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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

Hard Currency Admission at Havana’s Colon Cemetary

December 10, 2013 | Print Print |

Isbel Diaz Torres

Entrance: 5 CUC

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban State appears to know no limits when it comes to strategies for milking the last penny out of those who visit the island. Even Havana’s sprawling Necropolis de Colon cemetery is used as a tourist trap.

Though I am constantly cutting across this, the country’s most important cemetery, it was only recently that I found out that, while allowing Cubans free access to the premises, the necropolis charges non-nationals a 5 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) ($5.50 usd) admission.

I became aware of this while trying to show a Latin American friend, a lover of Cuba and its revolution, one of the city’s most beautiful places in terms of sculptural and architectural art.

A few steps beyond the gigantic Carrara marble monument that adorns the cemetery entrance, when I was just about to show my friend the tomb of Jose Marti’s mother, a gatekeeper ran up to us and demanded that the young foreigner pay the admission.

I must confess I felt deeply embarrassed. Neither I nor my friend could afford to pay 5 CUCs to walk among those tombs, no matter how beautiful they may be.

It didn’t exactly matter to us that many experts consider the necropolis the second most important cemetery in the world, preceded only by the Staglieno cemetary located in Geneva, Italy. The fact of the matter was that we could not and did not want to pay for something that couldn’t even be described as a service.

My friend is a young university professor who had traveled to Cuba to participate in a scientific forum. He had come, not to throw away money on prostitutes or discos, but to enjoy the country’s people and culture.

Cemetery for tourists.

He had come for work-related reasons and to enrich himself spiritually, not to enrich the island’s tourism companies. He had come to visit his friends, who have known him for thirteen years.

For Cuba’s tourism industry, every foreigner is a potential tourist. This industry tends to forget, however that they are dealing with human beings, each with his or her own life history, interests and social status.

What might have happened, I wondered, if the foreigner they had approached had come to visit the grave of their mother in Cuba? How could the gatekeeper know, ultimately, that my friend was a foreigner, without having seen his ID? From his facial features? Were we witness to a racist gesture?

I don’t believe this 57-hectare historical site should be devoid of mechanisms for raising hard-currency revenues, needed for restoration efforts. It is clear, however, that it must re-evaluate its current strategies, which do nothing but frighten visitors away.

As for us, we went out of what has been the largest mortuary in the Americas since 1854 and took some pictures from behind its surrounding, barred fencing. I intend to go back soon wearing sandals, a Panama hat and a camera to see if they try to charge me 5 CUC to go in.


What's your opinion?

  • Peter

    Sorry, but I find it very silly. Any foreigner can afford 5 cuc, dollars or euros. As a dutch person who has visited Cuba/Havana quite a lot since 1995 and like/admire the country (without being critical about things that are not going well in my opinion), I do think that we, “rich” foreigners, can afford a financial tribute to maintain this important Panteon. Last time however, I came to visit the grave of a friend who is buried there a couple of years ago: they did not charge me anything and the people of the administration and some guards where very helpful and friendly in assisting me to show me his burial place.

  • Michael

    I have visited this amazing place many times… And I have spent 8 hours in one go walking around and photographing these fantastic monuments. And I have met some very helpful Cuban people who have pointed out certain features to me that I otherwise might have missed. While I have never been asked to pay any entrance fee as of my last visit in 2011… Though once I was asked for a 1CUC camera fee at the front entrance gate… And this was not a problem… (for me) Though if I were to return the entrance would be well worth the small fee. Though a tip, that you should have known, just walk around the wall and take the side entrance in… Yes there are guards though just do not show a camera… I am a Canadian and it worked for me…

    • Michael

      And PS No Sandals and Panama hat for me… I try not to stand out (I get better photos that way…) You look way better dressed than I would ever be… Even in Cuba…

    • Elizabeth Faraone

      Michael, have you posted these photos online? I would love to see them. I don’t know what Isbel and Landy were thinking when they didn’t bring me to that cemetery. But I suppose I can only blame myself. I’m usually very good at planning my own itineraries when I travel, and that would have been a hot spot for me.

      • Michael

        Hi Elizabeth. I would love to post some of my many photos from Cuba… No where to do it… Though some of my photos are on the past HT photo contest mentions… 2011 I believe. Ciao. Michael.

  • John Saynor

    I agree with you Peter. It costs a lot to maintain this cemetery and to restore it. I have visited and have no problem with the charge…it is less than one beer in Canada!

  • Elizabeth Faraone

    It should be a suggested admission. Most American and European tourists would pay it and the rest wouldn’t be denied access. The Cuban government needs to learn from NYC (or what NYC was like in the 1970s). Unfortunately, NYC has gotten worse over the years, increasing it’s admission prices and not being obvious about suggested admission and times when you can enter for free. All of that being said, I, being of limited financial resources, had no problem paying for things in Cuba because I felt Cuba needed the money. I’m totally poor now, and won’t ever be able to return to Cuba *tears rolling down my cheeks*