Books and Films to Read and Watch Before Traveling to Cuba

By Clarcie Howell, Regional Director

…get a jump-start on re-imagining the nation with the following books to read before you travel to Cuba

For most Americans, any knowledge of Cuba comes in the shadow of the “red scare,” and with a curious, if somewhat biased interest in an island nation stuck in time since it’s last friendly engagement with the US, whose closest border is a mere 103 miles away.

On ARCC Summer Programs and Gap Semesters, we break down that bias as much as we can, staying with Cuban families who are happy to fill in the historical gap since 1961. It’s a lot to take in, though, and the list below can help any traveler get a jump start on re-imagining the nation, which has no doubt been creating unique art and literature as it’s marched to its own beat for over 60 years.

Why is Cuba the way that it is? Find out with the following books to read before you travel to Cuba:

Books to Read Before you Travel to Cuba

Motorcycle Diaries, by Che Guevara

Though Guevara never rode his motorcycle through Cuba, his journey through much of Latin America led to his understanding of the poverty left by colonialism throughout the region, and his eventual decision to join Fidel Castro’s rebel army, ultimately leaving his legacy in Cuba. Adapted for film in 2004, this literary legacy serves to be very different from other things Guevara has left behind.

A Planet for Rent, by Yoss

Yoss’s most popular novel is written from a post-Soviet Union Cuba, with all of the imaginative flavor we expect in a Latin-America novel. In this Sci-Fi, aliens invade earth and make it into an intergalactic tourist destination. The perfect paradise for visiting tourists, earthlings left on the planet don’t find such a plush lifestyle and are forced into underpaid work for the bureaucracy, drug dealing, or black marketeering. Extended metaphor, anyone?

Dreaming in Cuban, by Christina García

Dreaming in Cuban is a cultural exploration of the choices Cuban women make. The novel follows the dreams of three women who have very different memories of Cuba, their home. In dreams of love, imprisonment, grandmothers, and gardens, the women grapple with the Cuba they know, before and after the revolution.

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

With only about 90 pages, this novelette won’t take long to read, but the endurance and sheer will of the old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, will stick with you for a lifetime. Hemingway wrote many of his greatest novels as an expatriate in Cuba, but this one stands out to us as the one that most exemplifies Cuba as a country that values tradition; a country in which old things still carry value; a country that fights monsters bigger than its square mileage.

Che: A Revolutionary Life, by Lee Anderson

The first major biography of the revolution, this nonfiction piece displays Che Guevara’s complicated character. While Che wanted to abolish poverty for his people, his revolution is also faulted for the darkest periods of Cuba’s history. For years, people have sought to understand the man behind the revolution, and Anderson’s book helps to shed light on a man whose life has become synonymous with Cuba’s history.

Movies to Watch Before you Travel to Cuba

Suite Habana, 2003

This documentary offers no narration, but follows ten Cubans through their regular days in Havana. If you don’t mind subtitles (or if you’re ready to brush up on your Spanish), this film provides quiet insight on the day-to-day of citizens of this secluded and unique island nation.

Lucía, 1968

Much like Dreaming in Cuban, this fictional film follows three Cuban women from three different historical periods. Each named Lucía, the women are tied more by their strife than their name. While the women watch the patriarchy change their country again and again, we watch the strength in women throughout war and revolution.

Viva Cuba, 2005

Winner at the Cannes film festival, this film focuses on the narrative of two friends whose friendship is threatened by the differing opinions of their parents. In a nod to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the upper-class Malu, and socialist Jorgito pursue their friendship despite their parents best efforts.

ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 35 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.