We had a fabulous experience touring Cuba with CIT, from the first day to the last. Mostly this was because of Cuba–a place like no other, with warm, talented people–but it was also because of our great guides. Patricia, who chaperoned us our first two days, was warm, friendly, and knowledgeable. The experience that stands out was dancing with her and the members of the Afro-Cuban collective Beyond Roots to the drums and singing of the group members. We are neither Yoruba nor believers in Santeria (well, maybe now we are), but the spirit and the rhythms really took us to a different world. Another amazing experience–and I can’t remember if it was still with Patricia or our 2nd guide, Karel–was the concert we were given by a group of children singing and playing guitars in their classroom, some of the kids as young as five or six, up to older teens. They attend an after-school program called Clave de Sol and they are so talented.
You’re a seasoned traveler. You’re always up for an adventure and you return with fantastic stories. You’ve got your sights set on traveling to Cuba and you want a unique, off-the-beaten-path experience.
However, it can be difficult to put together your own authentic experience, and you may be unsure if the trip you’d like to take is even legal. (Hint: with us, it is!)
Below, you’ll find our Top Ten Tips to help you discover the best of Cuba!
- Allow Yourself To Step Back In Time
You’ve seen the photos, and now it’s time to experience it for yourself! Zip through narrow streets and down tree-lined boulevards in a classic car to see the colorful and architecturally stunning neighborhoods of Havana.
You’ll get to ask – how do Cubans keep these 1950s American convertibles in such pristine condition? There’s no better way to see for yourself than paying a visit to a bodyshop where they share their creative ways of keeping these amazing cars going.
- Get a Taste for Cuba’s Unique Restaurants
In Cuba you won’t find any McDonald’s or Starbucks. Instead, you’ll visit unique, privately-run restaurants (called paladares). Until recently there were only government-run restaurants with minimal variety and little incentive to excel. But now paladares are all the rage!
Private Cuban citizens operate these restaurants out of their residences, and they are nothing if not creative. You will find a wide assortment of brilliantly renovated spaces with the most delicious local and international cuisines and farm to table ingredients. With the likes of President Obama, Jay-Z and stars of all kinds stopping in, make sure you make a reservation well in advance!
- For Lodging, Go Royal or Rustic
But, for a truly Cuban experience, try a casa particular and stay in the home of a Cuban? This is a great way to stimulate the local economy while experiencing the best of true Cuban culture! You’ll bask in the attentive care of a Cuban host and get a sense for what it’s like to live in an authentic neighborhood. Hosts take great pride in their homes and exceptional care of their guests. Opt for breakfast and enjoy seasonal tropical fruits, Cuban coffee, and fresh juices- healthy, delicious and prepared just for you!
If you prefer hotels there are amazing boutique hotels that are privately owned. Either way, we are here to find the perfect one for you.
- Immerse Yourself in Cuba’s Art, Music & Dance
In Havana, the arts are prized above all else. Artists welcome you into their private studios where you can watch as they create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Young Jazz musicians featured at NYC’s Lincoln Center give private performances at the famous Abdala recording studios. The fierce women of Havana Compás Dance leave viewers breathless with their rhythmic dancing and drumming. These types of experiences and more could be part of your unique exchanges in Havana. Find the true heart of Havana: her flourishing arts culture.
- Learn About Cuba’s Rich History
Havana is renowned for its beautiful architecture and fascinating political history. Don’t wander through the plazas solo, trying to figure out who built what building, and in what year. When you have an expert local guide to lead you, you will have a much richer experience and the opportunity to discover these hidden treasures for yourself.
For even more variety, take the time to travel to Trinidad (about 4 hours from Havana by bus or car), an unspoiled colonial town founded in the 1500s. Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can explore the city’s preserved nooks and crannies, mysterious alleys and colorful doorways. Trinidad is steeped in dramatic history. Learn about the sugar plantations that built the city and attracted wealth, pirates, immigrants, and drove the slave trade. Enjoy the unique ambiance of cobblestone streets, riders on horseback and ancient architecture.
- Party Like a Local
It’s no secret that Havana is known for its nightlife! Make sure not to miss one of the most exciting new venues in the world: the Cuban Art Factory. This converted warehouse will keep you busy as you wander through its colorful spaces; at once a bar, club, music venue, and transnational art space; you won’t leave disappointed!
