cuba & hurricane irma


As you no doubt are aware from the news, the north-central part of Cuba has been severely hit by Hurricane Irma, particularly along the northern shore. Tourist resort destinations such as Playa Santa Lucia, Cayo Coco, and Cayo Santa Maria have been devastated and won’t be up-and-running or even accessible for tourism any time soon.

The good news is that although it sustained significant damage, Varadero–Cuba’s main beach resort–remains operational and, hopefully, will soon be back to normal.

Alongside ensuring that essential infrastructure (water, electricity, etc.) is rapidly repaired, I expect the Cuban government to prioritize rebuilding the hotel infrastructure on the north coast resorts as quickly as possible. Russian president Vladimir Putin has promised economic aid to that effect. And the foreign hotel management groups, which have a huge economic stake, will surely play their part too.

Meanwhile, my friends and colleagues on the ground in Cuba confirm that the main cities and travel destinations beyond the northern beach resorts have only suffered minor damage. This includes Havana, Pinar del Río province and the cities of Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Camagüey, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo and Baracoa.

Western Cuba beyond Havana (including Viñales) and the eastern provinces beyond Holguín were barely touched.

In Trinidad–a key tourist venue on the tours I lead for National Geographic Expeditions, etc.–my friend Julio Muñoz reports that although electricity is still out, the city received very little damage and the fallen trees are already being removed. Although the beach hotels at Playon Ancón received water damage, they are expected to be back in operation within two weeks.

In Havana, flooding was limited to a few blocks inland of the Malecón and Miramar districts.

As of September 12, as I type, the ocean level was back to normal, most of Havana’s streets have already been cleared of fallen trees and other obstacles, and power should soon be restored. Rest assured, things will return to normal. The same is true of cities throughout the island.

Fortunately, the Cuban government prepared by staging emergency supplies and building equipment ahead of the arrival of Irma, and crews were put to work to repair essential infrastructure even before the storm had departed.

Says the New York Times: “The Cuban government immediately began relief efforts, deploying security forces in large numbers to the hardest-hit areas, along with convoys of trucks carrying food and heavy equipment to help remove debris.” With good reason, the New York Times calls the Cuban response “a well-oiled machine.”

Even the dolphins on Cayo Coco were rescued (see photo to left)!

Havana’s José Martí International Airport has already reopened, as has that of Cienfuegos, and it is anticipated that the Matanzas-Varadero will open within the week.



In November 2016, the eye of Hurricane Matthew came ashore at Baracoa, wrecking much of Cuba’s original town (founded in 1511). Reports of the damage were grim.

I visited only two months later… and was delighted to discover that almost every house that had had its roof torn off had already been fixed with new zinc roof supplied by the government. Every single piece of rubble had been removed. And the only visible sign that a major hurricane had passed through were the many trees felled to the ground.

It was a remarkable statement to the country’s resilience… to the Cuban government’s capacity to restore services and infrastructure… and to the remarkable resiliency of the Cuban spirit. Cubans don’t dwell on their “misery.” They celebrate… such as the men playing dominoes in the rain… or the woman singing in Guanabacoa!

Nothing can suppress the infectious Cuban passion for gaiety. And that’s one reason…



The task of recovery from Hurricane Irma will be many times harder, and longer, than that of Hurricane Matthew.

But the flood waters will recede from Havana within days. Essential infrastructure will soon be functioning again. And by the time the next ‘tourist season’ begins in November, visitors to areas other than the north shore resorts should experience the same pleasant surprise that I did in Baracoa in January 2017.

Moreover, my people-to-people programs offered by National Geographic Expeditions should not be affected at all.  Our itinerary visits Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad… the latter two cities on the south coast. Likewise my photo tourswith Tom Brichta, Jim Cline Photo Tours, and Lumaria Workshops.

The route of my Western Cuba motorcycle tour offered by Edelweiss Bike Travel similarly also concentrates on Viñales (west of Havana) plus Cienfuegos, Trinidad and the Bay of Pigs. And I am already in discussion with Edelweiss to reroute our longer tours to avoid the north coast resorts.

And here’s the main reason why you SHOULD travel to Cuba… to help the Cubans recover from this tragedy by supporting them economically.

Many of the Cubans we’ll interact with on my people-to-people programs are independently employed artists, musicians, restaurateurs and owners of bed & breakfasts (casas particulares). They rely on our income. They rely on us!

Plus, Hurricane Irma will have done nothing to diminish the gaiety, community spirit, and friendliness of the Cuban people and their remarkable and endearing culture.




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