of ideas, people, goods, and cash will eventually help and hopefully lift many Cubans out of poverty. At least the Cuban people will be able to buy desperately needed goods and the shelves on the stores won’t be mostly empty. I remember giving out deodorant, tooth paste and a hairdryer to my Cuban maid before I left Havana and she cried. I thought about the Target store at home where  I purchased them in. Aisles and aisles of every brand of deodorant under the sun. Overwhelmingly stocked with everything your heart desires. It made me sad.

I looked through my pictures again from last year and it made me wonder. If Cuba does open up for Americans, what will it look like in ten or twenty years? Will these photos be relics of the past just like the old cars that are so common on the streets of Cuba today? Or will it be a land overwhelmed with McDonalds and Starbucks? And most importantly of all, will life be better for the Cuban people? Only time will tell.

Street Photography Havana Street Photography Havana Street Photography Havana Street Photography Havana Street Photography Havana Building renovation in Old Havana Cuba Building renovation in Old Havana Cuba Vintage American cars in Havana

View of Havana

Evening view of Havana

Cuban Street Photography Cuban Street Photography Vintage American cars in Havana

Old Havana

A morning walk in Old Havana

Havana Cuba

Crumbling, decaying buildings, a reminder of Cuba’s glorious past, line the streets of Havana.

Vintage American Cars in Havana

Pre-Revolutionary American cars are quite common in Cuba and a reminder of the isolation imposed on Cuba after the US Embargo.

Cuban propaganda

Cubans are highly patriotic. There is also a lot of propaganda.

Cuban worker

This young man was taking a break from work.

Cuban book market

The Cubans love their fiery Revolutionary past. Che and Fidel are on everything ranging from key chains,to posters and old books.

Cuban bar life

Having a mojito in a gorgeous Cuban bar is a daily necessity.

Cuban propaganda

Old magazines for sale

Old Vintage cars in Havana Vintage cars in Havana

Old cars in Havana

Given the age of the cars, many break down and have to be refurbished with new parts.

Cuban cigars

Cuban cigars are everywhere and everyone smokes them.

Paseo del Prado, Havana Cuba Paseo del Prado, Havana Cuba Paseo del Prado, Havana Cuba The Malecón Havana

The Malecón Havana Cuba

Starting from Old Havana, it is a lovely walk along the Malecón with lots of sights to see.

The Malecón Havana


  1. Terrific as usual–and please hope that the Cuban urban landscape stays true to its historical roots. I am always saddened by chain restaurants and stores that redefine the heritage of a city. In my view it’s not progress.

  2. Incredible photos! I didn’t realize how stuck in the past Cuba is. Hopefully lifting the trade embargoes will help rather than invite American chains.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, being in Havana seriously feels like being transported back to 1960. It is crazy. There is nowhere I’ve been that feels like it is literally frozen in time like that.

  3. A thought provoking post Nicole. And a gorgeous gallery.
    I know the adverse effects of progress on heritage structures first hand. But progress is long overdue in Cuba and done right it could be a win win situation. Quite a number of those crumbling edifices could be salvaged from complete ruin. Better living conditions for the people far outweigh tourist concerns and photo ops in my opinion. In fact being there during this cusp of change could be quite exciting.

    1. Thanks Madhu. Yes very true. There is a lot of good progress that could be made to help improve the standard of living for Cubans. I strongly believe ending the embargo and bringing in much needed capital is a very good thing for Cuba.

  4. Everyone is going on about McDonalds and Starbucks ruining Cuba ( not you ). I think opening up Cuba has to be good for the people. Locals can’t afford a mojito at a gorgeous bar, that is for tourists. As you say, their shops have little in them, the peso market has awful food. Those with dollars to spend have more choice, but only people working with tourists have dollars to spend.
    Cuba will still be communist and it will take a long time for conditions to improve with such a restrictive government, but I hope conditions will improve for the people. It is selfish for outsiders to want to keep Cuba in its current state, so they can go to see people living in crumbling houses and driving old cars.

