By Nadia Eckhardt
*Cuba travel journal from a General License trip
Cuba, and in particular, the people of Cuba have always fascinated me. It was a country high up on my travel bucket list, that I had the pleasure of first visiting on a ship trip 13 years ago.
I expected much would have changed when I returned in October 2014, but quite the contrary, I was delighted to see those same amazing 1950’s Chevys, beautiful architecture in Trinidad and Havana, music on the streets and in many restaurants, and the same friendly, welcoming Cuban folks.
A trip of about two weeks is the perfect amount of time to experience the Glory of Cuba (this was the length of the ‘Nadia & Friends’ trip in October 2014). We saw four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ernest Hemingway’s home, Valley of the Sugar Mills, Bay of Pigs, strolled the streets of Havana and Trinidad, enjoyed fine Cuban cuisine, puffed on Cuban Cigars, and tasted the world famous Havana Club’s 7-year-old rum. We saw spectacular scenery in Vinales Valley, met local artists and farmers, and toured a beautiful orchid garden in Soroa. We traveled in style, in vintage cars, to dinner and a Cuban show in Old Havana!
The roads we traveled were in excellent condition, and we felt safe and secure every step of the way. We were welcomed and served excellent meals everywhere we went, and now that I know we can bring back souvenirs from Cuba, I can’t wait to go shopping in Cuba on my next visit.
I was amazed at how much of Havana’s old quarter remains untouched despite many revolutions and wars over the last 200 years. It was pretty tough trying to keep an eye on your feet, as there is SO much to see and photograph when looking up at magnificent buildings dating back to the 18th century! We visited Revolution Square, Plaza de Armas, Cathedral Square, and a highlight was our guided tour with Omar at the Fine Arts Cuba Museum. We were treated to an impromptu, mostly children’s, dance performance in the museum lobby after our visit, and that had us all enthralled. There was such energy and talent!
Cienfuegos founded in 1819, is a must and we did it in style. Alex, our guide, spouted out facts and figures, which amazed us all. You really did not need to do much walking; you could easily spend an hour standing in one spot on the main square (Jose Marti Park), gazing at Cathedral de la Purisma Concepcion, Terry Theater, Ferry Palace and the San Lorenzo School. The majority of the 1188 buildings (only about 300 are public and the rest residential) are from the first half of the 20th century.
Trinidad is my all-time favorite Cuban city. It is a living-museum of Spanish colonialism. No trip to Cuba is complete without a visit to Trinidad; our bus driver Martin said the same thing when we first drove in to Trinidad!
Our hotel was smack in the center in town, with easy walking distance to some top paladares (private home restaurants). Many homes have a roof top that is a superb place to watch the sunset. We were serenaded by a Cuban band on a rooftop before a dinner one special evening. By the end of cocktail hour, we were all up on our feet singing and doing our best Cuban dance routines.
We explored caves, rivers, grottos, nature pools, and crystal clear water in Topes de Callantes, a nature reserve in the Escambray Mountain range. A big highlight was we were fortunate to see the bee hummingbird: the smallest living bird.
Our entertaining guide, Anders, was a wealth of brilliant information during our nature hike. He knew so much about every plant, tree, and shrub, and he shared details such as medicinal purposes for the plants. Magnificent ferns and wild orchids surrounded us, too. We sat down after a few hours of hiking for a family-style lunch; it was a delicious home-cooked meal.
My advice to travelers keen on visiting Cuba – now is the time! Visit before the floodgates open, as there is a risk of Cuba becoming very popular, very quickly.
Expedition Easy will offer another ‘Nadia and Friends’ trip to Cuba in January 2016. Join me before Cuba really opens up!
Cuba Travel Changes
When President Obama announced in December 2014, that he was plotting a new course on Cuba by restoring diplomatic relations, broadening travel experiences for U.S citizens and even expanding the exiting Interest US office to an Embassy, we were all pleasantly surprised. We heard church bells ring throughout Havana when Raul Castro’s gave his speech. Many were speechless and some were crying and/or cheering. It is indeed a ‘new chapter’ in Cuba-U.S. relations.
However, while it was announced that travel rights were going to be expanded, and tourism was not one of the 12 categories mentioned. We are still only (as U.S. Citizens) able to travel to Cuba with special licensed (OFAC) permission on a People-to-People visit or on General License visit. Expedition Easy will once again visit Cuba with our partners’ who hold the required General License.
Contact Nadia at Expedition Easy to learn more about Cuba travel and how you can visit this intriguing, one-of-a-kind destination.