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Top Trip Memories

  • Getting the inexorable urge to dance -- or at least tap your toes -- to the irresistible sounds of Cuban music, emanating from everywhere.
  • Taking a nostalgic trip back to the 1950s, in effect, by ogling all the amazing classic American cars still running on Cuban streets.
  • Becoming acquainted with typical Cubans through people-to-people tour groups that are both educational and fun.
  • Touring Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 1519 and replete with Spanish-style architectural gems.
  • Reliving the days of Ernest Hemingway’s decades in Havana by visiting his finca and his many watering holes that are still dispensing daiquiris and mojitos.
  • Exploring the lively Cuban art scene, which you can find displayed in museums, galleries, and on street corners.
  • Enjoying creative Cuban cuisine, thick with Spanish influences that go way beyond beans and rice (though that’s good, too).
  • Spending some down time at one of Cuba’s hundreds of beaches, many of them completely unspoiled.
  • Touring some of Cuba’s eight other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Santiago’s San Pedro de la Roca Castle, a massive fortress dating from the 17th century considered the finest example of Spanish-American military architecture.
  • Visiting 19th century-era coffee plantations in southeast Cuba, also declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  • Watching the sunset sitting outside on a warm Havana night while sipping a mojito and eating freshly caught prawns tossed in garlic and pepper.
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Tour Tips

  • While the U.S. and Cuba are normalizing relations, tourism for tourism sake is still banned -- for the time being at least -- for American citizens (unlike for most of the rest of the world).
  • Americans who wish to travel to Cuba must fit into one of 12 categories, including those pursuing educational activities, humanitarian projects, or attending conferences.  
  • Keep in mind that the island is quite large - over 42,000 square miles - and intra-country transport is unreliable at times. 
  • Guided tours remain the best way to see Cuba for the ordinary visitor. The island nation is still building its tourism infrastructure and approved tourist hotels are generally jammed to capacity. Tours take the worry out of finding lodging, managing logistics, and making sure you’re complying with all legalities.
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Cuba Travel Reviews & Ratings

4.6 out of 5

99%

recommend

629 Reviews

  • Excellent 411
  • Great 175
  • Average 40
  • Disappointing 3
  • Terrible 0

Rating Details

  • Value
    4.6
  • Guide
    4.6
  • Activities
    4.6
  • Lodging
    4.6
  • Transportation
    4.6
  • Meals
    4.6

Tour Reviews

Great CEO & good programming.

Cuba Libre

5.0
December 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: No
Amazing - place, people and holiday. Music and raw Cuba is so special. Hope it gets maintained and the people remain happy

Cuba - this was one terrific tour!

The Best of Cuba

5.0
November 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
this was one terrific tour! a great sampler of what cuba has to offer. the guides elio and randy were superb. i learned so much and my curiosity has continued. i've done much research on the history which was and is quite amazing. hotels were air conditioned and comfortable. i thank smartours for this wonderful opportunity.
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We give the trip 5 stars.

The Foods, Drinks and Artisans of Cuba

5.0
November 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
Roly our guide was excellent. Very knowledgeable about history and willing to answer any questions we had about all sorts of other things. The days were well planned and paced, meals very good, hotel also very good. Honestly I don’t see how it could be improved for first time visitors in such a short time.
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Cuba Salsa

Cuba Salsa

4.0
November 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
We went on a bus, hotel and B&B tour of Cuba with four other families, whom we did not know beforehand. We all got on pretty well and are staying in touch. It was very, very hot, and sometimes not easy because of this, but Cuba is a great place, and really it's the Cubans who make it thus. They are a good-natured bunch and rightly proud of what their country has achieved against the odds, with high literacy and a live-expectancy close to UK levels.
The days spent in Trinidad and Havana were great. Seeing the wildlife and wild places was great. Sitting in with Cuban musicians and having the privilege of playing with some great people was prob the highlight for me

Our group leader Manual (de Sol I think) was fantastic - patient, knowledgeable, helpful, personable and humorous. He dealt really well with some medical problems which came up with one of the party (connected with pre-existing conditions, not anything directly to do with the trip) and was good at dealing with the inevitable other minor irks which occurred. I would recommend him highly to anyone going to Cuba
I'd also like to big up our driver Rodovaldo (Pepino) Lovely bloke and a careful driver.

