There Are Still 11 Authorized Reasons for Travel to Cuba in 2019

Summer is just starting, and there are still so many great reasons to visit the beautiful and culturally rich Island of Cuba in 2019! Ahead of us, we have the Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba later in July, the Marabana Marathon in November, the Havana Film Festival in December, as well as the Parrandas de Remedios, to close out the year. Of course, let us not forget the delicious local cuisine, African heritage, diversity of the Cuban culture, and its warm and friendly people. As you are planning individual or group travel to Cuba from the United States, you will need a valid U.S. passport, a visa, and a valid license for travel. Remember that an individual cannot travel merely as a tourist with no set agenda. It is important to identify what the right reason for travel is and to ensure that every traveler has a full-time agenda for their planned activities during their visit.

Following the new regulations to travel to Cuba effective as of June 5th, 2019, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) now allows for 11 different licenses for travelers to visit Cuba from the U.S. legally. These are family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organization; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; and exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials and certain authorized export transactions. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of each type of general license and provide some helpful examples of travel scenarios for each license.

Family visits

This license is for travelers who have relatives that live on the Island of Cuba. As per the OFAC, a close relative is considered a person who is related “by blood, marriage, or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor with that person.” The close relative may be a Cuban national or a person who resides in Cuba. For example, it is ok for a traveler to visit a second cousin because you are related by blood and share a common ancestor, no more than three generations apart. On the other hand, you would not be able to use this license to visit your son’s father-in-law because you do not have a direct connection.

Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations

This type of license applies to employees, grantees or contractors of the U.S. government, other foreign governments, or intergovernmental organization, where the U.S. may be a member or observer, who are traveling to Cuba to conduct official business. This license cannot be applied for as a group if only some of the members qualify. Travelers must qualify for the license individually. An example would be if the United Nations is holding a meeting in Cuba, employees of the U.S. Government who participate would use this license since the U.S. is attending as a member of the United Nations.

Journalistic activity

The journalistic activity license authorizes full-time journalists, freelance journalists, and support or technical personnel to travel to Cuba. This license must also be qualified for individually. A group cannot use this license when only certain individuals qualify. An example would be if a freelance journalist wants to travel to Cuba to cover the upcoming Habana Film Festival in December. He or she would travel under this visa.

Professional research and professional meetings

This type of license is suited for those set to perform professional research or hold professional meetings in Cuba that pertain to their area of expertise, professional background, or profession. This license also excludes the authorization of direct financial transactions with restricted entities and subentities (www.treasury.gov). As a reminder, travelers must have a full agenda of activities when visiting the island. An example of proper use of this license would be a cultural anthropologist focusing on Cuban studies traveling to Cuba to research an area of Cuban society.

Educational activities

If you are a professor or coordinating travel for a group pursuing education activities, this may be the license for you. This general license is for faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools. Authorized educational activities would include study abroad programs. Academic exchanges and joint noncommercial, academic research between U.S. and Cuban universities would also fall under this general license. An example would be if a U.S. university offers a course on Cuban studies, and part of the curriculum is a study abroad program in Cuba, this would fall under this license. Again, note that each person traveling would have to apply on an individual basis.

Religious activities

This license would be for U.S. citizens and U.S. based religious organizations, its members and staff, traveling to Cuba for religious purposes, with a religious program or partaking related activities. An example of this would be if religious U.S. based individuals were traveling to Cuba to commemorate the day of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the Cuban Patron Saint, planning to attend religious activities during their stay.

Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions

This general license applies to those who participate in amateur or semi-professional international sports federation competitions and other athletic competitions. For example, if you are interested in participating in the upcoming annual Marabana Marathon as a runner, you would request this license. This license is also for those travelers planning to attend public performances, clinics, workshops, and exhibitions in Cuba. Some examples could be the International Jazz Festival in January or the International Cuban Dance Festival in Havana.

Support for the Cuban people

Support for the Cuban People is one of the broadest general licenses for travel to Cuba. According to the OFAC, this license includes, “activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.” Under this license, travelers need to consider activities that support Cubans on the island, which also means helping support their economy. Some of the examples of fulfillment for this license are eating at a privately-owned restaurant called a paladar, buying local art and souvenirs for a crafts market, and staying at a privately-owned home known as a casa particular instead of a hotel. Daily agendas must include activities that emphasize contact with Cuban people.

Humanitarian projects

Under this license, U.S. citizens may travel to Cuba for causes that may be of aid, disaster preparedness and relief, medical aid, historical preservation, and more. It may be wrongfully assumed that fulfilling on a humanitarian project in Cuba is just a matter of volunteering. Because of the limited availability of organized humanitarian activities on the Island, it would be best to contact international organizations that have agreements and causes in place with Cuba. An example of travel under a humanitarian project would be to volunteer to travel to Cuba with an established U.S. based organization to provide disaster relief after a hurricane.

Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

As the name says it, this license is for activities and transactions relevant to private foundations, research, and educational institutes. Under this license, these organizations can engage in financial transactions to establish a physical presence in Cuba, such as opening a local office. Research conducted must be for non-commercial purposes and primarily with an international relations focus. An example of this license would be a U.S. based private foundation looking to develop articles on South American -Caribbean international relations. To achieve this, they want to send their team to Cuba to research. Note that people who travel under this license must maintain records of their activities. The license must also be applied for individually.

Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials and certain authorized export transactions

This license relates to the activities involved in the exportation, importation or transmission of information related to travel to Cuba. This license includes filming movies, creating art, and recording music in Cuba. The person using this license must be employed full time and have experience in the field related to their reason for travel. An example of this license would be if a film, such as a documentary, is shot in Cuba and the individuals involved in such productions. The content is then exported to the U.S.

Do you need help finding the right license to travel to Cuba?

If you are having trouble identifying the right license for your travel plans to Cuba and would like to make the process easy, an experienced and professional agency such as OnCuba Travel can help. Please contact OnCuba Travel by phone at (305) 602 – 0219 or email at [email protected]. Friendly and knowledgeable representatives are available to assist you. Their website, www.oncubatravel.com also offers multiple resources to make your trip to Cuba hassle free.

In addition to finding the right license, OnCuba Travel can help you coordinate flights, purchase your visa, book a hotel, rent a car, coordinate airport transfers, and create a full agenda of activities based on your travel plans. Visit the many options for short excursions in Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba, as well as multi-day all-inclusive group programs available.

Travel to Cuba for Americans Series – Traveling to Cuba Under New Policy

The new regulations by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to travel to Cuba have caused a lot of concern and confusion with regards to travel to Cuba legally from the U.S. It has also been a concern for travelers with pre-existing travel plans to the Island. Particularly because in the past there have been periods where travel to Cuba from the U.S. has been heavily restricted or not even a possibility. Let’s dive in a little deeper and understand what transpired.

Two main changes took place. The first is that the general license called “people to people” exchange can no longer be used. The other change is that travel by vessels such as cruises, private airplanes, and jets, is no longer possible. These changes may affect pre-booked cruises departing from an American port to Cuba. The good news is that there is a silver lining. Travel to Cuba is still possible for Americans. Let’s explore how.

As with any international travel to any destination, there are certain requirements that must be met when traveling to Cuba. The new regulations became effective on June 5th, 2019. These will be enforced for future travel to Cuba from the United States. Other requirements have not been affected by these new regulations. These key requirements are that American travelers must have a valid U.S. passport and a visa. Information to obtain these documents can be found here.

The recent changes by the OFAC impact one of the twelve general licenses available to travel to Cuba. This is very relevant because determining the general license for your travel plans is the first step required to apply for the travel visa. Pre-scheduled travel under the People to People license may be affected by the new changes. It is highly recommended to check with your travel partner or provider if the new regulations affect your previously scheduled travel plans to Cuba from the US.

Before the new regulations, the “people to people” exchange general license was common for groups traveling to Cuba from the U.S. It was often used by groups with educational purposes. This general license is no longer available. However, there are 11 other licenses available to make travel to Cuba possible for Americans. These licenses are specific to several reasons for travel. Some of the licenses include support for the Cuban people, family visits for direct relatives, travel for university groups, academic research, journalism, professional meetings and more.

Which is the right license for your group? There are several options available. Support for the Cuban people is a frequently used type of travel licenses. It entails supporting local and privately-owned businesses through consumption. Some examples of appropriate activities are eating at a privately-owned restaurant, called a paladar, and staying at a casa particular or private home. Other options are available to define the purpose of your travel plans to Cuba.

A professional travel agency such as OnCuba Travel can help you find the right license to meet your travel purposes and needs. It is simplified further with an agency because they can facilitate the process for multiple travelers. Once the proper documentation is in place, it’s important to review available travel options. Although travel to Cuba by certain vessel types such as private airplanes, jets, yachts, and cruises is not possible, it is still a possibility to travel to Cuba by commercial airline.

Several airlines offer travel to Cuba regularly. Learn more about available options here. Flights to Cuba often depart from Miami International Airport, as Cuba is just a short 45-minute flight from Miami. It is ideal for a weekend getaway or a multi-day exploration. For those planning group travel, such as our travel partners, it is important to see all the available travel options to Cuba.

It is still a requirement to have a full schedule of activities for travelers while in Cuba. The country has several points of interest, not only in the city of Havana, but across the entire country. It is home to several UNESCO World Sites and has played a pivotal role in history. Its architecture is rich, as it expands from colonial times to modern day edifications. Cuba is also home to some of the best tobacco leaves, as one of the main producers of top Habanos in the world.

There are many options available to accommodate different interests and activity levels. Ground excursions offer the flexibility to add activities ranging in time from a couple of hours to a full-day schedule. OnCuba Travel offers excursions that will take your group to the most important landmarks in Cuba, including El Cristo, El Capitolio, the beautiful plazas, and so much more.

There are also multi-day programs available for special interests. Whether your group has an interest in art, cuisine, history or culture, there are several programs to best meet your group’s needs. The programs and several of the excursions also include meals at many top privately-owned restaurants called paladares. The paladares may range from traditional to upscale fusion. The cuisine, which is a blend of Spanish, Caribbean, and African flavors is truly delightful.

