A Trip to Cuba
It was a pleasure for me to have visited Cuba on a LATOUR Familuratation trip from March 8 to March 16, 2014. The trip started in Miami. My husband and I flew on our own from LAX to MIA. Upon arrival, we took the Sheraton Hotel shuttle to the hotel, where we over-nighted. This overnight was part of the tour. We had a briefing that evening, with our LATOUR rep, Susan Sheutze.
The next day, we were transferred to the Miami Airport, where we met with another LATOUR representative who obtained our visas for us and then we boarded out charter flight to Havana. It was called World Atlantic, operated by American Airlines. We arrived in Havana at around 10am that day and we were taken to the main Revolution Square, where Fidel Castro had once give a 6-hour speech to the public and where the Pope held mass when he was visiting Cuba.
From there, we had lunch at a nice restaurant and we later found out that this was President Carter’s favorite restaurant in Havana. After lunch, we checked into the Melia Havana Hotel, a 5-star property according to Cuba, but definitely 3.5 to 4 star according to us. It’s a nice hotel, with a nice lobby and there is some sort of show each evening in the lobby bar. This is where we exchanged our dollars into the Convertible Pesos, also known as CUCs. When you exchange US dollars, you get .87 pesos to $1. They keep 13% as a fee.
We had to stay within the daily program where we visited many schools of all ages. We saw children dancing and playing musical instruments. One group we visited played great Chamber music and there was also an art school there The kids of all ages were very talented.
There seems to be an art movement for recycling. They take what we would consider trash and make artwork out of it. One suburb we visited actually had street signs made out of discarded hub caps. It was very imaginative.
The people are nice, poor and very happy. The government offers free medical, free housing and free education. 99% of the Cuban population is literate. They get a great education and then they end up working in some government-run office, facility or store. The maximum salary is $30 per month. They have ration stores where the people can turn in a voucher and get their ration of rice, oil, flour, sugar, etc.
I was surprised to see more than the 50’s American cars on the roads. There were Hondas, Toyotas, Hyundai, Kia and our bus was a Chinese-made air-conditioned tour bus. You pay more for taxis if they are a classic car vs. a regular car. It costs about $10 to get from Old Havana to our Melia Hotel in a regular cab vs. $15 to $25 in a “classic” cab.
Tourism is reportedly the number one industry in Cuba. There is a huge influx of tourists from European countries as well as from Asia and Latin America. If more restrictions are lifted and more Americans can travel to Cuba, the charm of the country could be compromised. Under the current rule of Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother, Cubans are allowed to buy cars and own small businesses. Cuba is ramping up with new hotels and fancy restaurants in anticipation of an increase in American tourists, but they still have a way to go. The time to visit Cuba is within the next couple of years. Cuba is changing rapidly! One change for the good is that the government is restoring many of the Colonial buildings in Old Havana.
We were fortunate to go to another city, called Cienfuegos. It was about a 4-hour drive from Havana through the countryside. You could see farmers, cows and horse-drawn carriages. A farmer can own up to 5 cows to call his own. Any cows above that number belong to the government. The cows have the right of way on the roads. If you kill a cow while driving, you could be fined or jailed. The government is strict with cows because of the beef. The Cubans also eat a lot of pork, but there doesn’t seem to be the same restrictions with the pigs as there are with the cows.
We also visited Trinidad, a colonial city that is a UNESCO World Heritage City. It’s very charming and we shopped along the cobbled streets. You must have comfortable shoes to walk around.
The best months for travel are December through April. The very best month is March and we had the best weather. It rained 1 night and sprinkled during our 4-hour drive to Cienfuegos. The rainy season begins in May and runs through November. Keep in mind that Cuba gets hurricanes so avoid June through November.
Alcohol, coffee and tobacco products are not allowed when coming back in the USA. You can bring back artwork and music. The artwork was amazing. The music was great too. Every day for lunch and dinner, we had some sort of group playing and selling their CD’s for $10 each.
There really is so much to talk about that I can’t write it all down. Please feel free to contact me at Luxury Cruise Experrs to talk to me about my experience in Cuba. I am so glad I went when I did. Cuba has been on my bucket list for at least 20 years, so I’m kind of late. I do feel lucky to have gone now before it is open to the USA completely.
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