Looking to go dancing? There are so many options for every taste. Or even if you just want to sit on the Malecon and people watch at night, you are sure to encounter a colorful local scene.
- Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open For Cuban Idiosyncrasies
There’s a reason Cubans can easily tell who is Cuban and who is a foreigner! The way Cubans move, speak, dress, and act is all unique to the island nation. Be on the lookout for the expressive ways that Cubans communicate with their hands, or even hail a cab. Certain gestures have specific meanings that might be missed by the untrained eye!
Also, if you listen closely, you might catch how Cubans drop their S’s and leave out the ends of words when they speak. People from Havana, habaneros, are especially famous for speaking lightning fast. If you travel outside Havana, you might notice Cubanos in other provinces speak slower and sweetly, almost like a song.
Looking to use some local lingo? Try asking a young Cuban what’s up: “¿Que bola?”
- Escape the City
We’ve all seen those wooden cigar boxes, the ones from Cuba that were so prized by our fathers and grandfathers. The smell of them calls to mind a place in the world where the craftsmanship of a good cigar is still highly prized. Get out of Havana and into one of the world’s most scenic countryside areas, Viñales Valley (in fact, the New York Times named this area one of the top 10 places to visit in 2016). Visit a local tobacco farm in Viñales and watch the plant go from root to roll, and then take home a few fresh Cuban cigars for yourself.
While there, don’t miss the heart-warming world of artist, Mario Pelegrin, who has transformed his own property into a community hub for art, music, gardening, pottery and more. Teachers from around the world donate their services to further advance this unique project. I guarantee you have never seen anything like it and you will leave changed (and probably with some incredible, original, inexpensive art too).
- Give Back to the Cuban People
Cubans truly appreciate anything visitors bring as gifts. It could be something as small as chocolates, or school supplies for the kids. A bottle of bubbles can keep them laughing for hours in the town squares! And vitamins. Tipping helps too. Those in the tourism industry might support their whole extended families on their tips.
- The Big Question: How do I Travel to Cuba Legally?
Let us take care of all your paperwork and preparations (Cuban visa, Certificate of Travel, and official itinerary, restaurant and nightlife reservations) so you can focus on what really matters: getting to Cuba and seeing it all for yourself!
When you let CIT plan your trip to Cuba, you will have the trip of a lifetime with off-the-beaten-path adventures and refined cultural experiences. You’ll have insider access to the island’s artists and musicians, the best culinary experiences, and the most exclusive hotels and B&Bs. We will answer your questions and help with currency and anything that can be confusing about Cuba.
Hear what our past clients have to say:
I have always consciously avoided any kind of organized tour — but Cultural Island Travel literally handed me the country of Cuba. Our guide, Patricia, designed an intimate week just for us that absolutely dazzled my family. I have been gushing about Cultural Island Travel’s tour of Havana since we returned two months ago. They showed me the Cuba I had only dreamt existed.
Mitchell A.“Mitch” Glazer, American movie producer, writer, and actor, NYC
Traveling with you to Cuba wasn’t just amazing, it was a life changing experience. We are already looking forward to our next adventure with Cultural Island Travel and even making excuses up so we can go back to Cuba soon.
Maria Cristina Marrero, Author of Las Imperfectas & Editorial VP at Hola! USA, NYC
My daughter and I were very hesitant to travel to Cuba by ourselves and researched many travel companies to find the one that fit our plans. Cultural Island Travel helped us plan an itinerary that suited us and the travel restrictions placed on US citizens. Our tour guide, Laura, was sensational. She is a Cuban national and a very educated woman. She gave us so much history of the country and gave us so much more than our tour book did. Our drivers, Carlos and Pedro, were very conscientious and safe drivers. I can’t thank them enough for making us feel comfortable and safe. This trip was so much more than we expected. I am very grateful to Cultural Island Travel for all they did to make our trip exceptional!
Sandy and Megan, Lake Havasu, AZ
Email email@example.com or call us at 800-494-1945 to book your own custom tour today, we will answer any questions you have about Cuba!