Excursions and programs are also available for those who prefer an outdoor or eco-friendly adventure. Cuba is rich in flora and fauna with lush vegetation. It offers many options for those who want to see nature, like the mountains in the Sierra Maestra and the Valley of Viñales, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Activities are also available for group members that prefer a lighter level of activity, such as Vegas-style shows with live music and dancers. Venues such as the Tropicana and Parisien offers shows several times a week and provide a comfortable environment to watch the show.

Transfers and ground logistics in Cuba can also be arranged for your group by the agency. It can be quite daunting to find a taxi in a foreign country, particularly if one does not know the area or speak the language. Prearranged transportation can also be taken care of for your group. The drivers provided by OnCuba Travel are reliable, punctual, professional, and cordial. Vehicles selected are in good condition and are equipped with air-conditioning. I know our group would have been lost and late many times without our trusty driver in Cuba.

When traveling with OnCuba Travel, groups are often accompanied by expert local guides. These are knowledgeable in topics of interest for each excursion or program. They can provide valuable insight from the local’s point of view. They are also well-versed in historical facts and special points of interest in each location. After all, it would be a waste to visit the beautiful Colón Cemetery in Havana and not know the stories behind the beautiful marble sculptures.

OnCuba Travel can also help you prepare a custom group program to meet your travel needs. The knowledgeable team at the agency is always available to make the planning process simple. To provide travel partners with special assistance, the agency can also take care of all visa processes, accommodations, transfers, and transportation for the entire group. They also provide educational documents in preparation for each destination to help travelers learn more about the activity and what to expect.

There are two programs currently available, created in partnership with OnCuba Travel partners. One is the Cigar and Rum Tour. The itinerary was specially curated for groups that have an interest in cigars and rum. It is very popular around the time of the International Habanos Festival, which is held every year in Havana. Participation includes a day at the festival to sample special cigars and participate in other special activities.

OnCuba Blog

OnCuba Blog

Two main changes took place. The first is that the general license called “people to people” exchange can no longer be used. The other change is that travel by vessels such as cruises, private airplanes, and jets, is no longer possible. These changes may affect pre-booked cruises departing from an American port to Cuba. The good news is that there is a silver lining. Travel to Cuba is still possible for Americans. Let’s explore how.

As with any international travel to any destination, there are certain requirements that must be met when traveling to Cuba. The new regulations became effective on June 5th, 2019. These will be enforced for future travel to Cuba from the United States. Other requirements have not been affected by these new regulations. These key requirements are that American travelers must have a valid U.S. passport and a visa. Information to obtain these documents can be found here.

Another specialty group program prepared with a travel partner is the Afro-Cuban Cultural Immersion program. This itinerary was specially curated for travelers who want to explore the roots of African influence in Cuban culture, religion, music, and cuisine. It explores the slave routes, the history of the Yoruba religion on the island, with stops in important cities and towns that are at the heart of Afro-Cuban culture.

OnCuba Blog

OnCuba Blog

Other details can also be pre-arranged, such as accommodations. Cuba has several options for stay in many areas across the island. The range of properties available goes from hand-picked private homes to historical hotels. Several of the hotel properties are award-winning and provide above average amenities and services. There are options available for every budget and interest. Another great option is a private home, called a casa particular. These can often be booked with daily breakfast service and with options for add-on amenities. In booking a casa particular travelers also support Cuban people while participating in scheduled activities, depending on the type of travel license selected.

Again, travel to Cuba from the U.S. is still an option. A knowledgeable travel agency, such as OnCuba Travel, can support you with all the details and of your group. They can assist with the selection of the correct general license to travel to Cuba and with the visa application process. This process can be challenging when trying to navigate on our own, even for the most seasoned travel professionals. All programs and excursions offered by OnCuba Travel continue to be OFAC compliant. The new regulations do not affect the activities within their excursions and group programs.

For more information specific to the general licenses available for travel to Cuba, please check these Frequently Asked Questions and the Resource Center in the U.S. Department of The Treasury website, treasury.gov.

Travel to Cuba for Americans Series – Paladares & Casas Particulares

Visiting Cuba is a game-changer. Being able to meet locals, learning about the country’s history, and seeing everything in the flesh is very different from hearing or reading about it. Even video does not do the Island justice. There is so much to learn that it is wise to prepare ahead of time to have knowledge of some essential facts before traveling to Cuba. In this blog, we will cover two important distinctions, Casas Particulares as a hotel alternative and Paladares as a restaurant alternative. You will hear these come up a lot in preparation for your trip to Cuba and during the trip.

Casas Particulares

Many are familiar with the concept of the Casa Particular or Private Home. It is similar to the available Bed & Breakfast rentals we can access through apps and websites in the United States. I stayed in two Casas Particulares during my trip to Cuba. One was in the district of Miramar and the other in the district of Vedado. Just as in many areas in the US, Casas Particulares need to be registered to be considered legal. You may be asked for your ID and travel information for their records.

The first Casa where I stayed was in Miramar, which is one of the central districts in Havana. I had a late arrival, but the owner still stayed up to meet me, show me around the house, and then to my room. The house was converted from a single-family home to include separate spaces for travelers. The room had a queen size bed, space to hang clothes, a couch, and a TV. The room was also conveniently air-conditioned and very comfortable. I also had a key to the room and felt very secure.

The Casa Particular in Miramar was more like an efficiency than a room. It was equipped with a full and private bathroom, toiletries like soap and amenities like towels, hair dryer, and an iron. I am sure other items were available upon request. The room also had a kitchen area with a refrigerator. The refrigerator was stocked with juices, sodas, water, and other local refreshments. A bottle of water and a juice carton were included with the room. Others could be purchased for a fee. The kitchen also had a sink, plenty of counter space, a tea kettle, and a stove. Plates, cutlery, and glasses were also available.

After a restful night of sleep, I looked forward to the breakfast that was included with the room. Boy was I surprised. It was a feast! This particular Casa had set aside for me a table with a window view, eggs prepared to my taste, a ham and cheese platter, warm milk, cocoa powder, warm bread with jam and butter, freshly brewed coffee, and even a tuna and cucumber dish. My favorite part was the cut fruit platter, which included papaya, pineapple, and guava. It was delightful.

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The owner was very accommodating the two nights I was there. She also worked with my schedule for late arrival, early pickup, and breakfast times at my convenience. I would stay there again in a heartbeat.

The second Casa Particular where I stayed for about five nights was in Vedado. The apartment was adjusted to accommodate travelers. I could tell by the floor where walls used to stand but had been torn down to allow for a more open feel and closet space. The apartment had a double door in addition to the lock in the main entrance to the building.

Since I had my pick, I selected the larger of three bedrooms. The apartment had a central AC unit, but the room had its own as well. It also had a very comfortable queen bed. The bathroom was very ample and was nicely decorated with a black/white art deco motif. It also had toiletries like soap and toilet paper available. In addition to that, the bathroom had plenty of towels, a floor mat, a good shower head, and quality fixtures.

The apartment had a quaint little terrace, a large flatscreen TV, and a sound system in the living/dining area. One of the other perks of this unit was the use of a prepaid phone during the stay. The person in charge was lovely. I talked to her quite a bit about life in Cuba, history, food, down to what I should wear to the places in my itinerary. She went above and beyond even bringing me ice cream and offering to wash a dress for me.

The breakfast in this Casa was also excellent. It too had a large platter of cut fruit, freshly brewed coffee and warm milk on the side, a tea option with hot water, eggs prepared my way, and warm bread rolls. Everything was nicely presented and was made to meet my requests. I really felt like I was in my home away from home.

Overall, I had a great experience with the Casas Particulares OnCuba Travel selected for me. Everything was taken care of from beginning to end. The Agency also made sure I had all the information I could need. They sent me a program with pictures, contact information, check-in and check-out times, a listing of amenities for each Casa, and of course arranged for breakfast every morning. I did not have to worry about anything, for which I was extremely grateful, being a foreigner during my first visit to Havana.

Paladares

Cuba is known for its delicious cuisine which combines Caribbean, Spanish, and African influence. Travelers can enjoy Cuban cuisine in one of two ways. One is through restaurants, which are mostly state-owned. The other is through an alternative called the Paladar. Paladares are eateries owned by private individuals and entrepreneurs. Most importantly, by eating in a Paladar, you are contributing and supporting Cuban people and the local economy.

During a recent trip to Cuba, I had the pleasure of trying several Paladares. I will share my experience with two of my favorites. I will start with one of the more traditional ones, which is Doña Eutimia at the Plaza de La Catedral in Havana. If it were not for the many people sitting inside and around it would seem like a family-style restaurant, a bit bigger than a hole in the wall. People were sitting together snuggly, but I quickly understood why.

From the moment we entered, we were greeted right away by our server, a dashing young man with beautiful eyelashes. He proceeded to explain to us our preset menu which included some of the more traditional Cuban dishes. We had a welcome drink, a grand Cuban Mojito. It was followed by the most flavorful Ropa Vieja I had during the entire trip. The meat was nicely shredded, seasoned, and juicy. We also had fried malanga bites, which were wonderfully crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Our dessert was a traditional Flan, like a custard, which was amazingly soft and drizzled with a sweet caramel sauce.

I was lucky to have this restaurant as part of the itinerary prepared by OnCuba Travel. I would have really regretted missing this gem. The cherry on top? I had moved away for a second to speak to one of the tour guides. Our waiter realized my coffee was getting cold. He not only brewed me a fresh cup of coffee but brought it to the new table where I was. Incredible flavors and fantastic service. Doña Eutimia is definitely high on my list of restaurant recommendations.

