What makes volunteering in Cuba unique?
Greetings fellow traveler! Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and imagine. Imagine for a moment you are on an island. Sounds peaceful right? Well this isn’t any destination, this island has more than just sand and palm trees. This island is called Cuba, and it has a rich historical background filled with life, music, arts, and its own chaotic stories embedded in every street. And, it is just sitting there, waiting for you to find a volunteer program and book your ticket!
Cuba is filled with stark differences between urban life and the countryside, the past and the present, making it well worth a visit at least once in your life! Trust us, you won’t regret it!
Surprising Things About Cuba
You can immerse yourself in traditional Cuban music at every corner if you decide to volunteer in Havana. The festive beats of Havana can be heard throughout the night and day, which means musicians can be found everywhere. And while you may have heard of salsa before, what you didn’t know is that you can also experience music genres such as Cuban Jazz, the Conga, the Boogaloo, and much more. The raw, traditional sounds of the island will have you enamored, even after you finish your volunteering on the island.
A national past time in Cuba is dancing, and you'll learn this quick as a volunteer. From informal gatherings in the various squares of the city to the large dance clubs that never stop – there is something for everyone with a love for dance in Havana. Why not take a dance lesson while you’re there? Many of the locals, of all ages, are quite eager to show off their dance moves for visiting tourists, and if you’re lucky, you might even be serenaded.
The island is indeed a rhythmic surprise!
There is a national love for art in Cuba. Places such as the Fabrica de Arte Cubano combine art, music, and dance in an incredible space. Street art in Cuba transforms the walls of the cities and towns into expansive canvases, creating a vibrant environment. Havana, specifically, attracts artists locally and abroad, all of who would like to leave their mark in the eclectic city. The abundance of art, museums and artists celebrated in the city of Havana and throughout Cuba will not leave you without.
Cuba is home to a vast array of architectural history, including relics and sites important to the indigenous cultures that originally inhabited the island. Havana is a photographer’s dream with a variety of colonial styles. Many of Havana’s inner neighborhoods are also filled with structures inspired by Beaux Arts. You can see buildings such as the El Morro, a large fortress that’s situated by the bay, during your free time volunteering in Cuba. You might even get the chance to stay in beautiful apartments called casas as part of your program! There’s the old, the new and restored, all of which shed light on the country’s deep history, which will surprise you around every turn (literally!).
Make sure to spend quality time with the people of Cuba when you volunteer. You will come away with a deep appreciation for their culture, and you will learn about life under communism along the way. Cubans comes from all walks of life, with a variety of cultural backgrounds, religions, and struggles. But, Cubans are also known to carry themselves with energy and grace, and they are tremendously rich in spirit too! After you volunteer in Cuba, you’ll come home happy to have made a variety of new friends and be touched by the surprising experiences you've had.
Take a trip outside the city of Havana to Viñales, in order experience what rural Cuba is all about. Maybe even take a day to learn the history and craft of cigar making from the Cuban farmers themselves. Viñales is located on the western side of the island, a little over two hours from Havana. Those who choose to volunteer in Viñales you can also soak in the temperate sunny weather, visit caves, go rock climbing, birdwatching, hiking, and even horseback riding. You can also visit the Viñales Valley, which has been named a UNESCO'World Heritage site.
7. Antique Cars
During your volunteering in Cuba, you’ll see some of the most amazing classic American cars. Many of them are, in fact, pre-revolutionary and working only because of Cuban inventiveness. These cars have been kept alive for decades. Some are even used as taxis for the locals, so you can get a ride yourself and take a tour in a truly classic car.
Fun Fact! Did you know Cuba has the world’s highest concentration of antique cars? When you walk through Havana’s streets, you’ll feel as if you've gone back in time.
Of course we wouldn't forget to mention food! You know the saying, "Save the best for last!" Beans, pork, and rice are what you’ll encounter on the streets and homes of Cubans most often. But, you’ll also get the chance to taste the different influences present in Cuban cuisine; paella, fritas, and tamales are just the tip of the ice berg!
Are you surprised by Cuba yet?
Cuba is one of the most remarkable islands in the Caribbean, and this list only captures a tiny glimpse of all the surprising things about Cuba. So, take a chance to really open your eyes, and book yourself a ticket to experience the culture of Cuba!
This article was contributed by Globe Aware, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing individuals with unique, short-term volunteer experiences abroad, focused on cultural awareness and sustainability.