1)Take lots of vest tops, and not too many T-shirts. They get sweaty straight off
2)Take more money in cash than you think you will need. You can change Cuban pesos back at the airport, but ATMs are far and few between and you can't rely on them. Take £50 per person per day -- you won't need it all but you'll be glad you've got it
3)Brush up on your Spanish, so that you can deal with locals. Some people speak basic English but you're far better off negotiating with taxi drivers etc if you can do it in their lingo. Also Cubans are v friendly and chatty so that way you can have a far better time
4)If you play a portable musical instrument, think about taking it. I took my flute and wound up jamming with local musoes, which was fantastic
5)Take plenty of Immodium and always carry a bog roll and alcohol hand gel. You'll need them all - nearly everyone in our party had a bit of gut trouble -- nothing incapacitating but be prepared... Cuban toilets can be a bit of a culture shock

The only thing that my wife and I were a bit concerned about was that at a couple of places there were natural swimming pools in rivers -- these were fine and refreshing. But sometimes the children were told about diving spots, and we felt that some of these were a bit dangerous - high and slippery. The locals were using these diving/jumping points so it's a bit hard to tell your own children not to use them, and no-one in our group was hurt, but maybe not flagging these up as attractions might be wiser
Also - Don't expect haute cuisine. It's mostly a bit bland cooking-wise -- perfectly OK, and plenty of food, but after a week I was yearning for a curry...

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Cuba on two wheels

Cuban Highlights Ride

5.0
November 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
This trip gave us a brilliant insight into all Cuba has to offer as well as the delights of cycling along the coast and through the countryside
We loved the challenge of cycling up the hill on our last cycling day-great to finish with a sense of achievement. And the opportunity to see Che Guevara's Mausoleum was a very moving experience. It's well worth climbing the tower in the museum in Trinidad -the steep stairs lead to a stunning view. Trinidad really took our breath away-friendly people, cobbled streets, craft stalls and music on the steps in an afternoon with a mojhito-perfect!

Laz was very engaging -the group enjoyed his company, appreciated his extensive knowledge and valued his consideration

It was very hot-take plenty of sunscreen and plenty of snacks to eat whilst cycling. And don't leave Cuba without taking a ride in one of those stunning cars along the sea front

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Top Tour Operators and Travel Companies


Classic Itineraries

Cuba in 1 Week

Day 1-3, Havana: Museo de la Revolucion, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Plaza de la Revolución, explore Colonial Havana and Finca Vigia, where Hemingway lived.

Day 4, Vinales: Meet local tobacco and coffee farmers and learn to roll a classic Cuban cigar.

Day 5, Cienfuegos: Bay of Pigs and Giron Museum, Palacio del Valle

Day 6-8, Trinidad: Walking tour to discover the colonial architecture and what makes this city a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Excursion to the sugar plantations in Valle de los Ingenios. Take a beach break at Playa Ancon.

Trips that follow this itinerary:

Beautiful Cuba with Intrepid - 8 Days, premium trip

Cuba Unbound, Adventure Tour with ROW Adventures - 8 Days, value trip

Central Cuba Adventure with G Adventures - 8 Days, value trip

Or see All Cuba in One Week Trips

Cuba in 2 Weeks

Day 1-3, Havana: Museo de la Revolucion, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Plaza de la Revolución, explore Colonial Havana and Finca Vigia, where Hemingway lived. Community arts project at Muraleando.

Day 4-6, Cienfuegos: Playa Giron, Bay of Pigs and Giron Museum, go snorkeling in the blue waters of the Caribbean, Palacio del Valle

Day 7-9, Trinidad: Che Guevara mausoleum, Topes de Collantes National Park, walking tour through the city’s cobblestone streets, marveling at the colonial architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a salsa lesson and enjoy local musicians. Take a beach stroll on Playa Ancon.

Day 10-11, Camaguey: Enjoy a walking tour through this well preserved colonial city. Shop in local markets and explore art galleries.

Day 12-14, Santiago: El Morro Castle, take in the Afro-Cuban heritage in museums and music. Excursion to Baracoa through Humboldt Nation Park.

Trips that follow this itinerary:

Best of Cuba with Intrepid - 15 Days, value trip

Cuba Colonial with G Adventures - 15 Days, basic trip

Cuba: A Bridge Between Cultures with Overseas Adventure Travel - 12 Days, value trip

Or see All Cuba in Two Weeks Trips

Cuba Cruise

Day 1-2, Havana: Museo de la Revolucion, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Plaza de la Revolución

Day 3, Cienfuegos: Bay of Pigs and Giron Museum, go snorkeling in the blue waters of the Caribbean, Palacio del Valle

Day 4-6, Canarreos Archipelago: Explore among these beautiful islands. Snorkel, go fishing, enjoy local, fresh, island cuisine. Bask in the bright blue Caribbean waters and sunshine.

Day 7-8, Havana: Return to Havana and take an excursion to Finca Vigia, where Hemingway lived. Finish your trip with a visit to the Buena Vista Social Club

Trips that follow this itinerary:

Sailing Cuba with G Adventures - 8 Days, value trip

Cuba Sailing Adventure with Intrepid - 9 Days, value trip

Cuba Cruise Adventure with SmarTours - 10 Days, premium trip

Or see All Cuba Cruises

Cuba Trips & Tour Advice

Long closed to most U.S. travelers, Cuba is now subject to fewer travel restrictions, and Americans are discovering what the rest of the world has known for years: the island nation 90 miles south of Florida has friendly people, a vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and 1950's-era cars that still run. No matter the politics, Cuba and its people are sure to leave a lasting impression on you. 