The second Paladar I will mention, although entirely different, is El Cocinero. It is located just around the corner from the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), a happening art and club space in Havana. We arrived close to sunset, just in time to make our way up the winding staircase to the open rooftop. Then, there was another staircase that led to a high communal table and on the horizon the most beautiful skyline and magnificent sunset I have seen in a long time. We were covered in shades of red, orange, and a fainting glow of sunlight. It only lasted for a few moments, but this particular memory still remains fresh in my mind.

What stood out to me the most was that this Paladar was not on the traditional side. The ambiance was chic, modern, eclectic, fashionable and worldly. The color palette of greens and golds added an air of vintage, but wonderfully balanced with modern iron pieces, glass, and lighting elements.

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The menu included ingredients that were traditional but combining flavors with others that would likely not be found together every day. Amongst the standouts was the appetizer I selected from the preset menu, the Tambor de Boniato. It was spicy crab layered with a sweet potato pudding to resemble a drum shape, finished with some mozzarella cheese shavings on top and a pesto aioli drizzle. The other stand out was definitely Tarta de Chocolate – Chocolate Tarte dessert. The chocolate is like a ganache in texture and just melts in your mouth.

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Imagine that out of my eight days and seven nights in Cuba this only covers but a sliver of the experiences and places we went to during our trip. None of this would have been possible without the support and program planning services provided by the team at OnCuba Travel. They go above and beyond making sure every detail is taken care of for their groups.

Nowadays, there are many options available to plan travel to Cuba, but it is never the same as working with a professional travel agency such as OnCuba Travel. They are very familiar with the destination, make recommendations based on interests, and have already developed a series of group programs and day excursions with diverse itineraries and interests in mind.

Contact OnCuba Travel to get started with your travel plans today. They can assist you with everything from visas to travel to Cuba legally from the United States to itinerary planning and transfers for you or your group. OnCuba Travel also works with travel professionals to facilitate group travel to Cuba.

Top 10 Things to Do in Havana

The capital City of Havana is one of the oldest in the Caribbean and a key location for pivotal moments in history. Havana today is also the results of diverse cultural influences, such as the Spanish, the African, and the Caribbean. The City is also divided into municipalities. One of the most beautiful, due to the diversity in its architecture and markedly different periods of influence, is the municipality of Old Havana. With its nostalgic architecture and facades, Old Havana is home to the more known points of interest, such as the newly renovated Capitolio and the Catedral de la Habana. However, If you really want to get the full Havana experience, here is a list of the 10 places you should know about for your next visit.

  1. Stop at the Malecón de La Habana

    This five-mile extension is one of the main attractions in Havana. It serves as a boardwalk, seawall, and is one of the main roads of access into and around the city. It is famous for its spectacular sunset views and active nightlife. It is certainly a well-visited spot for locals and out of towners. It is a phenomenal stop for photo opportunities and to see the bustling City of Havana. The Malecón also serves as an exhibit space during events, such as the Havana Biennial, an important art event that kicks off April 12th in 2019 and runs until May 12th. The Biennial only takes place every other year – don’t miss it! Coming off of the drive along the Malecón you will see the symbolic Capitolio.

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  2. Get a Picture of the José Martí Memorial

    The Monumento a José Martí, is one of the most iconic landmarks in Cuba. It is located in Plaza de la Revolución, along Calle Paseo and Avenida de las Américas. This star-shaped tower was built as a memorial to José Martí, an important Cuban journalist and poet who fought for Cuban independence from Spain. The tower stands at over 300 feet tall on the grounds of the former Loma de Los Catalanes. It is made of Cuban marble. Next to the tower is also a marble sculpture of Martí himself. The Monumento was completed in 1958, towards the end of the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. Inside the Monumento are rooms that house Martí’s writings, the history of the Plaza de la Revolución, and an art gallery. Visitors are also able to go to the top of the Monumento to see one of the most spectacular views of Havana. The best way to photograph the structure is from across the street, where two buildings have outlines of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, respectively.

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  3. Dance in the Callejón de Hamel

    The Callejón de Hamel is a colorful highlight of the city. It is a celebration of African influence in Cuba, a convergence of music, religion, and art. If you find yourself at the Callejón on a Sunday afternoon you will be welcomed by the sound of music and the beating of the tumbadora drums, while a crowd sings and dances in unison. The walls are all covered in quotes, paintings, and unusual sculptures made out of bathtubs, pipes, and other unexpected structures. Every corner offers plenty of opportunities for lively pictures and to capture the essence of this location.

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  4. Lunch at Paladar Doña Eutimia

    Dona Eutimia is probably one of the most authentic and well-attended privately owned paladares in Old Havana. It is a small locate, situated in the Plaza de la Catedral, just outside the namesake Catedral de la Habana. The staff is very attentive and sensitive to patrons’ needs. They have one of the best traditional shredded beef Ropa Viejas and a fantastic Mojito, served in a generous cocktail glass. They also have the delicious Flan, a traditional milk custard dessert. It is the perfect stop for the middle of the day before continuing with your planned excursions.

    OnCuba Blog

  5. Ride in Classic American Cars

    One of the biggest things Cuba is known for is its impressive collection of Classic American Cars. They bring an air of nostalgia to the Island, particularly the 1950’s when some of these cars were freshly introduced to the Island. Today, they offer a fantastic adventure to visitors. They are available as convertibles and hardtops, also called Almendrones for their almond-like shape. These beautifully preserved vehicles are a great way to ride around Havana and to get the full, panoramic view of every stop. Some of the key areas to drive along are of course the Malecón and Capitolio, the Túnel de la Habana that runs under the bay, the arch in Chinatown, and along 5th Avenue in the Miramar district, amongst others.

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  6. Visit el Cristo de la Habana

    El Cristo is another not to be missed key landmark in Havana. It sits atop a hill, sprouting at over 60 feet into the air. It was built by sculptor Jilma Madera and is made of Carrera Marble. You will notice that the statue has fuller lips and a strong physique. It is rumored to have been modeled after one of the artist’s old lovers. The sculpture is also notable for wearing sandals. The view of the city and cruise docking area from this point is magnificent. It is a great spot for pictures of the city.

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  7. Explore the Cementerio Colón

    The Cementerio Colón mas named after none other than Christopher Columbus whose authentic Spanish name is Cristóbal Colón. The sculptures in this notable landmark are so remarkable that the Cemetery has been considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Some of the most known resting places are the Mausoleo de Los Bomberos Heróicos for their baroque detailing and La Milagrosa, where people ask for their children and matters of the heart.

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  8. Sip a Cocktail at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

    The Hotel Nacional is a landmark of its own and is also a recipient of the UNESCO Memory of the World Award. As you drive up to the hotel through its lavish palm tree-lined driveway, you will feel like you are stepping into an era of nostalgia. Classic American Cars can are often spotted parked outside the Hotel. As you walk up the stairs to the main entrance, you will feel as in a scene from Casablanca, with the courteous doormen and high doors. From floor to ceiling, the hotel is vibrant with elegant details worthy of the celebrities and many notables that have stayed at this award-winning hotel. Some of the important guests have been Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Walt Disney, and Nat King Cole amongst others. As you make your way to the back of the hotel, take in the scenic water view and spot the large cannons displayed on the property.

    Explore on Classic American Cars Excursion Combine with the Parisien
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  9. Morro-Cabaña complex and evening cannon ceremony

    It is certainly a favorite for visitors and locals. The Morro Cabana Complex is a must see during the daytime and nighttime. During the daytime, walk across the Morro. This location gives visitors another opportunity for a panoramic view of the harbor, the Malecón, and Old Havana. Within walking distance, large cannons are available for close observation. It is the spot to marvel at this beautiful city.

    At night, visit the Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro. This stone and coral structure continues to be lined by cannons. The alleys are also a spot for local vendors with crafts and other goods. One of the highlights of the evening is the Cannon Ceremony, which kicks off at 9 p.m. during daylight time savings or 8 p.m. EST. The ceremony, presided by soldiers in proper period attire, has a dramatic buildup that concludes in the “firing” of a mock cannonball. There is something very magical about the torches, dimly lit setting, and this very real place where history was made.

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  10. Nightlife

    There are many things to do in Havana at night. Depending on what your preferred activities and settings are, try at least one or all four of these diverse options: The Tropicana, The Parisien, The Buena Vista Social Club show at Habana Café or the award-winning Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Here are some pointers to help with these options.

    The Tropicana Cabaret has been known throughout history as the grand, Vegas-style show in Havana. The dancers and performers are all decked out in elaborate costumes and headpieces. Each dance number tells a story to hundreds that attend this spectacular music and dance experience. During the show, you may also choose to sip on some bubbly, rum or soda of your choice in the open-air setting lined with massive lights and a grand stage.

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    Book Your Excursion to The Tropicana Cabaret

    The Parisien sits in the grounds of the historical Hotel Nacional. It is a more intimate setting than the Tropicana, but also offers a colorful performance with live music and dance. You can choose to enjoy this show while sipping on a traditional Mojito. While enjoying the performance, you can snap pictures and shoot videos at will, which is one of the advantages of this performance. The cast is also formidable at storytelling through dance the evolution of Cuban history.

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    Book Your Excursion to The Parisien

    The Buena Vista Social Club show is a must see for music lovers. This musical ensemble performs at the nightclub nestled in the Meliá Cohiba Hotel, a key meeting point for locals and travelers, right across from the Malecón in Havana. The setting is also more intimate. The space is decorated Hard Rock Café style, with local and international celebrity memorabilia, an airplane, classic cars, and even a motorcycle. The performance complete with an MC is delightful, from the opportunities for singalongs to joining the dancers on stage. It’s an engaging and interactive performance for all who enjoy live music complete with musicians, dancers, and celebrated singers. You may even get lucky and experience a member or two of the original Buena Vista Social Club.

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    Book Your Excursion to Buena Vista Social Club.

    If you prefer to see an eclectic art collection in an even more unexpected setting, visit the Fábrica de Arte Cubano. This building has been transformed into a multi-function space that serves as a club, an art gallery, music, food, and libation stop. It is a popular spot for artsy locals, hipsters, and travelers. You could sit in a large blue room with open seating and a bar while looking at a Queen concert or walk into a small exhibit room with mixed-media art and fashion. Every nook and cranny have something to be discovered. Once you have been in Havana for a few days you will also start to recognize some of the landmarks across many art pieces lining the walls, ceilings, furnishings, and floors.