Habana is the most romantic city in the world!
Between the gorgeous architecture, the vast sea, the passionate people and all of the COLOR! No place is more romantic for a couple to visit. Book a Cuba trip today and request a photo session with our very own Ebony O’ Reilly! Thank you to Susan and Daryl for trusting us with your Cuba adventure!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 800-494-1945 to book your own custom tour today!
Ari and Ebony are going to take you on a one of a kind virtual tour of Havana!
From their 100-year old home in Old Havana, they will take you on a very unique virtual journey of everything that makes Havana so beautiful and enchanting.
Know more about Ari.
Know more about Ebony.
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As the new year started, we find ourselves overwhelmed by touching messages and words of thanks from our clients, now our cherished friends, who have truly felt the magic of Cuba.
We would like to share with you some of the kind words our clients have said of CIT over the years along with photos that bore witness to their unforgettable adventure.
Roberta Newlon, 5 stars
I’ve traveled to Cuba five times with Cultural Island Travel (CIT) beginning in 2015 (and just recently two weeks ago) and each trip was more exciting and memorable than the previous. For a photographer, Cuba is sublime and CIT successfully creates an atmosphere of amazement, creativity, and excitement.
..it’s been an amazing experience learning about the Cuban people. The CIT staff that creates the itinerary does a great job; but our Guide, Ebony O Reilly, makes it magical. She’s extremely knowledgeable, professional, resourceful and creates an amazing experience for her people. My friends and family ask me why I keep going back to Cuba. I tell them to look on my Instagram and FB pages and they will see why.
My next trip with CIT will most likely be September 2020!
Lesley Wilson, 5 stars
Had a great time in Cuba!! Cultural Island Travel provides a great experience. All the tour guides are great but ask for Naomi If you have a choice. You will feel like she’s your best friend before your trip is complete. Can’t wait to visit again!!
Angela Sellers, 5 stars
I would like to send a sincere thank you to Cultural Island Travel (CIT)and Laura Gonzalez Chau, our amazing host and tour guide for creating such an amazing and affordable experience for our group. If you are considering traveling to Cuba, I would strongly encourage you to use this travel agency. Many people are hesitant to travel to Cuba, (CIT) will walk you through the steps and provide everything you need to travel. They communicated ensuring that every traveler had all documents. It does not matter if I return with 2 or more, I will return to Cuba and will ONLY go this route. Our itinerary was customized to maximize our every moment in Cuba.
If you want to travel without the stress of figuring out what to do, safety and an amazing vacation, choose Cultural Island Travel. They exceeded our expectations.
Robert Fierer, 5 stars
We had a great trip with our family. Theresa helped organize everything we wanted and was very helpful. Our guide, Fernando was awesome, helpful and interesting! All the special events, lodging and food were wonderful. Cuba is a wonderful place to visit and we can’t wait to return!
Paula Zackeru, 5 stars
As a single, female traveler, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived there. Was I going to be safe? Was I going to be able to go out at night and enjoy the music and nightlife that I had planned originally? I was treated like a princess and the answer is YES!
…this was a fantastic experience and I feel lucky to have found CIT. I am a travel agent and will be using CIT to book all of my future Cuba trips for my clients. I cannot wait to return to Cuba again and explore all of it’s beauty…people, sights and culture.
To read more of our customer feedback and to add your own, please check out the Google reviews at: https://goo.gl/maps/7EjzBQDXc9RHy9wg8
We at CIT get calls every day from people unsure about how travel to Cuba works. See below for a quick rundown of our Top Five FAQs – please share!
Can Americans still travel to Cuba?
Yes! US citizens can still travel to Cuba legally as long as they are going under one of 12 legal categories as described by the US Treasury Department.
Most of the available categories don’t apply to the average person (i.e., you have a close family member who is a Cuban national) but there is still one broad category open to all US citizens: support for the Cuban people.
When you book your flight to Cuba you will need to declare your legal reason for traveling to Cuba, so it is important to make sure you know which category you’re traveling under, familiarize yourself with the requirements, and choose it accordingly.
What does “Support for the Cuban people” mean?
The basic idea behind “support for the Cuban people” is that your tourist dollars aren’t supposed to end up in the hands of the Cuban government.