Visiting Cuba is like entering a time warp. Because of longtime Cuban government restrictions placed on the purchase of imported cars, many Cubans have had to ingeniously make do with American cars dating from the 1950s and early 1960s. Replacement parts are scarce but clever mechanics have found ways to keep them running. Hence a trip to Cuba is much like watching a classic car rally, except that these classic cars are in full use as taxis and private vehicles.

The time warp continues in the aging houses and mansions you encounter in Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and probably the best preserved city center in the Caribbean. Many have Spanish-style balconies, arcades, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards. Some appear to be on life support but remain standing, much as the classic cars keep running.

Visiting Cuba Today

Cuba is experiencing a surge in interest due to the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuban governments. This beautiful and elusive country is now more accessible to one of its closest neighbors and American travelers are itching to visit.

There are still some travel restrictions in place for US citizens however. As relaxing as it might sound, it's still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba to laze on the beach, mojito in hand. 

However, the OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) does permit American travel to Cuba, provided it fits within 1 of 12 general categories. One of the most popular of these is 'educational activities' and tour operators have long led 'people to people' tours, which include activities like visiting with local musicians, farmers, and artisans. This is how the majority of American citizens have legally traveled to Cuba for the past few years.

Options for guided tours in Cuba are vast and taking a tour is one of the best ways to have an authentic experience in this rich and diverse country. Taking a tour doesn't mean being stuck in a large group on a coach bus either. Some companies limit their groups to 10-15 like-minded travelers to provide an intimate, accessible experience.

The Music and Art Scenes

There’s something about being in Cuba that brings out the dancer even in those who travel with two left feet. It’s no mystery: the music -- salsa, jazz, rumba, merengue, and other genres, often combined into a unique Afro-Cuban sound -- is both ubiquitous and irresistible. You’ll hear it in clubs, bars, restaurants, bodegas, or just emanating from the nearest homes.

Art is also central to Cuban life, from Havana’s excellent National Museum of Fine Arts to street corner painters and much in between.

The Hemingway Legacy

You might be surprised to learn that American author Ernest Hemingway -- a longtime resident of Havana, where he wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" and "A Moveable Feast" among other works -- is still venerated in Cuba. His finca, where he lived just outside Havana throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, is maintained as a museum. Everything is kept the way he left it, except that a new set of cats (many of which have six toes, the progeny of Hemingway’s own fleet of stray cats), now curl up on his desk for naps.

You can also visit many of his old haunts such as La Floridita, said to be the birthplace of the daiquiri (one of Hemingway’s favorite libations) and La Bodeguita del Medio, which serves as a virtual Hemingway memorial (though still a working bar, with plenty of atmosphere).

Historical Sites

Cuba’s Spanish legacy dates back to the early 16th century, and is on display in several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, topped by Old Havana. Not to be missed is the city of Santiago, Cuba’s second largest, with its massive 17th-century-era fortress, San Pedro de la Roca Castle. The city of Trinidad in central Cuba is another World Heritage Site, both for its own architecture and the string of 18th and 19th century sugar mills that extend for miles through the nearby Valle de los Ingenios.  

Beaches and Food

While Americans can’t go to Cuba just for a beach vacation yet, other nationalities can -- and if you’re in a position to visit one of the island’s 300-some sandy beaches, you may find yourself mostly alone despite the glorious settings. Among Cuba’s finest beaches are the white-sand Playa Ancon (on the southern, Caribbean side of the island) and 12-mile-long, white-sand Varadero Beach, the best known beach in the country. Both offer crystal clear waters for swimming or snorkeling.

Cuban food is often thought of as beans and rice, which are indeed served at many meals and can be delicious, but there’s much more to it than that. The cuisine has Spanish, French, African, Chinese, Portuguese, and Arabic influences, along with Caribbean favorites such as fried plantains, similar to but different from bananas. Stews and many other dishes use a base of sofrito (onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano) for flavoring; more contemporary cuisine includes Spanish-style tapas. Coffee is on the strong side and Cuban sandwiches -- ham, pork, pickle, cheese, and mustard on bread -- are among the world’s best. Besides regular restaurants, a number of private homes now serve as eateries offering authentic local cuisine.

Ultimately, the Cuban people themselves are the stars of any visit to the island. And the best way to meet them is by organized tour, featuring people-to-people encounters. Stride can help you find the right ones that will be legal, educational, and enjoyable. 

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Experts

Jared Alster
 
 

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