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    Explore excursions and group programs with stops at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano:

How to See It All

Organizing your time in Cuba as efficiently as possible is very important. This is just a preview of the many things that can be done in the City of Havana alone! The best way to make sure you may the most of your stay is to work with a specialized travel agency, such as OnCuba Travel, which will ensure that you not only meet all the necessary travel requirements while also making sure that every stop covers your main interests and desired level of activity. Did you know that now OnCuba Travel can also coordinate your transfer, flights, hotels, and can also design a group program for you? These are just some of the advantages of this professional and OFAC approved travel agency. Contact us today to get started!

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The Cuban Melting Pot – African Influence in Cuba

Cuban culture has been influenced by Spanish, African, Native, and Caribbean cultures. During a recent trip to Cuba, we had the opportunity to learn more about the African influence on the country’s culture. Two places we visited, the colorful and lively Callejón de Hamel and the Museo de Los Orishas gave us glimpses into how centuries have shaped Cuban culture.

The Callejón de Hamel

It is one thing to read about it and another to experience it! The Callejón (Alleyway) started as a project bearing the name of Hamel, a real resident of the area. Our journey takes us there on a Sunday at noontime. One of the members of our team recommends that as the best time to go. Once we arrive, the reason is apparent. The allegoric crowd, the pulsating music, the graffiti, paintings, and artifacts across the alley create a vibrant environment.

The paint on the walls is in bright shades of red, blue, yellow, green and more. Although on the most part the paintings and drawings are not related, there is such an explosion of shapes and shades that everything comes together to capture all your sense. It is a gathering of musicians, artists, foreigners, and locals who come together to watch, to perform, or just to dance. It turns out that several artists have small galleries in this area. During your exploration, it may happen to you as it occurs to us that we stumble upon galleries with unique artwork inside.

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Walking through the crowd one can catch glimpses of the writing on the walls. The quotes speak about experience, about life, about religion, about love, and many other topics. One of the places we discover is a small shop that houses elements for each one of the Orishas, the gods of the Yoruba religion.

During a very insightful conversation with the attendant, he shares with us that the Yoruba religion had its origins in Nigeria from the Yoruba culture. It made its way to Cuba during the time of the slave trade in the Caribbean, which brought groups from Africa. To continue practicing their religion, followers syncretized the Orishas with Catholic figures. The term syncretism, we learn, stands for a merging or amalgamation of different religions or cultures. It was how the integration between Catholicism and Yoruba religions started.

He also shares in detail that each one of the Orishas has a ruling element and distinct colors, as follows:

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  • Elegguá is the main Orisha of religion. He was syncretized with the Santo Niño de Atocha. He is the protector of children, opens roads, represents the beginning and the end. He is symbolized by the colors red and black.
  • Ogún was syncretized with San Pedro. He is the ruler over heavy minerals like iron. He is the Orisha of strength and protector of jobs. He is symbolized by colors green and black.
  • Ochosi was syncretized with San Norberto. He is the protector over justice, legal matters, and hunters. His colors are amber and blue.
  • Obatala was the creator of the universe and human beings. He was syncretized with the Virgen the Las Mercedes. Ruler over intelligence, spirituality, and goodness. He is represented by the color white.
  • Changó was syncretized with Santa Barbara. He is the Orisha of fire, drums, music, and dance. He is a warrior. He is represented by red and white.
  • Oshun was syncretized with Cuba’s Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. She is the goddess of love, sensuality, and femininity — ruler of honey, golden petals, and young animals. Her colors are yellow and amber.
  • Orula guides all the Orishas. He was syncretized with San Francisco de Asís. He was the god of change and renovation. He is represented by the colors yellow and green. One local told me that even if some on the island call themselves atheists, they may still wear a bracelet or other item that represents Orula.
  • Yemayá is the mother of all the Orishas. She was syncretized with the Virgen de Regla, Regla also being a town in Cuba. She is the goddess of water, maternity, and family. Her colors are blue and white coral.
  • Babalú Ayé is known as the most miraculous Orisha in the religion. He was syncretized with San Lazaro. He is a protector against disease, such as skin disease. His colors are blue and white.
  • Ozain was represented in Catholicism by San Jose. It is the Orisha ruler of nature, plants, and forests. Colors are brown and white.
  • Oduduwa was syncretized with Jesus Christ. He is associated with the Santísimo Sacramento and represents omnipresence. His colors are green and white.
  • Aggayú is a pillar of the religion. He is the Father of Changó. He was syncretized with the Patron of Habana. He is the deity of the stones, volcanoes, and desserts. His colors are brown and white.
  • Olocún is not known to be syncretized with Catholicism. There is some uncertainty as to whether this deity was male or female. It is usually not represented in human form. It was once thought of as the most beautiful Orisha on Earth. It inhabits the depths of the ocean. Its colors are dark blue with green.
  • Ocó was syncretized with San Francisco Labrador. He is the protector of agriculturists and fertile land. His colors are pink and blue.
  • Oyá was syncretized with the Virgen del Carmen and Santa Teresita del Nino Jesus in certain parts of Cuba. She is a feminist leader and the first warrior to come to Earth to accompany Changó. Her colors are brown and dark red.

After learning more about the Orishas, we make our way through the Callejón, the live music pounds with tumbadora drum sounds, singing, dancing, and powerful lyrics. You cannot help but start dancing. Several people from the crowd also begin following along with the songs as in a chorus. Some from our group also join and follow along with the rhythm. There may be a video as evidence or two!

The Callejón has unique pieces such as bathtubs against the walls with quotes, tall tube-like structures, interpretations of insects, and alternate forms of parts used as seating. Other articles included mosaics, pinball type objects, and unusual attachments on the wall. Every nook had a little something to be discovered. One could likely visit several times and still not be able to cover every corner for the unique pieces displayed. It is colorful, exciting, passionate, and full of life. It is also a great spot to take pictures and capture the essence of your exploration.

The Museo de Los Orishas

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After learning a little bit about the Orishas in the Callejón de Hamel, our next stop was the Museo de Los Orishas in Havana. The guide shared with us that beyond being a museum, the building is also a temple. The second floor of the museum is lined with various figures with human features representing the Orishas. Each one is placed in an altar, surrounded by the elements, shapes, and colors that each one is known for. We learn that the temple regularly receives visitors from many countries such as the United States, Spain, Mexico, and Africa. Visitors mainly want to learn more from a cultural perspective. The temple also welcomes those who wish to be initiated in the religion.

The initiation process starts by learning which is a person’s Guardian Angel through a ceremony presided by a Babalao, the priest of the Yoruba religion. During the ceremony, he not only determines a person’s Guardian Angel, but also their past, their present, and their future. The early stages of initiations are a period of rebirth. Once the deity is determined, a person can speak directly to their saint and ask for what they need.

This religion does not have churches. Followers create altars in their homes. One of the pieces of furniture used to set up an altar is called a Canastillero, a solid wood piece of furniture with glass doors. Flowers and other elements with colors representative of the ruling saints can be used to adorn the altar. The Canastillero in the Museum is about 100 years old. The Ceiba is also the mythological tree of the religion. Traditionally, people go to the Ceiba tree to ask for three wishes. A replica of a Ceiba tree can also be found in the museum.

Make A Tour or Day Excursion Out of It

Anyone who visits Cuba should visit the Museo the Los Orishas and Callejón de Hamel to learn about an integral part of Cuban culture. These are just a little bit of what makes up the unique Cuban culture. The Cuba At A Glance and Morua – Maceo Project group programs include stops at the Museo de Los Orishas and the Callejón de Hamel. Individually, the Museo de Los Orishas is a stop in the Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigar and Rum tour, while the Callejón is part of the Pride Experience group program and the Cuban Rum, Cigars, and Art day excursion. OnCuba Travel, a professional travel agency specializing in legal travel to Cuba from the United States, offers these and other exciting cultural activities.

On Our Next Blog

On our next blog, we will explore Cuban Cuisine. As we shared in a recent blog, Cuban Cuisine has Caribbean, African, Native, and Spanish influence. It is a unique blend of flavors delectable represented in its varied cuisine. Restaurants and Paladares, which are privately owned restaurants can be found all over the city. We recently had the opportunity to try several of them, from Old Havana to the heart of Havana – even San Cristobal, known as the restaurant that Barack Obama went to during his visit to Havana. We will cover the traditional dishes and where to savor them during your next culinary adventure to the beautiful Island of Cuba.

Cuba – An Exceptional Travel Destination Part 2

In the blog Cuba – An Exceptional Travel Destination we talked about Cuba and its main festivals, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, weather, currency, and much more about this exotic destination. In this article, we will explore more highlights about this beautiful island, educational statistics, places to visit, travel awards, required documents to travel to Cuba from the US legally and much more to assist you in preparation for upcoming group travel and to share Cuba as an exceptional travel destination.

Must See Stops in Havana

Cuba is a destination with deep seeded roots and a historical value dating back to the discovery of the Americas. Since travelers often visit for a limited amount of time, it is essential when preparing an agenda to get familiarized with top points of interest. Here we share with you a list of the top five areas to visit while in the capital city of Havana, what to look for, and just a preview of some of the reasons that make each stop essential for this destination.

