Vibrant Cuba quietens down as it mourns Fidel Castro

Cuba has been a travel mecca for decades – from its beautiful historical architecture and strong culture preserved through music, dance and food, to its political legacy that extends far beyond the north Caribbean island.

After the death of one the country’s most revered political icons, Fidel Castro, Cuba observed nine days of mourning. This has led to the temporary closure of museums, nightclubs and concerts following the state’s ban on live music. Alcohol – including rum, which commonly accompanies Cuban cigars – has also been prohibited. The atmosphere in Havana has been described as quite subdued as the nation observes this time to pay respect to the influential leader.

Castro’s brother, Raúl Castro, has been president of the socialist state since 2006 after Castro’s illness forced him to step down. Recently, USA President Barack and President Raúl have made efforts to strengthen relations between the USA and Cuba. The first commercial flight from the USA to Havana since 1961 – after a ban by the late Castro – coincidentally started operations on Monday with JetBlue Airlines. American credit cards for the first time were also opened for use in Cuba in 2015.

President-elect Donald Trump, due to take office in 2017, has however made statements about possibly reversing the diplomatic agreements between Obama and Cuba.

“We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the United States without some changes in their government,” Reince Priebus, who will serve as Trump’s chief of staff, said on Sunday to Fox News.

This has left an air of uncertainty as far as the impact this will have on tourist traffic from the USA. Travel to Cuba had experienced a substantial increase with data presented in the country’s National Statistics Office showing a 15% increase in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2015. Of the travellers, Canadians drove the highest numbers, followed by Cubans living in the diaspora, and then Americans, who had an 80% increase.

South Africa has a longstanding relationship with Cuba with it having played a role in Africa’s liberation from colonisation. On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma ordered that the national flag be flown at half mast in honour of Castro. Books of condolence have also been made available for South African citizens to sign at the offices of premiers across all provinces, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, and in Cape Town at Tuynhuys. President Zuma is one of the many heads of state who have flown to Cuba for the funeral this weekend. On the 28 and 29 November, he addressed the citizens of Cuba at a rally, where he spoke of the late Cuban leader’s role in the liberation struggle on the African continent.

To travel to Cuba, South Africans require a visa along with their South African passport. A tropical climate allows you to explore the country’s beauty and history – from Havana to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Cuba’s maritime museum – any time of the year.

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