What Our Customers Say About Cultural Island Travel
I want to thank you so much for making one of our dreams came true. Traveling with you to Cuba wasn’t just amazing it was a life changing experience. Your expertise and the way you mesh like a real local made our trip so meaningful. 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.We highly recommend you as a tour guide/director. Rest assured that all of our friends will know about your company. So get ready for some more clients! Gracias!
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.
Kristen, I am still mentally not home yet. Very difficult to come right back to work after a 24 year old dream is realized. I have been to 15 countries for pleasure, business and cultural exploration, but Cuba has far surpassed them all. Our guide(s) were excellent. Our drivers were excellent. I have new friends and brothers for life. Every turn of the corner is rich with history and it would be so foolish to walk those streets without guidance. Cuba’s history is a story truly told through its artists. I felt like I was experiencing every decade. Your service is flawless!
I wanted to tell you that I had a good time in Cuba. Mario was a great guide. He made the trip enjoyable. He was well versed and I felt comfortable with all the information he shared. His energy kept everyone going. He made the tours interesting. Additionally the hotel was great and the food at the hotel was great. All in all a great trip.
Octavia, January, 2018
I want to thank you for arranging our Cuba trip with such short notice. We had an amazing time and I feel lucky to have met such wonderful people, and learn so much about Cuban culture. I particularly want to sing the praises of our tour guides, Fernando and Camilla. They were both impressive for so many reasons.
Fernando was so personable and intelligent, and gave us wonderful insights on the musicians and daily life of people in Cuba. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was able to portray the big picture for our agendas.
Camilla also was so much fun to be with, and provided us with a different perspective into Cuban life and history. We were all impressed by her knowledge of art; and her ability to relate it to Cuban life. She is an excellent communicator and would make a great teacher or museum director one day.
Robin Lynn Smirlock, January 24, 2018
We had an amazing trip! The hotel was great and perfectly situated. The itinerary was excellent, we saw so much and did so much in just a short period of time! Also great balance of sightseeing but also downtime in the evenings to do dinner and your own activities at night. The activities on the itinerary were so personal and intimate, we really got a feel for how Cubans live and the culture. I mean we went in to peoples actual homes and they were so welcoming and friendly.
The personal music performances were great. We cannot day enough about our tour guides. Mario was excellent and Camilla was top notch! She helped when Mario was busy with the other part of our group but also gave us a tour of the art museum and she was so knowledgeable about the history, the time periods and the artists. Patricia the architect who did our walking tour was amazing as well. Every paladar we ate at was superb. This truly was an amazing experience. Our group of 7 was also a great size for a group! Overall we truly were impressed with every aspect of our trip! We have already recommended the company to at least 10 friends who saw my husband posting pictures about our trip and I imagine even more requests about info will come. We definitely plan on coming back for a longer trip with your company!
Thanks for everything!
Colleen Black, January 10, 2018
We are at Ft Lauderdale airport waiting to board out flight back to Denver. I just wanted to send you a quick note to say what an awesome experience we had in Cuba! Mario is an outstanding guide, and we enjoyed spending time with him. He made our trip easy and fun. Im sure it wasn’t as easy as it looked, but he was able to adjust our itinerary to fit with the weather,etc. so we wouldn’t miss anything. For example, when it looked like rain, he made a call, and we went Hemingway’s house first when the sun was out, and to the indoor choir concert after. If we wanted to sleep in a little, he adjusted our pick up time. If we wanted to end our tour-day at a certain place, he dropped us off there. Just “little” things like that made a big difference. Our driver was great as well, making us feel safe and comfortable from place to place.
We also really enjoyed our B and B. Great location, nice accommodations, and our hosts were very friendly and helpful. We really enjoyed talking with them. We highly recommend staying at their home.
The restaurants at night, overall, were great. My favorite was esto no es un cafe. Perfect location and perfect for new years. We had our table all night and they had a special New years eve dinner. There was also a private dinner with music at the cathedral next to us, so we could easily here the music from the show. 🙂
San Christobal was good with good service, and Im glad we went. Laguardia was also very good.
And the restaurants were went to for lunch were very good. So all in all, we really enjoyed the food!
