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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



665 Reviews

  • Excellent 435
  • Great 185
  • Average 40
  • Disappointing 5
  • Terrible 0

Rating Details

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

Tour Reviews

Cuban Highlights

Cuban Highlights Ride

February 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
Very enjoyable and well organised. Lovely rides through varied countryside and interesting towns which transported us back in time and gave fascinating insights into the country's history. Routes were good and the bikes ideal for the various challenges - hills, road surface etc. Pleasant helpful supportive staff always ready with water, snacks and repairs if needed.
Happy Cubans! Despite its troubled history and obvious deprivation it is a land full of fun and welcome. Whether cycling through rural villages or in towns we were always greeted with cheerful "Holas!" and waves from smiling adults and children.

Lenay was an excellent group leader and tour guide. She speaks very good English, has an extensive knowledge of her country's history and culture and is thoughtful, witty and helpful.

Just go and embrace their vibrant world of sun and salsa and have plenty of Cuban currency. Although it is not the land of plenty and the food is bland the facilities are very clean!

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Cuban Highlights Trip

Cuban Highlights Ride

February 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
Wonderful holiday!
Completing the cycle without using the bus!
Learning about Cuban history and feeling sad that the West has misunderstood Cuba all these years. They have done a great job of surviving and thriving despite all the difficulties.
Our guide, Alex, who was full of surprises, knowledge, variety and went out of his way to organise every detail for individuals in the group ensuring we all had the best holiday.

Alex was great. He easily interacted with all members of the group. He was our interpreter for language and events. He worked hard behind the scenes, cultivating good relationships with Casa owners etc, organising travel details for group members coming and leaving at different times, dealing with all the tipping, giving clear instructions and direction and just generally making sure everything was hassle free for us. He worked patriotically and with sincerity - very catching! There was never any pressure. A great holiday because of him.

A universal plug ( for sinks, baths etc) would be useful.

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Historical, Hot and Colourful Cuba - on Christmas Day!

Cuban Highlights Ride

February 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
Take what you imagine to find in Cuba - this is most likely what you will get. I did anyway. Marinade yourself in Cuban culture with salsa, cigars and mojitos. Get lost in the myriad of cobbled streets in Trinidad. Combine some great sightseeing with some challenging but not impossible cycling. From Ernest Hemingway's bar to a tour of the city in a Cadillac, Havana is rich and diverse in both its history and landscapes and even how the country is in a little bit of a technological time warp adds to its charm.
Learning about the history of Castro and Che Guevara before seeing the sights in Revolution Square was fascinating. The most thrilling moments were in the American cars tour of Havana - one hour of exhilaration, a must-do!

Alex was informative and humorous while always putting our needs first.

Take toilet paper for the casas. Not always available - the standard of the casas within our group was variable. I was very lucky with Alfonso and his lovely family. Also take plenty of money - its not cheap.

The hotel in Havana is a little far from the centre but there is a nice breakfast and pool here. Wifi is scarce in Cuba so be prepared to be cut off from the world while you're there - hardly a hardship though is it?

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Cycling Cuba

Cycling Cuba

February 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
Overall good experience with some interesting cycling towards the end of the tour . Cuba is a big island and a lot is crammed in resulting in the tour having an attritional feel with some tedious transfers and insufficient time to explore places such as Camaguey, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba and for those not staying extra days, particularly Havana.
Time spent in Havana but I thought the most typically West Indian place was El Salton, which was gorgeous.

Lismar is excellent, his English impressive and he is a font of information and a strong cyclist, too.

Be careful of your food and drink - not only what you eat and drink (tummy bugs galore with our group) but what could have become mixed with it _ Rosie found a large piece of broken glass in her glass at the first lunch stop by the wharf in Old Havana( which Lismar took up with management) and more broken glass in her ice cream at the lunch stop at Santa Clara.

Day 1 would have been much better if some attempt had been made for the party to meet up, at least for a drink at Hotel Memories. As it was we were rather left there kicking our heels and waiting to meet the group on day 2.
Hotel Memories is ok but too remote for anyone hoping to explore Havana.
Three other hotels were drab, tatty with unappetising food - Hotel Camaguey, Hotel Sierra Maestra and Hotel San Jose del Lago.

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Cycling Cuba

Cycling Cuba

February 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
I would definitely recommend this fabulous trip! Cycling through Cuba is one of the best ways to see the country and its people along the way. The trip ambitiously covers large distances over a sizeable island but the mixture of cycling and bus transfers just about works. There is a good mixture of accommodation-types from larger, swankier hotels (either modernist government hotels or beautiful colonial-style buildings) to staying in a local's home (Casas particulares).
Everyday starting off from our accommodation on our bikes, as a team, in unison and then finishing the day together. I loved cycling in the mountains near Santiago, the countryside was more interesting and the cycling more challenging.
Attending a local dance evening in a 'village hall' and dancing salsa as a group with the locals.

