Cuba is quite unlike anything in the democratized Western world, a socialist country at our doorstep, whose people have figured out that socialism does not ideally work and have found brilliant ways to create an underground economy, while the government that owns virtually all businesses turns a blind, perhaps winking eye. Indeed, the government is beginning to privatize many businesses- evidenced by giving latitude to the tobacco farmers, parador operators (private restaurants) and owners of well appointed, luxurious private homes and apartments for short term tourist visits. All this works in our favor as visitors to this vibrant destination that is a paradox in terms of entrepreneurial spirit, expression through art and music, yet suppression of the masses.
I had the opportunity to visit Cuba 7 years ago when it first became available as a destination for US citizens. While much has changed since then, we continue to work with an in-country operator who can offer both group and private tours to Havana and surrounding communities, who provides us easy access to the required visas, is able to provide accommodation through private guest residences, revamped boutique hotels, and behind the scenes art and music venues and paradors.
Indeed their guides can provide the best experiences through their connections and extensive knowledge of the culture and history that will offer fascinating insight into both the hope and the tragedy that embody all that is Cuba. U.S. Visitors are allowed to enter Cuba on both Humanitarian and Cultural Immersion visas. These visas must provide proof that the visitors are accompanied throughout the visit by approved companies and guides. It would be against government regulations to attempt excursions on your own.
You can expect to pay between $400- $600 per person per day for a tour, with the price depending on whether you join a small group or have a private customized tour. Prices would slightly increase for a visit during the festive season, or during Havana’s music fests.
You will certainly learn about the history of Cuba, told from another viewpoint with which you may be familiar starting with the influence of the U.S. Mafia that controlled much of the Havana economy and cultural scene starting with prohibition in the 20s up until the Revolution in the late 50s. The colorful era includes tales of 80,000 prostitutes, marijuana farms, alcohol, casinos- a virtual bad boys’ weekend destination well attended by well off citizens of the States.
The Revolution destroyed the US backed Batista government. Fidel Castro opposed corrupt government and dictatorship and was able to overthrow the government by enlisting the peasants in the 1959 coup. Cuba was not communist until late 1962 when the Soviet Union saw an opportunity to place missiles off the U.S. coast. Argentinian Che Guevara’s influence on Fidel Castro led to Russian’s support of the Cuban economy. The 70s-80-early 90s was boom time with the Soviet support. The collapse of Soviet Union had a devastating effect on the economy.
Cuba today is a culture of re-emerging, hopeful people, but to succeed they must combat the laziness built by years of government handout. The strong belief is that the answer to social and economic revival is in the youth. The Revolution that occurred 64 years ago is still a hot topic and the 61 year U.S. embargo has stunted growth.
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• 4 days minimum Havana- stay at private boutique hotel near Old Havana or a private house
• Spend a few hours in the Modern Art Museum- art and expression throughout history tell a vibrant story of the Cuban culture and its triumphs and travails
• Visit private installations of local artists and meet with them personally to understand their gift of artistic interpretation
• Salsa lessons- maybe 2 sessions on different days: very fun, but difficult (at least for me) to master
• Rum Tasting: Rums that you can’t find in the U.S. there is the embargo and who knew there were so many tasty rums to a non–Rum drinker!
• Nightclubs especially F.A.C. a multi stage, multi bar, multimedia club experience that is not to be missed. Other nightclubs are lively and small- very accessible and inexpensive with great local and even globally recognized performers
• Experience some local Parladors- 2 we visited were excellent
• Visit the outdoor Modern art museum in the Fusterlandia neighborhood (Jose Fuster- reminiscent of Gaudi- the Spanish artist)
• Modern dance school private showing- percussion and group dance; very energetic and fun
• Market visit and celebrity chef prepared lunch or dinner in a private home or parador
• Historical guided walk through Old Town, visit museums
• Cruise around in a Yank Tank (Old Car)
• Visit the Santeria block of artists; see a sacrifice around the botanic gardens, river
• Visit a tobacco farm
• Hemingway house (only if private tour can be arranged)
• Take in the beautiful architecture- interesting photos of beauty, decay, and restoration
If you have more time consider day trips or overnights outside of Havana- We suggest the following:
• Cienfuegos- 3 hours - get there for lunch, stay one night- French founded, eclectic nightlife, castles.
• On to Trinidad- 2 nights 1.5 hours by car. Colonial city, salsa in the street, slave trade history. The only hotel is a renovated palace,
• Beach Varadero- 2.5 hours best beaches. Stay in DuPont family home: Xana du; across the street from nice golf course 2 nights recommended
Flights to/from Havana exist today. Access from Miami is easy.
Latitude can book arrangements to Cuba through our approved Tour Operator, and it is recommended that group trips be limited to 6 visitors, to avoid extra time, examination and paperwork required by the Cuban government for larger groups.
Cuba offers a vibrant culturally immersive experience, with behind the scenes connections with artists, musicians, dancers, chefs, farmers and everyday people. You will have an education in history like no other, with experienced guides and charming accommodations, a powerful look behind a crumbling façade and a glimpse of the nation’s old world charm.