  • Old Havana – This part of the city center overflows with history and colonial charm. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural value and contribution to humanity. It is also one of the 15 districts that make up Havana. Within its grounds, you will find the magnificent Capitolio (Capitol Building), which is currently undergoing renovations in preparation for the City’s 500th Anniversary in November. It also houses the Catedral de San Cristóbal in Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square), the Plaza de Armas (Arms Square) with the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City), and the Palacio de Los Capitanes. Here you can also find the Plaza de San Francisco, with the Lonja de Comercio (Stock Exchange) and the Fuente de Los Leones (Lion Fountain). As you make your way through Old Havana, make sure to note the architecture, from neoclassical to baroque, to name just some of the periods and influences on the local infrastructure.
  • El Cristo de La Habana & The Morro – Cabaña Complex – The impressive Christ Monument was built in Italy by Cuban artist Jilma Madera. It stands at the entrance to the Puerto (Harbor) de la Havana. It towers at 65 feet tall, weighs 320 tons, and was built using 67 different pieces made of white Gamarra marble. Stories say that the statue was modeled after an old lover the artist had. Another nearby point of interest is the Morro-Cabaña Complex, known for the Cañonazo (Cannon) Ceremony. Every night at 9 p.m. (EST) soldiers in military garb march, light torches, and perform this unique ceremony in a beautifully preserved stone complex. The dimly lit fortress, the sudden silence of the audience, and the air of expectation bring a sense of realness to the ceremony.
  • The Malecón de la Havana – This five-mile stretch along Havana’s coast is popular amongst locals and visitors alike for its prime sunset-watching location, beautiful photo opportunities, and its history. Although some of the buildings surrounding the Malecón have decayed over time, they continue to be a site to be seen for their authentic charm, architecture, and air of nostalgia.
  • Miramar District & Fusterlandia – Take a historical look into how the Cuban upper crust lived. During the glamorous 50s, the Miramar district was known for its luxurious residences, well-to-do residents, tree-lined streets, and high-end shopping. Its 5th Avenue once also had the prestige of New York’s 5th Avenue. If you want to venture out just a little further away, you will find Fusterlandia in Jaimanitas – a seaside town covered by the work and inspiration of famous Cuban artist José Rodríguez Fuster. As you walk along Fusterlandia, you will find colorful mosaics with famous quotes, elements of the Cuban culture, and local art. Fuster’s artful representations brought new life to this neighborhood which has been heavily hit by natural disasters. Fuster now has apprentices, which have continued his legacy of art and color in Jaimanitas.
  • Plaza de la Revolución – This municipality houses many notable landmarks, such as the Cristóbal Colón Cemetery. The Cemetery is recognized as one of the most beautiful in the world with its stately mausoleums and intricate sculptures. Within Plaza de la Revolución municipality you will also find the Jose Martí Monument, built to commemorate the Cuban national hero by the same name, and the famous cultural social club Fábrica de Arte Cubano. The district of Vedado is also part of this municipality. As with Miramar, it was one of the neighborhoods with more affluent residents. As you tour this area, note the residences that were built to resemble palaces called Palacetes in the area of Vedado.

These five main areas can all be covered with excursions Havana Highlights, A Ride Through Havana on Classic American Cars or A Walk Through Old Colonial Havana to focus on the Plazas. If your group prefers an evening excursion, take an Evening Stroll Through the Historic Center of Havana. Multi-stop and more extended stay group programs for various interests are also available, with the option to customize the activities for your group.

Statistics & Interesting Facts

As you share Cuba with others, it is important to learn basic information, such as demographics, language, and location. It is equally important to look at its past, beyond the walls and the architecture, to the people and the wealth of history that it produced at its economic and social peak. Let’s dive into some statistics and interesting facts about Cuba.

  • Cuba is an island located in the Caribbean, roughly 150 km from Key West in Florida. It is the largest island in the Caribbean. As of 2018, its population was estimated at just under 11.5 million where the largest population can be found in the main cities, particularly in the capital city of Havana, followed by the City of Santiago de Cuba. The national language is Spanish, with pockets of bilingual English-speaking residents. Much of its population is between 25 and 54 years of age, with the median age being 41.8 and a literacy rate of almost 100% in those aged 15 and older. The ethnic breakdown of its population is white of Spanish descent, people of mixed race, and black of African descent.
  • Cuba was once a gathering place for the rich and famous. Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, and JFK were just some of the celebrities and notables that enjoyed in the lap of luxury and tourism in Cuba. One of the key places to visit, The Club Tropicana, was a high-end cabaret and casino for the who’s who of the 1950s. It has been said that Rita Hayworth and Marlon Brando were amongst those who witnessed its heyday. Bola de Nieve, a famous black piano player of the time, was a staple at the Cabaret. Today the Tropicana continues to have a spectacular show with over 100 dancers, live singing, and elaborate costumes.
  • Cuba is also famous for its ties with the famous American writer, Ernest Hemingway. His property and home in Cuba, Finca Vijía, is said to have inspired some of his celebrated works, such as The Old Man and The Sea as well as For Whom the Bell Tolls. Some of the places he frequented, such as La Bodeguita del Medio and The Floridita in Old Havana, have mementos of his passage through the city and his alleged love for mojitos and daiquiris.
  • Cuba is also famous internationally for producing the finest cigars in the world. Every year, the City of Havana hosts the International Habanos Festival. It welcomes a wide variety of attendees, from industry experts to the curious, who come to experience cigars at the source. It is also known to draw celebrities such as socialite Paris Hilton and supermodel Naomi Campbell, amongst others. It is a unique opportunity to find a variety of cigars under one roof, humidors, collector pieces, and more – a playground for the cigar lover. Walking around the Festival allows for an appreciation and an observation for the artful manufacturing of cigars through rolling demonstrations, sampling opportunities, conversations with experts, and sometimes even market introductions of new products. A Cuban Rum, Cigars, and Art Excursion might be intriguing for this group.
  • Cuba is known for its contribution to music and dance. It was the birthplace and incubator for the son, the salsa, and the rumba. Cuba also hosts the International Cuban Dance Festival, welcoming students from around the world to train with top Cuban talent. This year, the Meliá Cohiba Hotel will be the main grounds for the festival. Dance groups such as Compás have formed around the country to perform. To learn more about the love of art and dance in Cuba, check out the blog Dance & Art Are For Lovers In Cuba.

Awards

Cuba has earned many travel industry awards and nominations. During the 2019 World Travel Awards likened to the Oscars of the travel industry, Cuba was recognized in several categories, competing in the Caribbean Division with numerous renown destinations, such as The Bahamas, Aruba, and Turks and Caicos amongst others. The historical and five- star Hotel Nacional de Cuba came out on top, earning the award for Cuba’s Leading Hotel for the 9th year in a row. Except for 2010, it has received the award every year since 2004. This hotel has also been named a National Monument as well as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Other nominees in the category for Cuba’s Leading Hotel were the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski Havana, Hotel Florida, Iberostar Parque Central, Meliá Cayo Coco, and Melia Cohiba. The Iberostar Grand Packard Hotel and the Paradisus Los Cayos were also nominated for Caribbean’s Leading New Resorts. The Port of Havana was also nominated in 2019 as a Leading Home Port. Then, the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a must visit in the island, was also one of only two nominated for Caribbean’s Leading Entertainment Venue.

The Condé Nast Johansens Awards, a leading source of recommendations on where to stay while on vacation, has also recognized Cuban properties. In 2019, it awarded the Meliá Buenavista All Inclusive, The Level & Spa, located in the Jardines del Rey Archipelago in Villa Clara, Cuba. It also recognized, the Royal Service Paradisus Río de Oro, located in the Rafael Freyre municipality within the Province of Holguín in Cuba. Both properties were celebrated for their beaches and their personalized VIP treatment.

Individual and group safety is often an area of prime interest for any destination. During the 2018 International Tourism Fair (FITUR) Cuba was also awarded the Excelencia Award for “Safest Country.” Professional agencies such as OnCuba Travel work tirelessly to provide a safe and organized travel experience for groups.

These recognitions and more are important highlights to share with travelers that may be unfamiliar with Cuba and all the great things the island has to offer.

Required Documents

As you prepare to travel to Cuba, there are certain documents you are required to have. In addition to a valid U.S. Passport, you will also need a Tourist Card/Visa which must meet one of the 12 authorized reasons for travel. The most common ones for visitors are “Support for the Cuban people” and “Educational activities and people-to-people exchanges.” It is equally important in the planning process to be informed about the hotels and businesses that have restricted access for American travelers. OnCuba Travel and its associates offer support to travel professionals and independent travelers to make the right selection for travel categories and to process all required documentation to travel to Cuba.

The planning process begins with the Contact Form. Travel professionals are encouraged to visit the Travel Partner page for additional insight for group travel to Cuba, learn more about available resources, and benefits of working with a dedicated agency. OnCuba Travel also offers the option to customize group programs and excursions to best meet your group’s interests, budget, and desired level of activity. Browse the blog Visit Smokin’ Hot Cuba in 2019 to see a sampling of activities by areas of interest.

On Our Next Blog

Did you know about the African roots and African influence in Cuba’s culture? On our next blog, we will dive deeper into the immigration of African culture into the island. We will also share insight on how African culture has transcended many genres, from cuisine to art and dance. There is so much more left to explore. See you next time.

Dance & Art Are for Lovers In Cuba

As we are still in the month of love and friendship, let’s continue to explore what Cuba has to offer for lovers of dance and art! With its diverse cultural blend, Cuba has absorbed and excelled in many types of dance, ranging from flamenco to the celebrated Ballet Nacional de Cuba. A highlight in their history, however, is that Cuba has been widely known as the birthplace of sensual and sassy rhythms like the son, the rumba, and the salsa.

What many may be just becoming familiar with is that Cuban art and its artists are world-renowned. They participate in international festivals where their techniques and their way of expressing their talent in the visual and performing arts set them apart through their blend of aesthetic and culture. Cuba also has two of its main festivals coming up in 2019. One is the International Cuban Dance Festival in April, and the other is the Havana Biennial Art Festival running from April through May. Whether you have a passion for dance or the visual arts, Cuba has something special waiting for you! Let’s explore more together.