Lismar was a very good guide - well organised, engaging, very informative. We learnt lots about the complex history and culture of Cuba.

Do take medicines such as Immodium and be cautious - the level of hygiene is not always what we're used to and many of us succumbed to the inevitable!

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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 National 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.

More recently, travel regulations were further relaxed, giving tour operators even more flexibility with the types of itineraries they run in Cuba. This means virtually any tour in Cuba is legal for American travelers, but always check direct with the tour operator first.

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.

Why Consider a Tour In Cuba?

Although traveling to Cuba independently is now possible, it’s still wise to consider a tour. Due to the increased demand, hotel rooms in popular cities like Havana and Trinidad are hard to come by. This means that unless you plan many months in advance, you might be relegated to a less than desirable hotel that isn’t centrally located. Tour operators, on the other hand, purchase rooms in bulk up to a year in advance, so you are guaranteed a room in some of the country’s most famous and beautiful accommodations.

The infrastructure in Cuba, specifically the road and transportation network, are still quite basic and developing. It can be hard to get around from city to city and all of the signs are in Spanish. Speaking of language barriers, it’s a challenge to find many English speakers outside of hotels and major tourist attractions.

On a tour, you’ll hit the major tourist sites, such as El Floridita (where Hemingway himself used to drink) but you’ll also have a chance to meet local artists and business people - all who can offer unique glimpses into the current affairs of this fascinating country. Tour guides can often show you a side of Cuba that you’d otherwise miss if traveling independently.

Must See Cuban Cities

Havana is certainly the most popular jumping off point for a tour in Cuba, with the most direct flights from Miami and other US cities. However, it is recommended to explore beyond the famous capital city, venturing farther afield to places like Vinales Valley, Trinidad, and Santa Clara. These ‘secondary’ cities have less tourists, but offer unique cultural and natural experiences that are not to be missed.


The small city of Vinales, and the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site Vinales Valley, lies a few hours to the west of Havana.  If Havana is like stepping back to the 1950’s, it can be said that visiting Vinales harkens back even further to the 19th century.

This largely agricultural area, where cops such as coffee and tobacco are still grown following centuries old traditions, is an outdoor-lover’s paradise. The lush landscape is dotted with karsts which attract climbers and hikers alike. The region is also known for its music and arts scene, much like other parts of Cuba.

Trinidad & Topes de Collantes

The beautiful cobblestoned-street city of Trinidad lies in the southern part of the island, about a 6 hours drive on Cuba’s notoriously choppy roads. Yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, Trinidad has been beautifully preserved to its colonial charms. Artist galleries and restaurants with live music line the narrow cobblestone streets. Walking through an open door might reveal a couple of men playing dominos on a plastic table or a traditional pig roast in process.

Visit the Plaza Major to experience an open air colonial architecture museum and then check out live music next to the cathedral in the same location. Although accommodation is hard to come by, many tours make stops in Trinidad to take in its authenticity.

Trinidad also acts as a great jumping off point for adventures into Topes de Collantes, one of Cuba’s many national parks. Located about 12 miles from the city, Topes de Collantes lies in a mountainous region home to a plethora of flora and fauna, many endemic to Cuba.

Guided hikes are available around the park and are mostly mellow over well blazed trails. There are opportunities to hike with a local naturalist, who can point out local bird varieties. Other hikes end at picturesque waterfalls where a cool swim is inviting in the tropical heat. Topes de Collantes is most popular with local Cubans on vacation, although many tourists, especially Europeans, are starting to discover its charms.

Santa Clara

Santa Clara is located is close proximity to Havana, due east about 3 hours. It’s probably most famous for being the place where revolutionary fighter Che Guevara is buried, and thousands of tourists flock here to see his final resting place. This historic city is also where the final battle of the Cuban Revolution took place in 1958.

Two columns of revolutionary fighters attacked the city, one led by Che. After intense fighting, the city was captured, and hours later, General Batista, then leader of Cuba, left the country. Santa Clara is a tour highlight for history buffs and a common stopping point on the drive from Havana to Trinidad.

Music & Art in Cuba

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.

In Havana, there is live music on many street corners, including outside most of the major hotels. If you desire something more formal and organized, the famous Cuban band The Buena Vista Social Club still performs most nights in a bar in Old Havana. While many of the original founders of the group have passed or are no longer playing, a few still remain.

Many tours include a night out to hear these legends of Cuban jazz and it’s well worth the relatively expensive cover charge. Many times, the musicians will hang around after the set and if your Spanish is decent, striking up a conversation could be one of the highlights of your trip.

Other opportunities to see live music include the rooftop bar of the Hotel Inglaterra, located near Parque Central, where a salsa or rumba ensemble plays most nights. There are also a number of dance clubs around Havana, including Casa de la Musica de Miramar, El Turquino, and Cabaret Parisien, which hosts an elaborate cabaret show, complete with flowered dancers.  

