Make Your Cuba Holiday Eco-Friendly
As the effects of global warming and climate change become increasingly evident, travellers are becoming more concerned with the effect their globetrotting has on the world around them. Everyone knows that air travel is bad for the environment, but there are many other ways travelling can be unsustainable. Staying in big multinational hotels, eating in chain restaurants, buying factory-made souvenirs or going on a cruise are all ways of engaging in unsustainable travel. Fortunately, in recent years the concept of Responsible Travel has become more and more prominent amongst travellers and the tour operators who arrange their adventures and steps are being taken throughout the industry to make all travel more eco-friendly.
Cubania Travel is committed to sustainable, responsible travel and makes it a part of everything we do. We encourage our travellers to do the same and design our Cuba holidays to have as positive impact as possible on the local environment, economy and communities. Luckily for us and our travellers, it’s easy to have a sustainable holiday in Cuba, which the WWF named the most sustainable country in the world in 2016. In Cuba, even the biggest hotels are 50% owned by the government and therefore help provide free healthcare, subsidised food and free education for Cuban nationals. Since the early 90s tourism has become the fastest-growing industry in Cuba and from its inception the government has primarily encouraged ecotourism. With a healthy sprinkling of UNESCO world heritage sites, national parks and biosphere reserves, there’s plenty to be protective of!
What’s so sustainable about Cuba?
Until the early 90s Revolutionary Cuba practiced highly unsustainable industrial agriculture, producing millions of tonnes of sugar cane to trade with the Soviet Union in return for food imports and machinery. It wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union, when Cuba had to look to itself for its food production and do so without the artificial fertilizers and pesticides previously provided by Russia, that the island’s modern era of organic agriculture began. Nowadays Cuba is known for its pioneering sustainable farming initiatives, particularly its urban farms or organopónicos.
Though there is no official law regarding recycling on the island, most Cubans recycle their non-biodegradable waste out of necessity. Plastic bags handed out in supermarkets are re-used as bin liners, shopping bags or packaging for home-made lunches. Large plastic bottles – originally containing fizzy drinks or water – are refilled with homemade yoghurt, fruit juice or honey. Smaller plastic bottles and many glass bottles are collected by scavengers and sold to the state to be re-used by vendors who fill them with tomato sauce, oil, garlic pulp or even coffee. Discarded aluminium cans are also collected and used to make pots for cactus plants or artisanal goods.
MAKE DO AND MEND
In Cuba, where basic goods are hard to come by and often extremely expensive, a policy of make-do-and-mend prevails. Furniture is continuously reupholstered and re-stuffed, mattresses are re-sprung, clothes are mended, electrical goods are re-wired and shoes are re-heeled. Where the average westerner would instantly replace their broken portable speaker with a click on Amazon, a Cuban would take it to be repaired. Most Cuban neighbourhoods have a cobbler, a fridge mechanic, a mattress repair person, a seamstress and even someone who fixes broken umbrellas. This proud nation could never be accused of being wasteful.
According to the World Bank, in Cuba there are only 42 cars for every 1000 people. Compare this to Iceland or the United States, where there are around 800 cars per 1000 inhabitants, and you get an idea of just how few people have access to a vehicle in Cuba. The result of the lack of availability of cars means that there are far fewer vehicles on the road, and therefore far less carbon emissions than in more developed countries.
How can you practice responsible travel in Cuba?
Cuba has a tropical climate and you need to keep yourself hydrated at all times. Instead of creating waste by buying single-use plastic water bottles, buy a reusable water bottle with a filter before you leave for Cuba. Companies such as Water-to-Go, LifeStraw and WaterWell all sell water bottles with powerful filters that kill up to 99.9% of germs and bacteria. With one of these bottles you can fill up from any tap in Cuba and not have to worry about ingesting any dangerous bacteria – you save money too! Kiss plastic bottles goodbye and embrace the freedom of sustainable, on-the-go drinking.
OFFSET YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
For most visitors a holiday in Cuba means a plane journey. Flying is undeniably harmful to the environment, contributing 2% of all global CO2 emissions. For this reason, many travellers opt to offset the CO2 emissions produced by their air travel by investing in carbon neutralising initiatives. Organisations such as Atmosfair, My Climate and Climate Care calculate the carbon emission of your flight and suggest an amount to donate to their environmental causes. This is a way to neutralise the C02 you’re producing and contribute to the conservation of our beautiful planet. Alternatively, you can choose to donate to organisations working on sustainable energy solutions all over the world.
It’s as easy as riding a bike! Instead of taking taxis or buses, explore Cuba by bike. Biking is a carbon neutral activity, so you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re not having any negative effects on the environment around you. Whether you’re discovering Havana or having a day trip to Playa Ancon from Trinidad, biking is a great way to see Cuba’s highlights.
Investing in the local economy is another way of making your trip to Cuba more sustainable. Eat in local restaurants, paladares, stay in private homes, casas particulares and buy locally-made arts and crafts. Please don’t haggle too hard on artisanal goods as any price reductions will be at the expense of a local not a big company. You should also avoid purchasing any items made out of shells, coral or animals parts, as the use of these materials damages the environment.
How does booking with Cubania Travel make your Cuba holiday sustainable?
Cubania strives to protect Cuba’s natural habitats, and we only trek or cycle over established routes. All of our trips involve at least one visit to a national park or reserve, where the entrance fee goes straight into local conservation and environmental initiatives. In our offices we only print essential documents, use energy saving light bulbs and keep air conditioning use to a minimum. In the spirit of intrinsic Cuban recycling, we give the water bottles from our activity trips to local communities who use them to sell home-made fruit juices at food markets. Tyres and other spare parts which can no longer be used on our bikes are donated to locals.
We encourage our travellers to have as much interaction as possible with locals as this is the best way to really understand Cuba. Our trips are designed to give travellers plenty of opportunities to chat with Cubans and learn about life on the island. Whilst we encourage visitors to ask plenty of questions about the unique situation that has given Cuba its iconic reputation, we ask them to respect the outlook and opinions of the locals. Cubania is always on the lookout for new local initiatives and prides itself on bringing business to smaller, lesser-known projects.
Cubania supports local enterprise in many different ways. Where possible we book our clients into casas particulares, family-run B&Bs where the money stays within the local economy. We encourage clients to dine at privately owned restaurants (paladares) and buy souvenirs from local handicraft markets. We also partner with local artists to print guides to Havana on recycled paper. The snacks and fruit for our biking and trekking trips are bought from local markets and vendors who use locally-sourced produce. We employ local guides and staff, providing them with excellent training and leadership opportunities, encouraging fair employment practices and rewarding job-related performance.
Get some useful info and insights we've picked up over the 15+ years of running tours on the island. The tips you will find in this guide:
- Local language
- Cycling & Trekking
- Money & Costs
- Hotel & Facilities