Only recently have American tourists been allowed to travel to Cuba. The only way to do this is on a People-to-People program. There are now several licensed tour operators offering these education-based, insightful visits, with a focus on personal encounters with Cuban artists, farmers, fisherman, doctors, or other locals. You must agree to take part in a busy, highly organized tour with very little free time. The tour company takes care of all paperwork and Visas needed to enter the country.
U.S. dollars, credit cards and debit cards are not accepted in Cuba. You must bring cash that can be exchanged into Cuban pesos to use while visiting. The average wage is $40.00 a month (including their professionals). Because of this, tipping is expected and needed for them to survive. Expect to tip for just about everything.
My first reaction to my recent visit was, “I’ve stepped back into the 1960’s”. Just a brief 35 minute flight from Miami and you are in the world some of us knew many years ago. I really did not know what to expect, so I really had to pinch myself many times that something so very different was just beyond our shores.
Havana is a high-energy city with its colonial buildings, friendly people, and mixed heritage. You see horse and buggy taxis and some of the most beautiful old classic cars. It was like Detroit’s own Dream Cruise on steroids! We traveled with Latour, a division of IsramWorld, and our group, though small in number, was very diverse. Although we were told that we had to travel daily with the group program in its entirety, we were allowed to travel freely every evening to explore Havana at night. Our group stayed at the five-star Meliá Habana Hotel. However, the Cuban version of a five-star hotel is vastly different than our version. We came to learn that Latour had definitely picked the best hotels on the island.
After four wonderful nights in Havana, we traveled to Cienfuegos for two additional nights to experience life outside of Havana. We met warm people and saw beautiful colored buildings, cobblestone streets, and, yes, more fabulous vintage cars!
We found that under the new Communist regime of Raoul Castro, Cubans were finally allowed to venture into some free enterprise. While the government-run restaurants were acceptable, we found that the newly opened paladares (private restaurants) were on a par with any big city dining venues we had ever been to. It was a wonderful surprise!
Cuba is a great destination and it’s a stones throw away. Different, colorful and exciting......