Believe it or not, some of the most authentic music in Cuba can be heard while sitting outside having dinner at a paladares, or local restaurant, in Old Havana. Small groups of musicians will approach your table and give you a private concert, of course in exchange for a few pesos.

Many famous artists, such as Wifredo Lam, have come out of Cuba, however, many are still relatively unknown due to the isolation of the country for so many years. For authentic local Cuban art, a visit to the El Taller Experimental de Grafica is a must. This artist workshop, founded in 1962 with the support of infamous revolutionary Che Guevara, is still a thriving studio today. Inside, artists of all ages delicately create traditional prints using decades old techniques. Prints are for sale and you can discuss the pieces of art direct with the artist, which is a special experience.

Other top art galleries include Galeria Victor Manuel, Galeria Habana, and Fototeca de Cuba, which houses the country’s largest collection of photographs. Although many tours will only include a stop at the Museo de Nacional, most itineraries offer ample free time to explore these artistic havens on your own.

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, and a popular stop on most tour itineraries.

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. One of the most intimate glimpses into Hemingway’s sometimes lonely existence is apparent by the writing on the bathroom wall of his home. This is where he recorded his daily weight, in pencil. At some point in history, the writing was covered up, only to be discovered by museum curators years later while conducting restoration around the home.

You can also visit many of his old haunts around Havana such as El 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). Both places can get very crowded with tourists and there are better drinks in town. However, it can be worth the stop for any literary buffs who’d like to sit side by side with Hemingway’s statue at the bar.

Another Hemingway haunt worth a visit is La Terraza Restaurant, located in the small fishing village of Cojimar, about 20 minutes from Havana. This is the very place depicted in his novel ‘Old Man and the Sea’ and the walls are adorned with black and white photos of the author himself, including many of him dining at La Terraza. It’s no surprise that Hemingway chose this seaside gem as a top spot in Cuba.

Best Beaches in Cuba

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. Be warned though that if you are looking for seclusion, you won’t find it at Playa Ancon or Playa Varadero. Both are well-trodden with tourists and feature many all inclusive resorts.

Other top beaches include Playa Los Flamencos, located within Cayo Coco off Cuba’s north shore. There are three main beaches in this idyllic location, although Los Flamencos offers the most privacy and tranquility.

Playa Pilar was the choice beach of Ernest Hemingway himself. He spent so much time here that the beach was named after his yacht, the Pilar. This bit of sand on the western tip of Cayo Guillermo is probably one of the least popular beaches in the region, for now.

Playa Los Pinos is perhaps the most deserted beach in all of Cuba. Getting here requires an off-road ride that is not accessible by public transport. But for the intrepid beach goers who make the trip, the reward is a long white sand beach where your only companions might be a band of wild horses.

Playa Esmeralda is a good spot for those wanting a bit of understated luxury. This smaller beach features two luxury hotels that are tastefully situated as not to be an eyesore on the pristine beach environment. If you’re looking to relax and recharge for a few days, in style, this might be the place for you.

Food in Cuba

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, called paladares,  now serve as eateries offering authentic local cuisine.

This is great news for visitors as you not only get a fresh, delicious meal, but also the opportunity to catch a glimpse of local, everyday life. Tour companies have caught on and many now include at least one meal at some of the best paladares in Havana such as Doña Eutimia and Le Chansonnier. Just don’t expect a quick meal - Cubans take their time and you should to. Besides, what can beat sitting outside on a warm Havana night, sipping a mojito and eating freshly caught prawns tossed in garlic and pepper while waiting for your main dish of ropa vieja?

Vegetarians and pescatarians should have no trouble finding something to eat, although the former may need to get used to a steady diet of rice, beans, and salad for a few days. Seafood lovers, however, will found a bounty of diverse and fresh options from the surrounding waters.

Regardless of your diet or culinary preferences, you are sure to find something tasty and flavorful in Cuba as long as you are willing to be patient and explore some of the hidden gems in Havana and beyond.

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.

Travel to Cuba: Practicalities & Logistics

Before you go

Visas are required for all American citizens traveling to Cuba. Most tour operators usually include this fee in the price of the trip, or have a separate visa fee that is paid once your trip is confirmed. Either way, it’s a good idea to book a Cuba trip with a tour company who will handle the visa logistics for you. UK citizens also must obtain a tourist card before traveling to Cuba.

Medical care in Cuba is quite good, with more doctors per capita than many other countries. However, you should always travel with insurance and many tour operators can recommend a plan to cover you while on your trip. Only routine vaccinations are required for Cuba, however, the CDC does recommend both Typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccinations for some travelers.


Cuba is generally very safe compared to other Central and South American countries. Police are everywhere, and especially apparent in high tourist locations. However, as when traveling in any foreign country, use common street sense and pay attention to your surroundings. This is especially true in Havana, Trinidad and other large cities. Crimes of opportunity, such as pick-pocketing, are not unheard of, but a little vigilance goes a long way, and traveling in a group can help deter any potential trouble.

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Jared Alster

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