The people, of course, were the best. We can’t wait to go to Cuba again! 🙂
Kris 🙂 Jan 2018
Kristine Eule, January 5, 2018
To those of you who didn’t go to Cuba in 2017 because you thought you could no longer travel, or thought they were damaged by the hurricanes……well, we had a great time without you! As a retired detective, I am probably one of the most skeptical people Cultural Island Travel has ever had the ‘pleasure’ to deal with! When I started to research going to Cuba, I came across their website, and knowing very little about the island, I asked a ton of questions to make sure these folks were as good at the Cuban Experience as they claim to be. They answered every question without hesitation, and gave me some great references to check, so we decided to book our travel through them. Without a doubt, our year-end trip to Cuba through Cultural Island Travel was one of the best experiences we have ever had, and as well-seasoned travellers, our expectations are always very high. What a phenominal place to visit so close to the US. The people there were just great, and we were asked over and over again when the Americans were coming back! Dealing with Cultural Island Travel is not like any other experience we have had, and we couldn’t be happier! I usually shy away from being part of a travel “group” due to images of that guide walking down the street holding a pink “follow me” sign high abover their head with what looks like a group of school children following behind. Our experience in Cuba couldn’t have been any more different. To start, our “group” consisted of my wife, myself, and just one other person who was matched with our age and interests. It was like travelling with extended family. Our “guide” was not really a guide, but more of an “assistant”, who was extremely knowledgeable and very professional. They go to great lengths to set up YOUR trip and customize it to YOUR interests. They start by answering every question you have, and taking the time to explain the culture, customs and processes you will need to know to experience the Cuban landscape in the best way possible. Their staff can arrange everything to be very structured, or they can give you suggestions, point you in the right direction, and let you explore on your own. They were some of the most professional and accomodating people we have ever had the pleasure to spend time with, and I can’t say enough how much of a 1st class operation this group is. From the old cars to the archetecture, to the up and coming food scene and an always vibrant atmosphere, this is a trip I would recommend for anyone wanting to escape to a place where time moves slow. Cultural Island Travel is just the people to get you there, and they will make sure your experience is an unforgettable one.
Joe Sellens, December 2017
I am back from my wonderful tour of Cuba, and I wanted to let you know how much I liked having Santiago as a guide. He may well be the best tour guide I have ever had!
His knowledge of Cuba is incredible, and his ability to make you feel at home and comfortable is also a great big plus! He complemented me too and said that he had learned a great deal from talking to me and that whereas some people experience Cuba on a superficial level, he felt that I had gotten deep into Cuban culture. It was a wonderful thing to hear and no one has ever said anything comparable to me on a tour before anywhere, anytime.
We had great discussions about word differences in English and Spanish, and he helped me translate, since my knowledge of Spanish is minimal.
I also liked a small restaurant he took Jennifer and me to one night . It was just a hole in the wall, but the food was wonderful and there was a young guitarist there named Frank Batista who played solo guitar for the patrons. You can check with him for the details of where the place was. I think it was in Trinidad.
He made a special effort to accommodate me due to the fact that I have a great deal of difficulty walking and had experienced a sprain in my left leg shortly before the tour started. He even took me to an emergency travel clinic. I fought him on it, but am glad we went, since it was nice to have a second opinion about what was wrong with my leg and be reassured, and also have a small sample of Cuban health care. I thought the people at the clinic were very friendly and the doctor was good.
Because I visited the clinic,I missed seeing Fusterlandia,so he took me there the day of my flight so I wouldn’t miss it since I really wanted to see it, being an artist. He also gave me special care at the airport to make sure I got my bags checked and got through customs ok.
He got me rides on lots of the various conveyances, including the Coco Car, which I liked, and the 3-wheel carts in Trinidad. And we all had fun driving around with the driver of our Ford Fairlline, Jasmany.
He provided quick service when we had plans to meet, and I really enjoyed all the places we went and the people we met. He helped me meet several Cuban musicians, including the jazz musicians that work at the bar downstairs from where I was staying at 1 Malecon,and another jazz rock group that I wanted to hear one night when the others went off for dinner. At that place, I got to meet an old poet friend of the band and had a long conversation with one of the members who spoke English about music in Cuba and a friend of his in Chicago. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to do this without Santiago’s assistance.
He also took me for a Cuba Libre the day before we met Jennifer, the other gal on the tour. She was very nice too, and very bright and we both had great discussions with Santiago on a variety of topics.
The day before Jennifer joined us he also took me out to eat at great restaurant that I think is called Biki, and it was excellent. And he showed me the Pharmacy Museums in downtown Havana, that are quite incredible.
