“It’s like Americans are rushing to Cuba before Americans rush to Cuba,” a tour guide recently told The New York Times.
And indeed, his assessment seems to be true. In an effort to witness Cuba as the time capsule it’s been for five decades, Americans, with the blessing of the Obama administration, are flocking to the Caribbean nation before everything changes. But in so doing, they are precipitating those changes already: Hard-to-come-by hotel rooms are inflating in price (by about one-third), travel delays are rampant (5-hour airport delays have been reported) and food and water shortages exist (as in, no water comes through the pipes). And that’s all before the travel rules were officially relaxed, allowing independent travelers, without the assistance of an organized group, to visit for educational purposes only (leisure travel is still not allowed).
While the lack of infrastructure and high-end accommodations are well-reported, some luxury travelers are still interested in visiting Cuba. Thankfully, they do have options, but as one travel agent told us, “They have to remember that this is still a third-world country; they can’t mind big bugs in their hotel room — which is always a possibility, especially in a tropical climate."
So keeping in mind the reality of contemporary Cuba, we recommend that travelers continue to book through trusted tour operators, which will help them avoid the problems experienced by travelers who try to go it alone. Just remember: A trip to Cuba won’t be about your hotel and amenities; it will be about the people and the culture of a country where time has stood still.
How to visit Cuba now:
Through the Eyes of Its People
Abercrombie & Kent has long been offering people-to-people tours where guests can meet Cubans and become immersed in their culture. Here are a few highlights from the A&K itineraries, which can be private tours or booked with a group (limited to 24 guests).*
- Visit a coffee plantation
- See Ernest Hemingway’s former home
- Meet a renowned artist and see his studio
- Learn about U.S.-Cuban relations through a former Cuban Foreign Services scholar
- Visit the neoclassical-style Museo de Artes Decorativas
- Stop in at one of the best cigar shops in Cuba, Conde de Villanueva
- Enjoy a private Buena Vista Social Club-style private concert
- Get a tour of the Colon Cemetery, the most important cemetery in Latin America
- Take a drive in iconic vintage American vehicles, called “Yank tanks”
Editors’ note: Unlike other A&K tour itineraries, all participants in tours to Cuba are required to adhere to a full-time schedule of activities designed to inform, educate and promote meaningful interaction with the people of Cuba. Deviation from the itinerary, even in part, is not permitted.
By Private Jet
TCS World Travel specializes in educational trips to extraordinary places via private jet. On this incredible 21-day journey to Cuba and South America, travelers will first stop in Cuba on their way to Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. In Cuba they will:
- Go on a private tour of artists’ studios
- Learn Cuban-American history from a former diplomat
- Experience Old Havana with an architect who is passionate about preserving the city’s carvings and masonry
- Enjoy the rhythms of Cuban jazz and Havana nightlife
By Luxury Cruise Ship
Well, not quite yet. However, beginning in January 2017 the French-flagged cruise line Ponant will begin offering seven- or eight-night sailings aboard Le Ponant, a 290-foot, three-masted sailing yacht, with room for 64 passengers. Ponant currently operates five vessels, which have become increasingly popular with Andrew Harper subscribers, thanks to their stylish interiors, fine French cuisine and obliging multilingual staff. The Cuba voyages will be accompanied by Franklin W. Knight, professor emeritus of history at Johns Hopkins University.