Cuba has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. I can remember watching the People’s Revolution against Batista on television in the 1950’s (1953 -1959); I was twelve years old when the Batista regime finally fell to Fidel and Raul Castro and Che Guevara in 1959. What started with just twenty-two revolutionaries (one of them Argentinian) landing in Cuba, ended with a popular uprising of the masses. I have Cuban friends spanning both sides of the political spectrum, so I won’t spend too much time on the political aspects of the revolt.
The United States still continues with its embargo of Cuba, thus limiting American tourist travel to the island. Cuba has no such embargo, and freely welcomes all travelers to their beautiful slice of the world. American’s can travel legally to Cuba via State Department approved cultural trips, but most (and there are not many) sneak in under the radar. There is no direct flight from the United States to Cuba for the vast majority of American’s—so most non-sanctioned trips originate in foreign countries, often as not that country is Mexico. Aero Caribbean has a weekly flight from Merida, Yucatan, and I believe a daily flight from Cancun, Yucatan. Upon arrival in Cuba your United States passport will not be stamped, instead immigration and customs will stamp your Cuban visa document.
ATR-72 Twin-turboprop Short-haul Regional Airliner
The flight from Merida, Yucatan to Habana, Cuba is relatively short (usually about 1:45 hours to 2 hours). Aero Caribbean uses both the ATR-42 and ATR-72 twin-turboprop, short-haul, regional airliner. They are small and cramped, and don’t provide a lot of comfort, but the flight is short in duration and very manageable. A small meal (ham & cheese sandwich and nonalcoholic beverage) is included in the price. For more flight information here is a direct link to: Aero Caribbean.
There are a few different ways to see and experience Cuba: The Blue Hair Special, The DIY Special (Do It Yourself) or through Cuban Adventures. The Blue Hair Special is usually booked through a very large tour agency, travels in a huge bus, stays at resorts, eats at high-end restaurants, and rarely (if ever) meets any of the locales—the average age for this tour is about 110-years old (with the predominate hair color of silver-blue). No thank you, not for me. The DIY Special is for the hardy and well-seasoned traveler (who hopefully speaks pretty good Spanish). You rent a car and travel the island on your own. This is not a bad way to go, but it’s possible to miss some really good local experiences.
In between is Cuban Adventures, with its small & intimate groups averaging about seven people. A tour guide, vehicle and driver are provided. Home stays (really B&B’s) are the norm, with private rooms and bathrooms, air-conditioning and breakfast provided. The breakfasts are local cuisine, simple but great (and plentiful). Some walkabout’s are provided and there is plenty of time to explore on your own, as well as participating in many optional activities along the way. Extra meals (lunch, dinner and drinks) are on you, but two meals a day kept me plenty full and more than satisfied. My trip lasted 15-days and I visited the following destinations spanning the entire island:
* Old Habana
* Santa Clara
* Bold = Overnight Stays (1 to 3 nights)
Map of Cuba
My entire 15-day Cuban Adventure cost me approximately: $2,000 USD. This included all transportation (roundtrip airfare from Merida, Yucatan to Habana, Cuba and all ground/air transportation within Cuba itself), a tour guide, assistant tour guide and driver. All lodging, breakfasts and walkabout’s. Additional meals, drinks, tips and activities were extra, but my total out-of-pocket cost was still about $2,000 USD. You may spend a little more, or possibly a little less (but I’m pretty frugal). For more information contact Cuban Adventures direct.
Our Cuban Adventures Tour Group
(Click on individual images to enlarge)
Tony was our Tour Guide and one of the very best tour guides I’ve ever had. Forty-six years old, with twenty years in the business, and nine years with Cuban Adventures. Fluent English speaker, and comedian par excellence—his imitation of Al Pacino in Scarface was priceless: “I am Tony Montana … meet my leetle friend.” And because Cuba can experience some infrastructure challenges, his oft quoted “It’s all part of charm” was his mantra—however, my trip was seamless (due to Tony’s hard work), and nothing ever appeared to go wrong.
Yenni was our Assistant Tour Guide (Trainee). Yenni’s modest and shy behavior captivated and charmed me from the beginning. She had me at: “I’m just a seemple wooman” and “Oh my God.” Twenty-three years old, and recently graduated from University where she studied both Cuban and World History. A good English speaker, who really became comfortable communicating with us foreigners in English during the trip. This was Yenni’s first time traveling outside of Habana, and also her first airplane ride (Baracoa to Habana).
Soto was our driver, and expertly guided our 16-passenger Mercedes mini-van through all manner of terrain during our 15-days. I think Soto understood more English than he let on, and when he put his mind to it he spoke it pretty well too. A real ladies man, Soto was of indeterminate age (probably 65 to 70 years old) and a former chemistry teacher. Tony and Soto have worked together for years, and Tony’s favorite refrain was: “Coño Soto” a mild expletive loosely translated to mean “Dammit Soto.” By the end of the tour we were all doing it, and Soto would laugh and laugh each and every time.
Mercedes 16-passenger Mini-van
(With only 7-people on the tour, we had plenty of room to stretch out and be comfortable)
Our Group sans Steve & Joel
(Left to Right: Caroline – Scotland, Mark – England, Kate, Mad and Rob – All from Australia)
Special Note: Mark (second from the left) is a 12-year veteran of the RAF (Royal Air Force), and was recently discharged after multiple tours in Afghanistan. Good on ya mate.
This first post covers mostly the nuts & bolts (Logistics) of the trip. In my future posts I will try to share more of my photos and narrative covering my unique experiences in Cuba. Cuban Adventures designs their tours around a deep and profound cultural immersion—they want you to meet and interact with the people of Cuba. If you want a unique travel experience, consider spending some time in Cuba—you won’t regret it. It is beautiful, friendly and SAFE. Thank you to Tony, Yenni, Soto and to my fellow travelers for making this a trip to remember. To be continued … stay tuned for the rest of the adventure.
The Flag of Cuba