He and Jasmany even made a special stop for me at the statue of a giant Shrimp next to the shrimp factory so I could get a photo of it. And Santiago also took lots of nice photos of me.
All in all, I would say that Santiago is a huge asset to Cultural Island Travel, and my trip to Cuba would have been very difficult without his help.
Nancy Mosen, December 2017
Good morning Teresa:
Happy New Year and a few lines to thank you and your colleagues for the wonderful time I had in La Habana.
Everything worked out just fine and the tour guide, Laura, couldn’t have been more helpful and pleasant.
I am looking forward to another, more extensive, trip to Cuba. Keep me posted of upcoming tours.
Carlos (Dec. 2017)
I had a great time in Cuba, thanks for Ari and his team. The thing that I liked most was a sense of flexibility with everything taken care of, great attention to details and extremely friendly people, in 3-4 days they became friends… Would be happy to share my experience with anyone having any doubts.
Ritu (Dec. 2017)
As to the tour, it was so interesting. The activities were well-chosen to give us a small taste of everything. I learned so much about the history of Cuba and its people. I must admit I was woefully ignorant of most of this before the trip. All the Cuban people we met were friendly and forthcoming. Loved riding in the old cars, which we did a lot since there were only two of us (that was a bonus!). High points for me: Tobacco farm and Fusterlandia (there was no mention at all of that in the guidebook I bought! Just fantastic!)
The Iberostar was very nice. Good breakfast buffet, good restaurant (we ate dinner there one night), friendly and helpful staff, down to the waitresses and maids. The restaurants were for the most part very good, especially the lunch places. My favorite was ChaChaCha.
All of the guides we had were very good. Especially Patricia (Old town walking tour) and Laura (Revolutionary Museum). The only thing I might suggest an improvement on is that the days were so packed with activity that there was not enough free time for shopping (Patty and I love to shop!) and we never had a chance to try that beautiful rooftop pool at the hotel. On the other hand, I can’t say there was anything I would have skipped, so it’s a tough balancing act. We should have stayed an extra day to allow for those things I guess!
Finally, Ari. I can’t say enough good about Ari. He went out of his way to make the trip perfect for us, for example getting us tickets for the ballet and rearranging the schedule so we could attend the performance. Everything was perfectly orchestrated. And we so enjoyed his personality! He was a perfect match for us. I am so glad he was our guide.
In summary, A+ all around.
Nancy Wheeler, November 27, 2017
Returned safely from trip yesterday. We had a fantastic time!! Our guides were amazing. The apartment in Havana was spectacular, and the B and B in Trinidad was a tropical delight.
Our cultural activities were most enjoyable and the local guides were exceptional. Every one we met in Cuba was warm and welcoming to us. The city of Cuba was like an aging duchess, still regal and majestic in spite of having seen better days. This trip was a most memorable, gratifying experience, and I’m so glad we went.
Everything was meticulously arranged also.
I am sorry for the unfortunate burdens that the Cuban people have to bear, but in spite of that, they display such positivity and determination.
Just a marvelous country and its people.
Thanks for all you did to make our trip such a memorable one!
Vaya con Dios!
Doreen Rose, November 2017
This was our best vacation yet! Our guide was fantastic and knowledgeable as she lives in Havana. The hostels/B&B’s we stayed in were great and the food at the paladares (restaurants) was great. Most of all, we were able to interact with the locals and had a very authentic experience rather than be the typical American tourist. There was music everywhere and we were able to experience performances and then talk to the musicians. This was especially impactful because my son is a musician. We had a great guide at the museum who was able to put the art in a historical context. The people in Cuba are awesome! Also, Cultural Island Travel was always there to answer any questions we had before our trip. Thank you Teresa Sanchez for your guidance pre-trip and muchos gracias to our lovely guide, Ebony! I can’t wait to go back!
Mary (Nov. 2017)
I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba and after exploring tour companies I came across Cultural-Island-Travel. In September I traveled there with thirteen friends and I can’t say enough about how supported we felt. Our guide was amazing and knowledgeable, and we all agreed that the journey exceeded our expectations. This was tested as a hurricane approached Cuba and we had to cut our trip short by one day. Krista and the others at the company went the extra mile (or ten) and got us to safety. We’re already planning another trip next year.
James Twyman, Author and Musician, October 2017
Thank you for your assistance with our recent Cuba trip. The tour was fabulous and Irma was an outstanding tour guide. We experienced no challenges arriving, during, or leaving Cuba. Everything was actually perfect.