So for starters, you cannot stay at certain hotels, eat at certain restaurants, or shop at certain stores, etc., if they are owned and operated by the Cuban government.
Also, there’s a reason this category is called “Support for the Cuban people” – you’re supposed to be engaging in a meaningful way with Cuban people every single day! This could mean visiting a local art gallery, taking a private dance class, attending a private musical concert, visiting a school, etc.
What documentation do I need to visit Cuba?
Everyone traveling to Cuba needs a passport, and your passport needs to be valid for up to six months after your travel date.
You will also need a visa, sometimes referred to as a tourist card. In order to qualify for the visa you need to declare your legal reason for traveling to Cuba under a general license (the 12 categories) and provide the necessary documentation.
As a courtesy for all of our travelers, we provide your visa and the Certificate of Travel, which declares your legal reason for traveling, as well as an official itinerary that demonstrates all of your “support for the Cuban people” activities.
What will be the process when I return from Cuba, how do I need to prove I did a “Support for the Cuban people” trip?
It depends. We have traveled to Cuba countless times and it’s always a different experience upon returning. Sometimes the authorities ask no questions; sometimes they want to see time stamped photos of every single day as proof of activities.
The safest and surest way to travel to Cuba is to do it through an agency such as CIT. We are well versed in the regulations on Cuba travel and will make sure you have a safe, legally compliant, and seamless trip!
Is Cuba safe to visit?
Yes! Cuba has very low levels of crime. You should just use common sense precautions like you would in any other place.
The Cuban economy relies heavily on tourism, too, so local people and authorities alike are invested in making sure that tourists feel safe and welcome.
Discover the Magic of Mexico
Explore the legends and history of Mexico on this 7-day tour designed by CIT’s very own Irma Gonzalez! Immerse yourself in this colorful, ancient, and mystic culture and discover why Mexico City is considered the cultural capital of Latin America.
You will enjoy some of the best Mexican food and try authentic tequila, pulque, and mezcal. You will sing with Mariachis, explore the ancient pyramids at Teotihuacán, and visit the magical towns of Puebla and Cholula. You will visit Frida Kahlo’s home and float down the canals at Xochimilco. Irma will show you everything she loves about Mexico in an authentic and personal way!
Don’t miss out on this incredible experience! Ask about our 2020 dates for CIT-Mexico today!
Cultural Island Travel is excited to share some photos of our first Ireland tour taken by tour leader Ebony! Traveling with 12 lovely people, she shared some of the tour’s highlights. From authentic farm-to-table Irish meals to tours around a historic cemetery, an abbey, an actual castle and an island, this tour certainly delivered on all the points CIT is defined on – rich culture, lively music, history, beautiful and breathtaking landscapes, great food and lots of fun! We hope you’ll join us on our future Ireland tours in 2020!
Somewhere over the rainbow indeed! Truly a sight to behold.
This lovely Guinness chocolate cake is too beautiful to eat.
Everyone was excited to arrive in Carlow County to visit the Huntington Castle.
This was a day well spent in Galway City. The group went on a Claddagh ring tour learning about the history and the art that go into making these magnificent symbolic rings, and then ending the day in Katie’s Cottage where they had tea and scones as they listened to traditional Irish music.
As of this writing, the tour has not ended yet but looking at the smiles on their faces, they are having a great time!
With so many headlines talking about a “Cuba ban” and the discontinuation of cruises to Cuba, many Americans are – quite understandably – feeling confused about whether or not they can still travel to the island legally.
In fact, there are still 12 legal categories for travel to Cuba. Most of these are very specific and wouldn’t apply to everyday citizens (visiting a close family member who is a Cuban national, educational travel as part of an official school program, etc.) but there is one broad category that allows regular US citizens to travel there: “support for the Cuban people.”
There are two main components to the “support for the Cuban people” category. The first is making sure that your tourism dollars are not spent at government-run hotels, restaurants, and other blacklisted institutions, since the US does not want the Cuban government to profit off of US travelers. With over 20 years of experience in Cuba travel, we have consistently remained current with the regulations. We at CIT are well versed in exactly which places are legal for Americans, and we tailor our packages and itineraries so that your tourist dollars are going directly to the Cuban people.
