Operations Team members Lorena and Julie recently set out from our Lucerne and Boston offices on the Grand Tour of Cuba: Havana to Santiago de Cuba. Each was completely wowed by all the island nation had to offer, and returned home with many memories from their shared adventure. Along with the incredible culture, what stood out most to the pair was how being on a guided trip made their experience so worthwhile. Here’s why they recommend traveling to Cuba on a guided tour.
It’s all about ease
Julie: Taking a guided tour saves travelers so much time because all of the confusing logistics are handled—and this is especially true when going to Cuba. I actually had flights booked to visit Cuba on my own prior to signing up for this tour. Even though I work on our Operations Team, it was difficult to figure out what the restrictions were for Americans traveling to Cuba as individuals. Every news article or website I read had conflicting information. I canceled my flights, joined the group, and can’t get over how much easier it was to go on a guided group tour and have everything coordinated on my behalf!
Because the island was closed off to Americans for so long, it’s not easy to go online to look up restaurants, hotels, and things to do when planning your trip. Figuring out what areas to stay in, what is safe to eat, and what activities to prioritize while in Cuba proved to be challenging to research on my own.
Restrictions, visas, and logistics aside—traveling within Cuba can be difficult, regardless. Public transportation options are limited, and renting a car is nowhere near as easy as it is in destinations within the U.S. Having a local driver you can depend on during the tour, as well as a Tour Director who is fluent in both English and Spanish, makes getting around effortless.
Access to amazing activities
Lorena: I was utterly surprised by all that I learned and discovered during the activities we did throughout the tour. I’m originally Spanish, which means I could go to Cuba at any time. Europeans tend to think of Cuba as more of a beach destination and I wouldn’t have had the chance to discover as much about the Cuban culture if I had planned this trip on my own.
From Afro-Cuban dancers in Havana to music schools in Santiago de Cuba, we visited a great variety of artisans and musicians during our journey. All of them specialized in specific materials, instruments, and dances. My personal favorites were the pottery studio in Camagüey and the orchestra in Cienfuegos. These were such fun activities and you could tell that the talented local artists were happy to share their work. These kinds of special activities are quite difficult to find and coordinate on your own, so I was very excited to do them with our group!
Julie: This Cuba tour took us from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, so we got to see the entire island. We visited the major cities, colonial town squares, farmland, and vibrant Cuban coastline and beaches. We experienced all the different cultures and environments that the island has to offer. I can’t even begin to fathom how I could have seen this much of Cuba without being on this guided trip.
Go Ahead Tours partners with local experts in Cuba who help plan all of the tour components. There’s no better way to create the perfect itinerary than by working with those who consider the island home. This expertise opens up so many opportunities for groups to take part in—and the scheduled activities every day meant we could interact with locals.
We visited artists in their homes, engaged with musicians and dancers at their performances, learned from students, and even heard stories from local families. Each experience gave an insider’s perspective on this nation that is still mysterious to most Americans today. For me, the best part of traveling with Go Ahead Tours was being able to meet so many Cuban citizens and coming home feeling like I had new friends all over the island. If you traveled to Cuba on your own, you may not feel this type of connection at the end of the trip.
The Cuban people
Lorena: Meeting the Cuban people was absolutely one of the highlights of our trip! Since we explored so many different parts of the island, we met quite a few locals along the way. Though they had many different stories and backgrounds, everybody was so welcoming and happy. We could feel that socializing and sharing between each other is part of their day-to-day life and culture.
It was easy for me to interact with Cubans since we share Spanish as our mother tongue. However, the language is not a barrier here—Cubans are so extroverted and warm that even if they don’t speak another language, they always try to communicate in a very honest and friendly way.
In addition to all the different people we met, our group also had the opportunity to travel with a local Cuban Tour Director and bus driver along the way. These travel companions gave us the chance to better understand the Cuban culture—and now I can say I have two more friends in Havana!
Is Cuba on your travel wish list? Have you ever visited Cuba on a group tour? Tell us in the comments below.