Origins of Music & Dance

Cuba has received the influence of several cultures in its core formation. Its native inhabitants were known to be Amerindian people from the Siboney and Taíno groups, which were prevalent across the Caribbean region. Cuba later received Spaniard influence during the period of colonization, which started with the first known sighting of the island by Columbus in the late 1400s. Then, it also received immigration from African colonies, roots which generated powerful connections to create Spanish, African, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Caribbean melting pots. Two such areas where this merging of cultures was latent were music and dance. One of the early known developments in Cuban music and dance genres was the birth of the Cuban son.

The Son

This music and dance genre are said to have originated amongst the people in the Oriente region of Cuba. It was the product of African and Spanish influences on the culture of this rural region, incorporating lyrics in Spanish and the sounds of African drums. As the sound developed, each rhythm was played out combining voices, maracas, bongos, and other instruments. This style of music became very popular during the 1950s through performances called descargas. The rhythms gave way as well to dance. The son is often danced in couples. As it was an earlier form of salsa, it shares the characteristic turns, steps, and coordination of the Cuban Salsa.

Rumba

Rumba was a term widely used by Cuban to refer to a party. As one would imagine, going to “rumbear” meant going out to party. Later, the term rumba was used to describe various styles of dance, such as the son, the bolero, and others. Although similar movements existed from Spaniard and African cultures, the rumba experienced its growth and apogee in the Island of Cuba. It arrived with the immigration of Spaniard and African cultures to the island and grew in the rural Oriente region in Cuba, similar to the son. Today, this style of song and dance continues to be popular in the music and competitive dance circuits around the world.

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Salsa

Let me start by saying that the word “salsa” translates to sauce. Cuban salsa was the next step in the evolution from the earlier son. Combining a blend of Afro-Cuban dance and rhythms, including the rumba, the salsa rhythm became very popular in Cuba and the world in the 1970s. Similar to the son, instruments employed to create the salsa rhythm include timbales, bongos, cowbells, maracas, guitars, and in more modern times electric guitars. Today we know salsa through very elaborate turns and very coordinated couples. One of the particular combinations in this type of dance, the Rueda de Casino, also became known as Cuban style salsa. This is one of the Cuban dance steps we see today where men and women stand in a circle and turn to dance with different partners from the Rueda. I am not an expert, but I have taken a few classes to get a taste for Cuban salsa. The rhythm is fun and very open to the dancer’s interpretation. Some of the best dancers I have seen pause and flirt with spectators throughout their routines. So how spicy is your sauce? Pick up a spice level or two at the International Cuban Dance Festival.

International Cuban Dance Festival

This sizeable annual festival will be held from April 22nd to April 28th in the city of Havana. It is an ode to dance that brings together top teachers, students, and dance lovers for seven days of
non-stop salsa and other rhythms such as bolero, reggaeton, and cha-cha-cha with parties and other festival-related events. Students flock from all over the world to have the opportunity to train with the best Cuban instructors to develop or perfect their dance skills. This year, the event will be hosted at the famous Meliá Cohiba Hotel, which is located in the upscale district of Vedado in Havana, giving it an exclusive location in a prime area of Havana.

Dance Excursions & Performances

Talent abounds in Havana! There are several options available to explore dance around Cuba, interact with dancers, and watch world-class performances in historic venues. One such option is the Dancing With Habana Compás Dance Company. During this excursion, participants have the opportunity to tour highlights along Old and Modern Havana, Revolution Square, the famous Alicia Alonso Grand Theatre of Havana, and enjoy a performance by the Habana Compás Dance Company. Travelers can also enjoy ensembles at the Tropicana Cabaret where stars like Nat King Cole and Josephine Baker have performed or the Parisienne Cabaret, for a showstopping, Vegas-style performance with lush costumes and daring choreographies. Several options are available to travel to Cuba and make the most out of the visit. As dancing is an expression of art, let’s cross over to the visual art scene in Cuba.

The Cuban Art Scene

With its origins dating back to colonial times, and from its architecture to its first expressions of art, the art scene in Cuba is bursting with talent. One of the foremost collections of art in Cuba is housed at the National Museum of Fine Arts, with a selection of pieces dating back to the 16th century. Through various periods, Cuban has received influences from the Spaniards, the Moorish, the baroque and neo-classical styles of architecture. In the present day, Cuba is home to various artists, such as the notable Michele Mirabal, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Kcho, and Flora Fong, amongst others who range widely in their technique and their interpretation of art through their personal life experience, lifestyle, and diverse cultural influence.

2019 Havana Biennial

This year, the Havana Biennial will take place from April 12th to May 12th in the City of Havana. The event, which is a large-scale art gathering welcoming over 200 artists from a plethora of countries and cultures, seeks to present and promote art. It also serves as a platform for emerging and established Cuban artists, who are handpicked to be featured in the festival. It is a phenomenal opportunity for art lovers, career artists, collectors, and gallery owners to explore this art collective, take in the diversity and the value the exhibitors have to offer.

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Experience Art & Other Loves in Cuba

Why not experience everything Cuba has to offer during your upcoming visit? The best way to take in art, culture, cuisine and people in Havana is through a curated experience such as those provided by a professional agency like OnCuba Travel. They offer several group programs and excursions that will take you straight to the top artists and collectives from the insider’s local perspective. One of the available group programs is Art At Havana Biennial. The itinerary appeals to all your senses, with activities that include exploring the City of Havana, curated visits to art collectives and home studios, cultural inductions led by expert guides, and to top it all off, culinary feasts with traditional Cuban cuisine for a fully sensorial experience. This program, in particular, is for five days and four nights and truly offers an organized way to take in the art scene on the island.

Shorter excursions are also available, offering experiences such as the Opportunity To Get To Know Michel Mirabal – a renown Cuban visual artist – in his home studio where he hosts guests at Finca Calunga, his studio gallery space, sharing backstage access to his art and his method, concluding with a feast prepared by the artist himself. You may also want to explore the Contemporary Art Tour of Havana, with a visit to the National Museum of Fine Arts and multiple visits to six different artists’ studios, really allowing the experience to give visitors a taste of their expressions of art and how they all come together to create the canvas of the country. There is also the Cuban Rum, Cigars, and Art excursion, for those that want to explore other aspects of the culture through the in-depth and combined knowledge of art, cigars, and rum.

There are many ways to experience this beautiful country and all it has to offer. Dance and art lovers can rejoice in the options available to experience the culture like a local, allowing for a truly immersive experience. A professional agency like OnCuba Travel can help you navigate the best choice for you and your group to travel to Cuba and make the experience easy. Contact them today to get started and learn more about how to travel to Cuba from the US legally.

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On Our Next Blog

Join us as we explore the 101 on Cuba. Everything from the highlights of this exotic island, places of interest, destination awards, and interesting statistics that make this an exciting destination to visit! We’ll provide more in-depth insight that our travel partners will appreciate as they invite their groups to the island. We will also cover the application process for a visa and the approved reasons for travel. Don’t miss it as you prepare for your upcoming trip to Cuba

Take a Ride on One of These in Cuba!

Cuban people are known for being creative and innovative in many ways, making do with the raw materials available. Their forms of transportation are no exception. From motor and fuel-powered rides such as the beautiful American Classic Cars and the ingenious CocoTaxi to horse-drawn carriages and BiciTaxis, there is more than one unique way to get around during your visit to Cuba. Get familiarized with the names and different forms of transportation available on the island to make your upcoming trip to Cuba even more memorable. Until you can experience each one of them for yourself, this week we present you with some of the methods of transportation available to travelers while in Cuba.

The Almendrones or American Vintage & Classic Cars

Celebrities like Madonna, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Paris Hilton, Mick Jagger, and the Kardashians have enjoyed rides in an Almendron. What is an Almendron? It is the name affectionately given by Cubans to what we may know as larger American classic and vintage cars. For those of us who can appreciate the colors and the era these cars evoke back to the times of the Sock Hops, the Almedrones present not only a form of transportation but an opportunity to capture a unique moment atop one of these “in the wild” instead of at a museum or a collector’s garage. Any quick online search for classic cars in Cuba will give you a preview of the beautiful pictures captured with classic cars in the gorgeous and colonial backdrops of Havana or driving through the Malecon.

For those who are die-hard fans of classic or vintage cars from this period, some of the models found in the island are those Americans would pay thousands of dollars for to restore to their original state and with original arts. Several of these cars are over 60 years old and have been on the island even before the 50s. Amongst the makes and models that can be found in Cuba are the Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible, Ford Fairlane, Buick Roadmaster, Cadillac Eldorado, Mercury (Discontinued by Ford in 2010), Dodge, Pontiac (Ceased operations in 2010), and Oldsmobile, which ceased operations in 2004. Although some of these cars have been maintained with their original engines and parts, the supply of original parts is very limited in Cuba. Owners have been prompted to innovate and create alternative parts and pieces for their vehicles. Every modification adds to their charm and the story behind each one.

In Cuba, these classic and vintage cars line the streets and are often used as taxis. Travelers also have the option to take a Ride Through Havana On American Classic Cars, which is a guided tour through Old Havana in a variety of Almendrones. The trip has stops at The Capitol, Chinatown (Yes, Cuba has one too), Revolution Square, and other famous landmarks. The tour also goes into the upscale neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, where you will find luxurious homes worthy of home décor magazines. The visit would not be complete without enjoying delicious ice-cream at the traditional Coppelia ice-cream parlor and an authentic Cuban cocktail to celebrate in the best island style! Definitely, something to do for the experience of a lifetime.

The Coco Taxi

If you are looking for a very original form of transportation, this one is indeed for you. Introduced in the 90s, the Coco Taxi does look like a large coconut driving down the streets of Havana. They can be easily spotted by their bright colors and unusual rounded shape. There are two types of Coco Taxi – one is yellow, which is distinguishable for tourists. The other is blue, and it is for locals. In its rickshaw-like makeup, the layout has the driver in the front and the passengers in an elongated backseat. It is designed with one wheel in the front and two wheels in the back and can carry two to three people at a time.