Nicholas and Regina, September 2017
I have been on a number of tours, and this is, by far, the very best tour we’ve ever experienced. My friends Ron and Suzanne Sherman and I could not be more delighted and amazed at the excellently planned and executed trip by CIT. From the beginning, Krista Severeid always kept on top of arrangements and my endless questions. Once we arrived, our tour guides were more “goodwill ambassadors.” Laura Gonzalez and Irma give “customer service” a whole new meaning! These ladies were as attentive and wonderful! Always took the extra step to ensure our comfort and enhance our experience! Special mention goes to our driver, Josue. I told him I think he had a Cuba GPS chip implanted in his brain, there was never a street or shortcut or alley he didn’t know! Always felt very safe and protected. Our accommodations were superb! Even when Hurricane Irma intervened in the middle of our trip, the CIT staff and Laura and Irma kept on top of making sure we were safe and well taken care of! We were able to do a few things at the end, which Irma went out of her way to arrange. Could not recommend CIT more highly to anyone and everyone interested in a true, cultural experience in Cuba! Thank you, CIT!!
Guadalupe Lechuga, September 18, 2017
Hola! Hope you are well!
We finally are catching up at home after being away for two weeks and we wanted to sincerely thank you and Josue’ for your amazing hospitality. You both made us feel like family. We felt welcome, comfortable and had a ton of fun. You took us under your wing and created a truly memorable experience. We learned so much about Cuban history and culture thanks to you all.
You made everything seem seamless. That is the mark of a true professional. I know it’s not easy to do that, but you did.
We have been telling all of our friends about our amazing experience that you curated for us. We hope to send you some business over the next few years and may even return ourselves.
Chris, Karen and Jake Galla, August 2017
We are back from Cuba…
The trip was phenomenal…!
Hoping we will be able to go back soon…
And Irma was AMAZING…
We really loved her from day 1…
She was a great!!!
We are very grateful we had her as a tour leader…
Yvonne Jean-Francois, July 2017
I had a wonderful time in Beautiful Cuba and look forward to returning soon.
Our first tour guide Santiago was a delight. We all loved him!
Ebony was wonderful and helpful. We were taken to so many great places showing the real Cuba.
We had the pleasure of meeting her husband Ari. He was very attentive to all of us. They are a wonderful couple. I learned a lot of history and culture from them.
The excursions were well planned and very interesting.
Our bus driver Ruben was fantastic. He was always on time and took extra special care of us all. He was both gracious and had a wonderful personality.
It was wonderful to have our own private bus which was always keep cold for us in the humid weather. Ruben would go back to the bus to ready it for us! He was an excellent careful driver. We all marveled at his ability to get that bus down those narrow streets.
The food was excellent and plentiful. The restaurants we selected were wonderful and gave the flavor of Cuba.
The architecture of Cuba is amazing.
The hotel was the best ever! The accommodations were luxurious, We loved the lobby and our rooms were elegant.
The breakfast at the hotel was sumptuous!
I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. My only drawback was that it only lasted 5 days. I wish it would have been 2 weeks.
Looking forward to returning to Cuba,
Linda Mercaldo, June 2017
I’ve been meaning to email to let you know what a great experience we had in Cuba! Our tour guide, Irma, was top notch – very professional and knowledgeable during our entire tour. The whole team that supported our tour from our drivers, walking tour, museum tour, etc. were all very helpful, courteous, and a pleasure to be with. We were very pleased with our accommodations at the hotel, almost everything we wanted to see and do was within walking distance in the evenings. The Cuban people are so friendly and we never felt unsafe, the food was excellent, and I really enjoyed the live music everywhere!
Most enjoyable was the walking tour, we got to see and learn so much about old town. The tobacco farm tour is a lot of driving and even though we really enjoyed the community project (the lunch there was amazing) we didn’t get to see the valley due to the rain and wet conditions.
Thank you, Kristen, for your prompt reply to all my questions on the front end. Traveling to an unfamiliar country, especially somewhere like Cuba, made me a little apprehensive but you and CIT were great to work with and made everything so easy. The experience is one I’ll never forget and I hope to be able to return to Cuba in the not so distant future.
Karen Fasciana, June 2017
Hi Jolie and Krista!
Again, I wanted to begin by saying the trip was remarkable! We all had a fabulous time and the kids learned a tremendous amount (as did we). The kindness of the people and richness of the culture are truly remarkable. Ebony, Irma and Josue were just absolutely amazing!
