The clock is about to hit nine on a breezy, but warm Cuban evening. You are making your way down cobbled walkways towards the entrance of the Morro-Cabaña Complex in Havana. People are swarming in through a torch-lit hall lined on both sides with merchants and artisans. You make your way up a dirt and cement stairway to get a prime location amongst locals and foreigners like you, who don’t know what is going to happen next. Suddenly, everything becomes silent. People clear the pathways, expectantly.
You see how, slowly, a dim light in the distance becomes brighter and appears closer. All you hear is stomping on the ground – marching – followed by chanting. It’s a group of soldiers, dressed in colonial uniforms. They are marching towards the place where they will shoot the traditional cannon. It once announced that the walls were closing and that the City of Havana had to be vigilant of pirates and evildoers who could invade the Island stealthily while it slept.
The 8 p.m. Cañonazo Ceremony is just one of the historical, interesting, and beautiful experiential travel adventures the Island of Cuba offers visitors. Unless you walk into the crowded Floridita, home of the Daiquirí, to take pictures with Ernest Hemingway, you are not fully participating in the excitement, the charm, and the magic of this Caribbean destination.
Experiential travel in Cuba takes on a different tone. Travelers have the opportunity to talk to locals about their everyday lives on the Island. They may also choose to discuss Cuban culture, values, outlook, and even inquire about that mysterious ingredient that gives Ropa Vieja its distinct flavor over other meat dishes. Unless you are face to face with a local, you cannot see the pride in a Cuban man or woman’s face when they talk about the history of Cuba. From the time of the colonies to once being a prominent and influential nation, Cuba was once the playground for international jetsetters and celebrities. Their faces transform when they talk about loved ones who’ve left to other countries or about their struggles to find essentials to cook their daily meals.
Most travel professionals and other individuals from around the globe are likely familiar with the vast Cuban population living in Miami, FL. Many believe that going to a local Cuban-themed spot in Miami, with memorabilia and guayabera toting waiters, is going to offer a Cuban experience. It is nothing like that. In Cuba, you will get the sass, the charm, and above all the flavors that are representative of Cuban cuisine. Recipes have been passed down through generations, with seasonings that are very particular to the chefs and their upbringing. You will have a taste of traditional Cuban Cuisine at Doña Eutimia, a private paladar in Plaza Vieja. You will have a completely different experience at the rustic Café Ajiaco in the outskirts of the city while you learn how to make an authentic Cuban Ajiaco and a mojito during a cooking lesson.
Take your group to an experiential Cuban cooking class
Waking up for the first time in Havana is like waking up on a holiday morning. You do not know what surprises or experiences the day will bring, but you are joyfully expecting it. Outside your window, you may find yourself with cars and people talking if you are more downtown. While waiting for your transport, sitting on the steps outside of your building or hotel, you may also find that life in Cuba is not very different from your own. People are walking, jogging, riding bicycles, driving cars, and even rescuing animals by trying to find them homes. During the day you may also see street performers, people playing dominoes, or even music ensembles. Cuban people come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, but all with that unique Cuban way of speaking, which also varies by region.
When visiting Cuba, a traveler can see that, regardless of what may be on the news, Cuban people are friendly, warm, and very spirited. Many are entrepreneurs who own private restaurants called paladares. They also open their homes to travelers as Casas Particulares, private homes that offer bed and breakfast options. They are also cuentapropistas who own gallery spaces like artist Michel Mirabal, shops such as Clandestina, and hair salons. They make crafts, soaps, lotions, and then sell them at arts and crafts markets, like the San José in Avenida del Puerto. Consuming and purchasing from these independent and privately owned businesses are just some of the ways in which travelers can fulfill on the Support for the Cuban People reason for travel.
The best way to experience Cuba is with a knowledgeable local guide. OnCuba Travel prides itself in its U.S. and Cuba based teams. Their network includes local businesses, experienced local guides, and other Cuban experts who come together to provide travelers with the most insightful experiences and programs a foreigner can have to see and feel the real Cuba.