    1. Yes that is so true Debra. I honestly don’t think it will get developed like that when it does open. I can’t imagine it. I also agree entirely with what you are saying. Our embargo has really hurt Cuba yet I also think the Communist Government and their economic policies have too. Based on comments I’ve gotten on my Cuba posts as well as everything I’ve read on Cuba, most of the people who strongly oppose opening Cuba up and reestablishing our US ties with Cuba are people (mostly Cuban Americans) who suffered so much and lost everything after they fled Cuba. Many people still have such a strong hatred over Castro and what he did. I’m not Cuban American but I do see their side as well. I personally don’t think continuing the embargo or travel restrictions though make any sense at all. It is very complicated. I wish Castro and Communism would leave but we know it won’t, at least any time soon.
      After being there as a tourist and enjoying all the wonderful things about Cuba simply because I could afford to and seeing that Cubans simply felt wrong. I’m still glad I went though. Despite all the repressiveness of it all, I did love the beauty, culture and charm. I just hope people there can have more freedom.

  5. It looks so run-down and weary. A place of dashed hopes and dreams dictated by its totalitarian communist government. How can they sleep at night? Only time will tell.

    1. Yes you are indeed correct. Yes, I’m not sure. Communism obviously doesn’t work. People are very highly educated and have great health care but yet can’t find good jobs, eat decent or paint their homes. It is really crazy.

  6. Thought provoking piece, Nicole. I thought of you immediately when I heard the news. I, too am glad you had an opportunity to visit. I don’t think much will change for many years to come, but it’s a start. I think we’d better plan a trip to Cuba next year before the throngs of tourists arrive. 🙂

    1. Thanks Debbie. Yes I think change will be slow. Who knows what will happen. But it will be interesting to say the least. I would love to bring my family if it opens!!

  7. I also don’t know how the lifted embargo will impact Cuba and its people. I hope it works for the good. I also wonder about the impact of a president who works outside Congress to do such monumental things. That saddens me. I agree that the whole thing is very complicated and it will be interesting to see how things change. Thanks for your input and photos. May your Christmas be merry and your 2015 blessed!


  8. While living in Mexico we had scheduled a trip to Cuba with a tour group but sadly the trip was cancelled. We wish we could have visited before the floodgates open. I have so enjoyed all of your Cuban posts Nicole. Merry Christmas to you and your family. 🙂

    1. I remember that LuAnn. I wonder when the floodgates will open. I’m so curious to see what happens next with this all. I bet a lot of people will want to go though.

  9. As a cuban american, i appreciate the kind reflections you have on my people. Most people automatically jump on this “get over it” bandwagon without understanding the complex nature of the country and history. Your comments are thoughtful. My family fled the oppression of the Castro regime and have many beautiful memories and photos. Rightfully, there is a lot of anger and resentment held towards the Castro family in the Cuban american community. Many were jailed, murdered or harmed for their opposition or differences. It’s my sincerest hope that the change in policy will bring good to Cubans.

    I think a new strategy was long overdue. But I’ve yet to see what we get in return (besides Alan Gross and the other intel guy). I hope there is more behind the scenes that we are not seeing yet. There are a numer of gross human rights violations that go on there and I’d love to see pressure there that would result in positive outcomes.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures. 🙂

    1. Thanks. I know it is so incredibly complicated. I have a friend who is also Cuban American and her family fled leaving and losing everything. It is really difficult. But obviously our strategy has not worked and I think it has hurt the people there. I just wish democracy could come. The human rights violations are despicable. Lets hope that the free movement of people, goods and most of all ideas helps change things for the people of Cuba.

  10. Thank you for this post. I’m leaving in three days for Cuba and wondered how it will looks like. I think it’s time to go before everything changes. As you say, only time will tell.