Some of our favorite things:
– cooking school, patio Pelegrin day way amazing (including seeing Vinales and tobacco plantation), seeing the jazz players at Abdala, the cannons at 9pm by where we stayed and of course the food (However, I would recommend you tell people that La Guarida is good for drinks, and seeing the building and rooftop view only – the food and scene are already too “Americanized” – I know this was our request, but your recommendations were actually better)
You chose fabulous places for lunch! Our 3 favorite places to eat were San Cristobal, Cafe Laurent and Dona Eutimia.
The accommodations in both Havana (Paradise B&B) and Trinidad (Casa Rogelio) were perfect. The place in Havana was particularly spectacular and it was easy to get taxi service in the evening either up the street at the restaurant or the parking lot by the fort. The pool was a special treat.
We will most certainly strongly recommend your tour group to anyone and everyone. The services were exceptional from beginning to end. The kids were totally welcome and engaged the entire trip – so certainly feel free to advertise that kids are welcome! Your planning for time in the day was also perfect – particularly with a couple hours to swim or relax each afternoon before we went to dinner and evening activities.
Thank you for an unforgettable trip.
Scotland Nash, May 2017
Dear Kristen, I had always been fascinated by Cuba and the tales of Che Guevara as a youth. Now seeing it I come away with the idea of Cuba being like a 1957 time capsule shaped by bureaucracy and selective outside influence and now starting to open itself to capitalism, It’s fascinating. I loved our guide Ari, he was informative and ever so helpful. He made the journey so much better then it would’ve been without him. The drivers were excellent especially Andy who I sat next to 90% of the time. Laura, the museum tour guide,was fantastic and very well spoken and informative. The highlight of my trip was meeting Mario Pelegrín Pozo and seeing all the good he does in his community, I felt the most at home there. Mario is such a great person and I’m so glad to have bonded with him.
Thank you for your time and courtesy,
Rob Sparandera Jr., May 2017
Terry and I are most excited to write you about Ari and the tour.
From the moment that he met us at the airport to our farewell, Ari was gracious, warm, informed and so personable and engaging.
Ari has a wealth of knowledge about the history and culture of Cuba in addition to a very complete list of good restaurants. If he was unable to answer our questions, he would come back the next day with the answer.
There was no question that he was unwilling to take on. For a young man, he knows a lot about human nature and how people function.
In the long and short of it, you at Cultural Island Travel have a gem in Ari. He makes everyone feel at ease.
We also both so enjoyed our tour emphasizing the music and dance culture of Cuba in addition to the gleaning the unique history of the island.
Amy and Terry, May 2017
We had an extraordinary trip. I keep remembering different details and sharing them with my friends, always ending with …. ‘you really should go!’
Ebony was thorough, thoughtful and responsive to our every need. She taught us the correct phrases/pronunciations when we tried to communicate in Spanish. She jumped into to translate when we were not getting a clear message across. She made great suggestions for restaurants, places to explore, and things to do in our free time. She balanced the needs of 4 different women with diplomacy. All in all, she was an integral part of making the trip such a huge success.
Dianelis and La Dona were a part of the fun as well.
As I said, I have been encouraging friends to start planning their own trips and recommending Cultural Island Travel as guides.
Thanks for taking such good care of us.
And I second that! Ebony was a perfect guide. Her own perspective and suggestions for some additional side trips and restaurants really added the frosting to the cake. So glad I went, thanks!
Jill Grace Young and Paula Gibbons, May 2017
Where do we begin? We did our homework before leaving and our four-day Cuba trip exceeded our expectations.
The Sevilla Hotel is lovely, friendly, and we learned to look forward to the music in the bar and in the lobby. The breakfast buffet lacked nothing! We loved being able to walk to dinner and to cafes nearby.
The itinerary for our 4 day trip was perfect; not too much, just enough of the things we wanted to see.
The transportation was tops! Gerardo and daughter Dianylis (I did not spell that correctly!) were wonderful and it was fun having lunch with them each day. Everything started and finished on time and that kept the day running smoothly.
Rob and I really enjoyed all the places we went for lunch, different from dinner choices. There were endless choices of new food and the lunch plan was extremely generous. At some point Rob and I had to eat less!