Cocotaxis OnCuba

I am sure the drivers can tell several stories about the many rides they have given! The Coco Taxi can go up to about 30 mph, and it is mostly used as a way for foreigners to get around. Coco Taxis are available in the larger cities of Havana, the beach town of Varadero, and Trinidad. If you have the experience of a Coco Taxi in Cuba, make sure to capture the moment! Keep in mind that you may not have this experience anywhere else.

Horse-drawn Carriages

For those who want to go back in time or take a romantic couple’s ride along the streets of Havana, be sure to include in your plans a horse-drawn carriage. What better way to enjoy an afternoon with your hair flowing in the air while feeling a gentle breeze on your skin next to a loved one? Just as in the olden days, you and your travel companions can enjoy being transported around some of the main cities in Cuba in a charming carriage ride.

Coche OnCuba

As with the traditional setup, the carriage is powered by a horse and guided by a driver. The carriage itself may range from an elegant body as we would imagine from the concept introduced during past centuries while others may be more rustic and modest resembling a small wagon. While the traditional carriage may accommodate a lower number of passengers, a larger carriage can transport a larger group. Many of the drivers will offer stories about the different points of interest along the ride, making it a more personalized experience for foreigners. The most common type of carriage available for travelers will be the traditional horse and carriage.

The Bicitaxi

As the name says, a Cuban Bicitaxi is a bicycle taxi! If you have ever been to Coconut Grove in Miami, you may have seen a similar form of transportation. In Cuba, however, this goes beyond a tourist attraction. The Bicitaxi had its origin at a more regional level, emerging from the need for an inexpensive form of transportation. It later made its appearance at main cities across the country.

Bicitaxi OnCuba

Whereas in other countries Bicitaxis may be preassembled, in Cuba no Bicitaxi is the same. They are often put together with spare parts from lighter cars or bicycle parts. They have a tricycle type of setup, with one wheel in the front and two in the back. With these, the driver powers the bicycle by pedaling. Several also have a sound system, allowing for radio reception during the ride. They accommodate about two people in car-like seats. The seats may range from more simple bucket seats to more elaborate and comfortable car seats. Riders are shaded from the sun by a discreet overhead roof. Although Bicitaxis are widely used by foreigners, they are a primary form of transportation for locals too and can be found across the country.

Bicycles

Cycling is considered by many a freeing experience and a way to get the blood flowing leisurely or even competitively. For those that enjoy the sun and a little bit of a workout, standard bicycles are also available to get around town in Cuba. Group tours such as the Pride Experience offer prearranged cycling tours through Havana, which also serve to burn off some of the calories gained from the delicious Cuban Cuisine. Imagine riding in front of the beautiful Capitol building while feeling the sun on your skin. What an experience! Prearranged bike tours are encouraged, in line with the people to people exchange in Cuba. Bicycles are available for daily rental on the island in various makes and models. They are also an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to get around town.

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Arrangements for Transfers & Transportation

An experienced travel agency with a local branch in Cuba, such as OnCuba Travel, can assist you and your travel partners with your transfer and transportation needs during your stay in Cuba. Whether you would like a dedicated private driver, arrange for transfers to and from the airport or port of arrival and departure, all these details can be taken care of for you and be prearranged in preparation for your trip. OnCuba Travel can also assist you with the arrangements necessary to travel to Cuba from the US legally and walk you through the process of visas, authorized travel categories, meeting all the required travel requirements, planning a land excursion, and group travel to Cuba. Ready to start planning your trip? Contact OnCuba Travel today.

On Our Next Blog

We are going salsa dancing! Cuba is home to the salsa and rumba rhythms, both originating from Afro-Cuban roots. As the island prepares for the International Salsa Festival from April 22nd to April 29th, we will introduce you to the most popular dance styles and influences that permeate Cuba. We will also share more insight into shorter specialized excursions such as Dancing With Havana Compass Dance Company, which give you the opportunity to take in the highlights of the city as well as the appreciation of the local dance scene.

During the next blog, we will also present you with the Havana Biennial Art Exhibition, taking place from April 12th to May 19th. It is a gathering of talent with a spotlight on Latin American and Caribbean artists. This event only takes place every two years, so be sure to book your travel to Cuba soon to take advantage of these upcoming festivals. You may also opt for a curated experience, such as the Biennale Art at Havana for an insider’s look at the home studios and collectives with works by several Cuban artists. Stay tuned for more!

10 Most Romantic Things To Do While In Cuba

February is known in several parts of the world as the month of love and friendship. Although February 14th is celebrated as Valentine’s Day, love and friendship in all its expressions should be celebrated every day! What better way to spice things up, celebrate an anniversary or grow closer together than by enjoying an exciting adventure together to Cuba as your new destination? The island offers something for everyone. Art, history, culture, love, and passion are in the air! This February is the perfect time to travel to Cuba and have an adventure on this beautiful island. To help you plan your upcoming trip during the month of love and friendship, here are the 10 Most Romantic Things To Do While in Cuba.

  1. Get lost together down the streets of Old Havana.

    Old Havana is as rich in history as it was frequented by the rich and famous during its heyday in the 1950s. You may not know that the city of Old Havana was also named by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site for its contribution to humanity. I have always found old world structures to add an air of romance to every trip I have ever taken. As its name says, Old Havana overflows with colonial architecture and structures. Some of the building facades have maintained their original coats, where the colors have been beautifully bathed by the sun, sending us back to a different time when romance was about courtship and formality.

    Old Havana

    Get lost with your honey and take a stroll by the Capitolio Nacional, the Great Theatre of Havana, known for the world-famous National Ballet of Cuba, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Cathedral of Havana. Continue to the Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales, the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the Iglesia del Espiritu Santo, the Church of Angel Custodio, and celebrate with a drink at the Floridita Bar. Many tours and excursions are available to enjoy these activities together. Perhaps the 3.5 hr. Havana’s Highlights excursion is right for you or a Walk Through Old Colonial Havana will help you get to the most treasured sites. If you prefer the lights and sounds of the evening, An Evening Stroll Through The Historic Center of Havana is available too. Options abound!

  2. Take a ride in a classic car.

    Havana, Cuba is a top destination to get in touch with the glamorous 50s Cuba is remembered for. Some of the elements that have been maintained since their heyday are the classic American cars. Lucky for you and your travel partners, it is possible to take a ride in a classic car down the streets of Old Havana. The A Ride Through Havana on American Classic Cars excursion allows for a four-hour panoramic tour of the most important spots around the city, with stops to explore Chinatown, enjoy ice-cream at the traditional Coppelia, and to toast to a great day by enjoying a Cuban cocktail.

    Old Havana
  3. Go walking along the Havana Malecón at sunset.

    A memorable sunset gives us a magical moment where the light is picture-perfect, and the sun warms our skin just before being completely engulfed by the water on the horizon. Perhaps you may even steal a kiss or share an embrace with a loved one to mark the moment. The Malecón in Havana is known for its beautiful sunsets by locals and foreigners alike. The history of the Malecón dates to its construction in the early 1900s, with its completion in 1902. Aside from being a boardwalk, the Malecón also serves as a seawall. Waves can often be seen crashing in during times of high tide. It is a stretch of approximately 5 miles that starts at the Havana Harbor and ends in the historically upscale Vedado neighborhood. The Malecón is a point of interest and a meeting point for locals and tourists. It is common to see people strolling and perhaps even enjoying some of the lively street festivals and impromptu performances.

    Old Havana
  4. Enjoy live music on the streets.

    Cuba has always been bursting with immense talent. If we remember, Cuba is the birthplace of big international talents such as Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Desi Arnaz, amongst other greats. Some may recall dancing or singing along to Celia Cruz’s La Vida Es Un Carnaval, or perhaps even tapping to the best of The Miami Sound Machine and the vocals by Gloria Estefan. One is undoubtedly in for a treat while strolling the streets of Cuba. Although there are some organized festivals, such as the Annual Jazz Festival, it is common to see a wide range of street musicians, from guitar players to ensembles playing a variety of instruments. Maybe it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn a new tune and perhaps even take a spin or two while enjoying beautiful music, together.

    Old Havana
  5. Take a cooking class together.

    Cuban cuisine blends several influences from the Caribbean and the old world. If you have already visited the blog The Essential Guide to Enjoy Food Like a Cuban, you’ll understand that sometimes love happens at first bite. Perhaps you have already had fun in the past rolling sushi together. Now it is time to learn about new Cuban flavors and take in their history and culture. Cuban food has a lot of heart. The warm and friendly Cuban people cook with friends, family members, and always make room for unexpected guests, since where three eat, four can too! Several locations offer “farm to table” cuisine, using the freshest ingredients possible. For those that want to enjoy this culinary adventure together, excursions are available for the farm to table experience, as well as learning How To Make a Cuban Mojito and Ajiaco tour. If you and your loved one are foodies, you will want to check out the Yuca and Mojito tour for a four-day Cuban Cuisine extravaganza that will make your palate dance in delight.

    Cooking together
  6. Go dancing!

    If you didn’t know, Cuba is also the birthplace of the salsa and rumba rhythms. Salsa is a variation of the Cuban “son,” but also adapts influences from Afro-Cuban rhythm and other genres, as does the rumba. You may be familiar with both styles through international dance championships and televised dance competitions, such as Dancing With The Stars. These styles of dance are known for being very sensuous, where the men often lead, and the ladies can exude grace and flair. Both are fun to try even if one or both of you being introduced to these styles of dance for the first time. One opportunity to test the waters and also to watch the pros and gain some tips is to enjoy Dancing With Havana Compas Dance Company. This excursion is inclusive of the most important sites around the Old Havana, a tasty cocktail, and leaves you relaxed to enjoy a lively dance performance. You may even want to try a few steps and ask the dancers how they make it look so easy!

    Go dancing
  7. Enjoy the arts together.