The second part requires you to maintain a daily itinerary during which you are engaging in a meaningful way with the Cuban people. This means meeting Cuban artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, maybe taking a dance class, experiencing a cooking demonstration, etc.
“But I’ve never been to Cuba. How am I supposed to plan all that in advance?” you might ask. That’s where CIT comes in! We have decades of experience in Cuba and have connections for everything and anything that you might want to see.
The goal of our signature tours is to provide you with a broad introduction to Cuban culture and have you enjoy meaningful interactions with real Cuban people so that you can experience Cuba authentically. You might enjoy a private concert in a musician’s home, while his mom makes you a classic cafe cubano; or visit an antique car specialist at his workshop and take a ride in a classic car; or meet a 4th generation tobacco farmer and see, smell, and touch the leaves that go into making the world’s best cigars.
Even if what you want to see isn’t already included in our regular tours, just ask! We take special requests seriously and always work hard to accommodate them. Want to meet a baseball player? Done. Want to take a Jewish tour of Havana? No problem. Want to meet a fashion designer? You got it.
Cuba was awarded the #1 safest country in the world to visit in 2018!
People are normally nervous about visiting any new place for the first time, but Cuba, off limits to US citizens for so long, somehow seems to stir up even more apprehension.
The good news is that Cuba has extremely low rates of violent crime. Gang and gun violence, drug-related crimes – these sorts of problems simply don’t exist in Cuba. The main issue to be aware of is one that plagues many travel destinations: petty theft.
To be on the safe side, leave your most expensive items (jewelry, designer bags, etc.) back home. We also recommend that you keep a close eye on your belongings in public places, and don’t venture into poorly lit areas late at night. In other words, just use common sense and you’ll be fine!
Americans are also pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming the Cuban people are. You will quickly discover that Cubans do not hold grudges against the American people. In fact the opposite is true as most Cubans are quick to engage in good-natured conversation, wanting to tell you about their relatives that live in the States and eager to hear the latest international news.
“What about those sonic attacks?” is another question that keeps coming up. While seemingly out of a science fiction novel, still nothing conclusive has been determined, with released recordings of the “attacks” turning out to be the sound of crickets. Most importantly, regardless of what actually happened, no tourists or private citizens were affected.
“Wasn’t Cuba destroyed by a hurricane, though?” Nope. Hurricane Irma in 2017 did cause some flooding and damage parts of northern Cuba, but that is well in the past now. Any minor damage was cleaned up within weeks.
Our team at CIT has many combined years spent living in Cuba, and one of the things we say to our clients is that in many ways we actually feel safer in Cuba than we do here in the US. We even regularly take our young children to Cuba.
Still having doubts? Don’t take our word for it! Below are snippets of testimonials written by past CIT travelers:
“Cuba is very safe, in fact, safer than some cities in the USA. The Cuban people were courteous, friendly, and helpful at all times. If we wanted to know something, i.e. directions to a particular store while shopping, they ensured we knew the way. As a former Chief on a Police department, as well as [with my] education and experience in Criminal Justice, I believe my credibility in this arena is a backbone to my comments.”
“Cuba’s people were delightful. We never felt unsafe roaming the streets.”
“We felt completely safe wherever we went on foot – no matter what time of day – and there was none of the aggressive hustling or begging that often has one constantly on the defensive in other countries.”
“We walked all over and always felt safe.”
“For any American hesitant about safety when considering a cultural vacation in Cuba, they shouldn’t worry as we felt secure on the streets and everywhere else.”
“We found the Cuban people to be friendly toward Americans. We didn’t experience any incidents of dishonesty or being taking advantage of during our entire trip. We took taxis in the evening and had no problems deciding on the fare with the drivers and even had taxis wait for us at the restaurants which were usually in quiet neighborhoods with few roaming taxis for hire. For any American hesitant about safety when considering a cultural vacation in Cuba, they shouldn’t worry as we felt secure on the streets and everywhere else.”
Take a trip to Cuba now and you’ll experience firsthand the warmth and hospitality of the Cuban people, and you’ll see why Cuba was awarded the #1 safest country in the world to visit in 2018!
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