Our guide, Ari…where do we begin? We loved being with twenty-somethings. They support their home and country but were willing to chat outside the lines to the extent that they felt comfortable. We learned a lot from each of our guides in Old Havana, in the art museum and from Ari and novia, Ebony. SMART young people!
Ari is intelligent, relaxed and in the right job! He knows Havana’s nooks and crannies and pointed them out. He understands Americans/North Americans and their expectations and leaves no room for complaints or concerns. For Rob and me, our every need was anticipated and met! He surpassed expectations when we missed the craft market because it was closed. He and Dianylis put their heads together and took us to a wonderful flea market (for lack of a better word) where we found the Cuban flags for our nieces, posters and more! (We’d go back there…friendly, fun, intelligent vendors who wanted to talk!) Ari went above and beyond.
When others asked who we were traveling with we passed out the name of Cultural Island Travel so perhaps something good will come from that. From signing up online, asking you unending questions, getting every document we needed, that process was flawless!
Thank you for all you do! I hope we will find time next year to work with you again.
Donna and Rob, May 2017
We are home safe and sound with wonderful memories of one of our greatest trips ever! There are not enough words to thank you for sharing your knowledge of your country, its people, music and food! Thank you for making sure that we enjoyed ourselves and were so comfortable all the time. You have made this trip!
The care you put into making sure that Dan had the happiest Birthday goes beyond words. To see the smile on his face with each surprise of the day just made my heart happy. He has the greatest memories of that day. (Please say Thank You again to Gerrardo for learning Happy Birthday in English!)
And I know that you and Donna and Teresa made sure that Dan’s Birth Day was celebrated. It started the night before when Ari and Robert (another traveler) paid for dinner and wine for Dan. On his Birthday Day when we finished lunch – a Birthday Dessert was served and Ari and Gerrardo and wait staff sang to him in Spanish! Dinner again had a birthday dessert for him and then when we returned to our room at the Saratoga there was a Birthday Cake on his nightstand! And all who wished him Happy Birthday. Boy his Irish eyes smiled! Thank You.
Ari made sure that we had restaurants to go to at night that were just the greatest! Music always happening. He made sure we had safe transportation to and from the restaurants. Not a concern, but stress free knowing who the driver was. We can not say enough about him. What a representative of Cultural Island Travel!
And not but not least to you Kristen – you were so extremely helpful and supportive of (especially me) preparing for this trip. You were right, the passport expiration date was not an issue. I only got nervous at check in with Southwest when the woman said this expires before six months. And then she said not a problem but we are advised that we must advise you the 6 months. You Rock!
What a trip. It was a blast! Please fell fee to share any and all of this email with anyone that should see it and you want to see it.
Fondly and with appreciation, Christine
Christine, May 7th 2017
Our trip was great. Laura was fantastic and so was our driver. The ladies of the B&B were lovely. It was very clean. I am sharing our trip with several friends that are thinking of a trip to Cuba. We are thinking in the future to return however with an entirely different itinerary and different lodging. We were extremely happy with our trip
Hanne, April 28th 2017
We had a wonderful experience from the minute we arrived until the minute we departed. We weren’t involved in any of the planning, but thanks to Barbara and Teresa this trip exceeded all of our expectations.
A special thank you goes to Irma who was an amazing guide. She readily adapted the itinerary to meet our needs and took care of any unexpected happenings with ease and grace. Her English was great and she enthusiastically educated us on the people, places and politics of Cuba.
We appreciated experiencing the spirit of the people, quality music and art, as well as the country’s beauty.
Stephanie Matkov and Howard Dichter, April 27th 2017
I had a wonderful time and meet a lot of great people on the trip. I also wanted to let you know that Mario did an outstanding job. Mario was very professional and highly respectful to us. He took the time and made sure that everything that we wanted to see and do while in Cuba was taking care of. I am going to highly recommend him to any of my friends who are thinking about traveling to Cuba in the future.
Thank you for everything that you did for us to make sure our trip to Cuba was very memorable,
We enjoyed the trip and company of Mario and Carlos, our driver.
Mario was very helpful and understood the Cuban history very well. I hope to see him and
Carlos on future trips to Cuba.
Mario was a great guide and a good new friend. I look forward to returning to Cuba.
Kim Kingston and David Roberts, April 2017
Local residents enjoy trip to Cuba
- By Renee Beasley Jones Messenger-Inquirer
Lots of Owensboro residents travel to other countries, but perhaps only a few have ever ventured to Cuba. Even renowned guidebook author and travel TV host Rick Steves didn’t make the trip until last year, after the U.S. eased travel restrictions to the famed isle 90 miles off Florida’s coast.