    If you are a couple of art lovers, collectors, artists or if you just love someone who loves art, know that Cuba is home to unique and talented artists. Imagine these artists being shaped by the rich culture and the influences that this Caribbean island holds. Their chosen areas range from sculpture to plastics, mixed media, and so much more. Cuba is also home to the Biennial every two years, which gathers artists from all over the world and promotes Caribbean and Latin-American artists. You can have an exclusive insider’s look that combines the best of historical Cuba with the best of Cuban art by participating in the Biennale Art at Havana group program. For four nights and five days, visit the studios and the artists behind the pieces for a highly curated art experience. Excursions are also available to visit local artists and sometimes even meet and talk to the artists themselves. Famous Cuban visual artist Michel Mirabal welcomes visitors into his studio gallery, Finca Calunga. During this excursion, guests can attend a talk by the artist, and close with lunch or dinner at the venue.

    OnCuba Blog
  8. Step Into History & Make New Memories.

    Cuba has also been home to many notables, one of the most famous is American author Ernest Hemingway. He spent so much time in Cuba, and it was so dear to his heart, that he was considered an honorary citizen. You and your love can walk hand in hand across Havana and then step into history to make new memories during the Following Hemingway’s Steps at Havana excursion. Tour the city and then venture into Hemingway’s home. See the desk where he worked, enjoy an afternoon at the local spots where he was seen many-a-times, and enjoy a cocktail like he did – like the best of them!

    OnCuba Blog
  9. Capture All Your Moments Together.

    Aside from building memories together during a romantic trip or a friendly bonding experience, sometimes the best way to capture memories together is through pictures. Make sure to capture images of yourselves riding in classic cars, remembering those Instagram-worthy moments cooking together and of course, eating! Other great opportunities are to catch yourselves watching the sunset on the Malecón, dancing on the streets, and taking in the beautiful sites. Perhaps you want to remember someone who made your experience better or someone who shared a personal story that made you laugh or connect more with a loved one. Once at home, remember to share the experience with your loved ones and allow them the gift of travel!

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Getting to Cuba

It is now effortless to travel to Cuba from the United States legally. An experienced agency, such as OnCuba Travel speaks the language better than anyone and can help you with personal or professional travel arrangements every step of the way. They will walk you through required documents, flights and cruise options, transfers, lodging options, as well as excursions and tailored group activities. You may contact them now by completing a contact form, by email at [email protected] or by calling their US flagship office at (786) 560 – 2519. Remember that sometimes we only have small and magical windows to enjoy with our loved ones, so make sure that you check off Cuba from your travel bucket list

Next Week On Our Blog

On our next blog, we will cover the best ways to get around Cuba! From the charming Coco Taxi to the colorful classic American cars that are museum-worthy, and many other options only available in Cuba. Join us on our next ride to learn more about the origins of these forms of transportation and why you should travel in style during your visit to Cuba, a car lover’s and an innovator’s dream!

Cuba – An Exceptional Travel Destination

As a travel partner or a traveler looking to visit the Island of Cuba, it is of utmost importance to be knowledgeable about the main points of attraction and activity options that this beautiful and historical Caribbean destination offers. It is equally important to get familiarized with the most important considerations when planning group travel to Cuba, such as required documents, itinerary requirements, travel arrangements, and available excursions.

There are many ways to share the attractiveness and the cultural value of the island, whether you are planning every detail of group travel or seeking activities and next steps to purchase a visa. Cuba is home to nine United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites. The country also hosts many festivals and celebrations throughout the year. In this blog, we will not only cover some of the primary considerations to have at the forefront of planning travel to Cuba. We will also share details about some of the year-round events, activities, and celebrations to keep in mind, which will ultimately enrich your knowledge base, your experience, and your group travel plans.

Cuba Is Home to Nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There is a total of nine locations in Cuba that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. To make this privileged list sites must be recognized as being of outstanding universal value and meet one of ten criteria for selection. The first seven sites were selected based on cultural criteria and contribution. The latter two qualified based on natural criteria. These are:

  1. Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba, in the Santiago and Guantánamo Provinces.
  2. Historic Centre of Camagüey in the Camaguey Province.
  3. Old Havana and its Fortification System in the Province of Ciudad de la Habana.
  4. San Pedro de la Roca Castle, located in the Province of Santiago de Cuba.
  5. Trinidad and The Valley de los Ingenios in the Province of Sancti Spiritus.
  6. Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos in the Municipality of Cienfuegos.
  7. Viñales Valley in the Province of Pinar del Rio.
  8. Alejandro de Humboldt National Park in the Guantánamo and Holguín Provinces.
  9. Desembarco del Granma National Park, located in the South-East corner of the Republic of Cuba.

Visit the UNESCO World Heritage List to learn more about what makes each location unique for their cultural and natural universal value.

Cuba Hosts Multiple Events Throughout the Year

Cuban people are cheerful, welcoming, and enjoy a good parranda! There are several noteworthy events throughout the year that are special to Cuban people. Timing travel with these activities in mind offers many options for a unique travel experience with cultural immersion opportunities. Here is a list of the most well-known Cuban celebrations and festivals throughout the year:

  • January – The Havana Jazz Festival.
  • February – The International Cigar Festival will be held on February 18th – 22nd, 2019 in the city of Havana. Check out blogs A Constellation of Cuban Cigars With Style Part 1 and Part 2 to learn more about the cigars, the festival, and a sampling of available tours and excursions to enjoy this experience fully.
  • April – The International Cuban Dance Festival.
  • April/May – The Havana Biennial. This event only takes place every two years.
  • June – The Annual Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament.
  • July – The Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba.
  • July – The Festival del Fuego.
  • October/November – The International Ballet Festival of Havana “Alicia Alonso.”
  • November – The Marabana Marathon is the biggest marathon in Cuba.
  • December – The Habana Film Festival, also known as the Festival of New Latin-American Cinema of Havana.
  • December – Las Parrandas de Remedios. This is one of the country’s most rambunctious festivals!

Documents needed to travel to Cuba.

Now that you are excited about your upcoming group travel to Cuba, it is time to get familiarized with the documents needed to enter the country. Cuba requires that all US visitors have a tourist card or visa to enter the country. Once that is obtained, the next step to travel to Cuba is to qualify for a license. There are two types of licenses, a specific license and a general license. Most US travelers will be eligible for the general license if they are within one of the 12 reasons for travel established by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The most popular categories for travelers are educational activities including people to people exchanges and support for the Cuban people. Travelers may also frequently visit Cuba for events, affinity groups, and educational activities.

Cuba is home to high-quality and world renown education. Two of the most important educational pillars are the University of Havana and the Universidad Tecnológica de la Habana Jose Antonio Echeverria (CUJAE). Programs are available in the areas of Humanities, Geography, and Health Sciences amongst others. For these purposes, students and professors may enter the country with a General License for Educational Activity. A professional travel agency, such as OnCuba Travel, can assist you with the selection process and to prepare your travel documents to travel to Cuba legally.

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Getting to Cuba by Air or Sea

OnCuba Travel offers multiple options to travel to Cuba, whether this is by air or sea. OnCuba Travel offers five-day cruises through a partnership with Norwegian Cruise Lines. The cruises sail from ports in Miami and Orlando, with arrival to the city of Havana aboard the Norwegian Sky and the Norwegian Sun. The ships offer several entertainment options for the whole family, with activities ranging from dining options to entertainment, to pools, and fitness. If your preferred method of transportation is travel by air, the agency can also work with airlines that travel to Cuba from multiple destinations. Once on the island, several excursions and group programs are available to accommodate group travel needs by interests and activity level. Visit blog Visit Smokin’ Hot Cuba in 2019 to get an overview of the many options.

OnCuba Travel can also assist travel partners with agreements to accommodate group travel and other arrangements on land, such as transfers, and lodging.

People to People Exchange

The People to People Exchange agreement stands for individual travelers who qualify under the people-to-people authorized category to travel to Cuba. This category implies that the traveler will maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. OnCuba Travel offers programs that operate under a people-to-people general license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s OFAC. This license allows any American who books a Cuba tour with OnCuba Travel to travel to Cuba legally.

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Now that you have a good idea of the cultural and educational opportunities Cuba offers for group travel, and you have an overview of how to get there, it’s time to review some key considerations such as currency, weather, and how to pack for the upcoming trip.

Currency

There are two types of currencies in Cuba. One is the Cuban Peso, and the other is the Cuban Convertible Currency (CUC). Cuban currency is considered “closed,” which means that it can only be obtained upon arrival to the country. Currency exchanges can be made in local banks, hotels, or CADECAs (Casas de Cambio or Exchange Houses). The exchange rate for one CUC is $1. It is also the equivalent of 25 Cuban Pesos for locals. US dollars may have an additional 10% charge on exchanges. Cash will be the travelers’ main monetary source on the island. Travelers should also seek to spend their local currency during their stay or exchange prior to departure, as it is illegal for the local currency to leave the country.

The Weather In Cuba

Cuba enjoys two seasons. The dry season runs from November to April, while the rainy season takes place from May to October. The weather in Cuba is relatively stable throughout the year, with minor variations in temperature and an average 81o F. As a country with a sub-tropical climate, it enjoys a pleasant ocean breeze and overall warm weather.

What to Pack

As the weather is mostly warm, travelers should prepare with light summer clothing. As some activities may be outdoors, travelers must also be prepared to withstand sunlight, with items such as hats, sunglasses, and sunblock. Mosquito repellant is also recommended. Evening attire can consist of dresses as well as pants and shirts. Suits are not required. Classic guayaberas are also an appropriate choice for clothing during the visit to Cuba.

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I hope this blog helped you identify the details and next steps to follow to coordinate your upcoming group travel itinerary to the Island of Cuba. Should you have any questions or comments, please contact us by email at [email protected], by phone at (786) 560-2519 or by completing this form. You may also visit our dedicated Travel Agents page to learn more about the benefits of working with OnCuba Travel for your group travel needs.

Coming Up Next

Our next blog will land in February, the month of love and friendship. In tune with that, we will get to know the Top 10 Most Romantic Things to Do While in Cuba. From watching sunsets to enjoying a classic car ride together, there will undoubtedly be many options to select from to meet travelers’ interests. Not to be missed in preparation for your trip to Cuba in February!