Walking down the historical and majestic Cementerio Colón, also known as Necrópolis Colón, would not be the same without the guidance, insight, and sometimes colorful stories from a local guide with a strong art and history background. Visiting all the famous plazas in Havana during a curated walking tour ensures that all the essential details about each location are known and covered. One example is the Caballero de Paris sculpture. At this stop, visitors are expected to pull the Caballero’s beard and step on his foot. A professional excursion also gives you access to his backstory, significance, and ultimate demise. Such is also the case with historic landmarks like the Capitolio.
Visit all the must-see locations with an excursion like Havana Highlights
The Capitolio in Havana is opulent, imposing, and rich in history. While the Capitolio offers an in-house guided tour, being with a professional guide that speaks your preferred language will ensure that you understand all the details behind this historical landmark. Having a guide also adds a depth of knowledge that ties landmarks like El Capitolio with the overall history of the City of Havana. Learn about the important dignitaries that once walked the building’s halls, the history behind its construction, and the more contemporary details behind its renovations. This experience would not be possible without careful planning and coordination from the OnCuba Travel team, guides, and other supporting professionals.
OnCuba Travel can help you plan the trip of a lifetime Contact today
Another famous must-see in Havana, el Callejón de Hamel, is more than just an explosion of Afro-Cuban culture, art, history, and religion. It’s about local people, street musicians, singing and drumming with tumbadoras. It’s also about Yerberos and artists who practice the Yoruba religion and live their lives fully expressing and sharing their beliefs and the history behind their origins in Cuba. It’s also about the poetry on the walls, the sounds, and the beautiful diversity of people dancing, laughing, talking, and sharing who they are in this inviting and warm environment. You need to walk the Callejón, dance, sweat, and experience how this place lights up on a Sunday at noon.
Immerse your group in an Afro-Cuban cultural experience Learn More
A similar experience happens when driving to Jamainitas, an area that has been severely affected by destructive hurricanes. Its people have had to rebuild on many occasions. Part of the pride and joy of this area today are the mosaics and artwork from artist José Fuster and his apprentices. Walking down the streets of Fusterlandia – a name inspired by the local artist – pay careful attention to the writing on the walls, the symbols of love, peace, hope, sarcasm, irony, and politics the mosaics represent. Also, note the fun, humor, and the spirit the Cuban people have. If you love hats, animals, flags, or hearts, surely you will find the perfect background for many unique photos in Fusterlandia.
Visit Jamainitas with a local excursion See excursions
The pride movement in Cuba is thriving. The LGBT+ community in Cuba has a variety of options for travelers and groups that celebrate sexual diversity. OnCuba Travel has prepared a special edition Cuban Pride Experience this November coinciding with the festivities of the City of Havana’s 500-year celebration. It is an opportunity to speak to like-minded individuals, artists, dancers, and musicians with a fun and cultural agenda of activities.
Experience the pride movement in Cuba Learn more
A country with a fascinating blend of Spanish, African, and Caribbean influence produces succulent cuisine. It also creates equally appetizing artwork, a feast for the senses. Travelers can now visit Cuba with Miami-based artists Alejandra Stefania and Mojo for an immersive art and food extravaganza. This experience is complete with visits to artist’s studios, art collectives, and handpicked dining spots to whet your palate and your artful eye. Now taking reservations for a November 1st, 2019 departure!
Take your group in a fascinating Cuban art experience See more details
It is never too early to start planning your next vacation or group experience. In fact, planned travel may give you the advantage of reduced rates and securing your spot in select small group adventures. Working with a professional agency will also make the difference between just visiting Cuba and experiencing Cuba like a local. The experts at OnCuba Travel offer many planning solutions to provide independent travelers and travel professionals a worry-free and all-inclusive travel experience. Items such as travel requirements, visas, flights, itinerary planning with OFAC compliant activities, lodging, and transportation can all be coordinated by the agency.
The agency also offers a variety of short and daylong excursions, as well as multi-day travel programs to accommodate various interests and levels of activity. For those that prefer to create a customized travel experience, OnCuba also offers an alternative to build a custom program. Contact OnCuba Travel with your travel details to get started today.