  11. It will be interesting to see what happens Nicole. Interesting how Canada was involved in the talks providing the location for meetings. Your photos take me back to your series on Cuba of course which I enjoyed very much.

  12. While i hope this will ease Cuba some with its financial affairs…I really hope corporate America doesn’t get its clutches on this country and ruin it.

  13. What is picturesque for us is real life for them, Nicole, and poor but happy doesn’t always apply. Sadly it’s bound to change and I wish I’d seen it as it was, but we don’t have the right to pick and choose, do we? I understand your feelings and we can only hope. Meantime, have a great festive season with ‘your gang’ 🙂 🙂

    1. Jo, I’m glad that it is opening up! not sure if that message got across in my post but I have always been a strong supporter of getting rid of the terribly harmful embargo. Cubans don’t even have paint to fix their homes, or nails, or toilet paper, or anything. The shelves are bare. Homes are deteriorating. It is picturesque but will be more beautiful when they have the money to finish repairing their homes. So yes it needs to change! But I just hope the changes aren’t due to greed of all the American chains who would love to get in there and ruin its cultural heritage. I always get sad to see ugly overdevelopment like McDonalads everywhere under the sun. But then again, if the Cuban people want McDonalds then I’m all for it! 🙂
      So what I hope for is change that opens up the door to more democracy and a better future for the people of Cuba! 🙂 Happy Holidays for you too Jo! 🙂

      1. I re-read my post and realized it may have come across to people who don’t know me as well as you and my other blogger friends and thought it may sound like I was against the decision. So I threw in a few small edits. I’m glad you made me think! Sometimes I write in too much of a rush and need to make sure that my message is getting across the way I want it to. So thank you Jo for that! 🙂 You are a wonderful pal! 🙂

  14. You are indeed fortunate to have seen the ‘real’ Cuba, ‘warts and all’. Your photos are so amazing and make me long to go there to see for myself. I’m sure that is the country is opened up to American tourists in general, much of the quaintness and the character of the place will be lost. Having said that, the people look so poor and obviously live with many hardships. We can but hope for prosperity to return to this decaying country. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful images and also your thoughts. 🙂

    1. Yes I’m glad I went Sylvia mainly since it wasn’t overwhelmed with tourists. Looking back at my post I think I should have focused more on that aspect of the change and talked more about my feelings that this is a very good thing (i.e. that we will hopefully end a terribly long and hard trade embargo). The country is very poor and frozen in time without supplies, food stocks and other things due to our embargo and also I believe communism. I am very hopeful that the changes will be good. I wish I could rewrite the post as I think my message wasn’t clear on what I was hoping to say. 🙂 Anyway, I do hope some capital and free trade help Cuba and bring in a better life. 🙂

      1. I read your post in the spirit that you intended, Nicole. I know you’re a person who always want what’s best for those that are downtrodden and hurting.You are such a sweet soul. 🙂

  15. Beautiful photos! Cuba is a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years. My wife was able to go there in 2001 as a dance major to study Cuban dance. I also wonder how it will change with the new relationship with the U.S.

    1. Thanks! Sorry for the delayed response but I’ve been away for the holidays. I bet it was wonderful in 2001 when your wife was in Cuba. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  16. Great photos. Many Canadians are flocking to Cuba at the moment before the “flood gates” are lifted. Hang on to your images. There will be huge changes.

    1. Thanks! After the big news now it seems like not much will change for the time being here. So it will be wait and see. I wish we could go freely. I would be there in a heartbeat. It is really expensive to go through a specialized tour like I went yet I’m so glad I got to go. I loved it.

  17. I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit Cuba too and loved every minute of it. I do hope that the changes in our relations with this beautiful country improve the way of life for Cubans, but as you expressed I am also happy that I was able to visit Cuba before all the changes begin to take place. I doubt it will continue to be like traveling through a time machine.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I really loved Cuba and hope I can go back again soon. I have a feeling that it will still be quite some time until it really changes but I’m so glad I got to go. 🙂

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