I recently spent an incredible week in Cuba where we celebrated my 30th birthday in the most epic fashion. By sheer luck, we were connected to Cristian, our awesome tour guide in Cuba, who became a great friend and showed us a side of the country we would’ve never seen otherwise.
Everyone keeps talking about how Cuba is changing, and how you need to go now before it changes forever–but what do actual Cubans think? What about those who work in tourism? I asked Cristian if I could pick his brain for a few minutes to find out.
Name: Cristian Abel Ortiz Suarez
Profession: Tourist Guide and Holiday Planner
1) How did you get into being a tourist guide in Cuba?
What got me into this profession was hard work, determination and of course the best of luck. I used to be a professional speed skater, but I always knew that wasn’t it for me. One thing I learned from my father was to work hard and to achieve my goals: the first step in this was learning foreign languages. [He can speak French, Italian, English and Spanish]
However, there are two women who pushed me further into becoming a tour guide. The first one is my mother, who encouraged me to learn English, French, and as much as I could fit in my brain. The second one is my girlfriend who actually taught me, trained me and introduced me to the manager of Havana Journeys
in Cuba, and it was with this agency that I officially started this profession.
2) Do you think tourism is changing in Cuba? How? Is Cuba changing?
Yes, definitely. The tourism coming now is doing it out of curiosity and fear. They are curious as to what is going on in the island and afraid that they can’t make it before the “Big Change” takes place. Undoubtedly, Cuba is changing, but not in the way everyone thinks. You are not going to see skyscrapers or any of the multinational corporations like McDonald’s any time soon. Rather, Cuba is blossoming right now, and for young people like me it has much to offer.
3) What’s your favorite part of your job as a tour guide in Cuba?
My favorite part is when I get to share with people from all over the world my country, our culture, our highlighted spots and most importantly, making new friends.
What’s it like to work as a tour guide in Cuba?
4) Everyone wants to travel to Cuba now. What do you think they should understand about traveling in Cuba before they arrive?
First thing that people should understand is that Cuba is nothing like the rest of the world. Here, getting things done usually takes time. For American tourists especially, this is a place that won’t make you feel at home (since you won’t find here what you’re used to finding anywhere else, like free and fast Internet) but it will definitely make you fall in love with it.
My advice to you is to pack with you some extra patience and understanding.
5) Let’s say your friend is planning a trip to Cuba. What advice would you give her before the trip?
I would advise her to take at least a week off, for this is not a place you can grasp in a couple of days. The starting point is Havana but there is more, and you should not miss it.
6) What are your favorite parts of Cuba to travel to?
Cuba is certainly a dazzling archipelago and it is full of magic spots. Nevertheless, my favorite place is Trinidad.
[Cristian took us through Havana, Trinidad and Varadero and it was amazing. On my next visit, I want to see Vinales and the eastern areas of Cuba like Baracoa].
7) What would you like to see more of, as more Americans start to travel to Cuba?
People interested in the Cuba that we have: full of history, traditions and beauty, instead of people wanting to change that.
Have you been to Cuba? Tell us about your experience below.