In February, two couples from Owensboro — Bill and Susie Tyler and Gary and Darla Barker — visited Cuba as part of a group of 27 from several states, including a potato hybridizer from Alaska. A common thread among the group: Many play the ukulele. Some lovingly dubbed the trip “Cubalele.”
Tourists still can’t pack a bag and go to Cuba with the same ease they travel to Europe or other parts of the world. Instead, they must travel as part of a U.S. government-approved event,
which includes musical and cultural exchanges. So, yes, the group brought their “ukes” along and performed impromptu concerts for Cubans, who are known for their love of music.
Hint: The group used an experienced travel agent to arrange an approved trip (Krista from Cultural Island Travel).
In all, the group was gone 10 days, including travel to and from Miami.
“If you want to see Cuba before there’s a lot of development there, you should go now before it changes,” said Darla Barker. For example, she saw only one clothing store during her travels around Havana and Trinidad. And quaint horse-drawn carts are still in use.
“For many people, the highlight of a visit to Cuba is seeing functioning 1950s United States automobiles,” said Terry Tyler, who went on the trip with his wife Edie. “Our group had a vintage convertible motorcade through Havana that was great fun.” Terry and Edie Tyler were longtime residents of Owensboro who moved to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, in 2013. This year’s trip to Cuba marked their second. They went on a medical education tour in 2003. “For me, the highlight of the visit was seeing so many excellent Cuban musicians,” Terry Tyler said. “One morning we visited a voluntary music school just outside Havana. The kids ranged from preschool to high school. All of them could play classical guitar as well as anyone. They did not play classical music. Instead, they played modern Cuban music with the familiar rhythmic beat accented with conga drums. We almost never heard Cuban musicians playing any music from the United States.”
The group stayed in hotels and ate at privately owned restaurants. One day, they ate at a restaurant where former President Barack Obama had visited, and they met the server who waited on him.
Another hint: Seek out paladars, which are privately-owned restaurants. They may be in a home or business setting. Travel guides may be helpful in finding them.
“There was a certain ceremony with every meal,” Susie Tyler said. Other than breakfast, meals started with a cocktail — usually made with Cuba’s famous rum. And music accompanied almost every meal. Restaurants serve lots of chicken, pork and lobster. Fruits and vegetables are abundant. Guests who have heat-sensitive palates need not worry. Dishes are not spicy compared to some Caribbean cuisine.
Public restrooms can be an experience in Cuba, Darla Barker said. Some didn’t have toilet seats. Most didn’t have toilet paper. And, in one case, guests were given a bucket of water to aid with flushing. But, she said, adventurous tourists overlook those small inconveniences and focus on the beautiful countryside, grand architecture and warm reception.
Cuba’s people were delightful. The Tylers and Barkers never felt unsafe roaming the streets.
“The people did not seem unhappy or like they had a bad life,” Darla Barker said. The Cuban people didn’t seem to be in need as much as she expected. Panhandlers were almost nonexistent.
Members of the Cubalele group took items to give to the locals. Darla and Gary Barker gave a ukulele to a young girl who sang for the group. It was much appreciated because instruments are prized and hard to come by in Cuba. Some in the group left behind clothing in hotel rooms after their stay. Others took along whistles. Toilet paper, soap and cosmetics would be appreciated gifts for the Cubans, Darla Barker said.
The group visited Ernest Hemingway’s home. “There was his typewriter,” Susie Tyler said. “And there was the bed Eva Gardner slept in.”
Darla and Gary Barker are seasoned travelers. They’ve been to Europe at least six times. They’ve visited Panama and Belize. Cuban hotels where they stayed were as nice as any where they’ve stayed, she said. And Cubans were warm and loving. “(Traveling to Cuba) was something I always wanted to do, and I’m glad I did it,” Darla Barker said.
“CUBALELE” group, April 2017
We enjoyed our Cuba trip very much, well planned and Irma was just terrific as a guide, quick change planner, and guardian angel. We developed a close relationship during the days in Havana and Trinidad.
Aysun is in Turkey at the moment but I know she shares my sentiments.
Thanks again for a terrific job, including the changes made on short notice because of Snow Storm Stella.
All the best,
Peter Felfe and Aysun Yalcinkaya, March 2017