Do improved relations between Cuba and the U.S. have you eager to visit the island before broader tourism changes it forever? Here are 5 Cuba adventures for 2015 with government-approved permits that legally allow Americans to go now.
Cuba experts since 1979 when they since ran their first trip there, Mountain Travel Sobek (MTS) offers a rare, authentic look at today’s Cuba, designed and led by MTS guide Sergio Fitch-Watkins, who travels there every year on his own. You’ll experience everything that’s special about the people of modern Cuba, from those who live and work in classic La Havana locales and vibrant artists’ communities, to naturalists working in the hidden mogote landscapes of Viñales and the lush agricultural heartland of Las Terrazas. Meet urban farmers and artists in their collectives, dine in private paladares (home restaurants), and see where Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea. All to the rhythm of Cuba’s spirited music and vibrant cultural life.
Details: 2015 Departures Apr 11 - 19; May 9 - 17; Oct 10 - 18; Pricing: 9-days from $4,895. Contact: 1-888-831-7526; www.mtsobek.com.
For a unique, legal, and educational option, sail aboard the 48-guest sail cruiser Panorama, with Wilderness Travel. You’ll fly directly from Miami (the charter flight and visas are included in the trip cost) and participate in compelling people-to-people exchanges that allow you to get to know Cubans from many walks of life. The Panorama provides a comfortable and romantic home that moves around with you, so you need to unpack only once for the entire trip. Unlike land-based trips, it allows you to avoid long bus drives on windy roads, as well as Cuba’s somewhat basic hotels and B&Bs, most of which offer no air conditioning. While in Havana, you will have an absolutely prime location, as you are docked right next to the Malecon in the heart of Old Havana. Most evenings you have free time to explore on your own, but after a full day you’re welcome to head off to bed or relax in one of the boat’s lounges or on its comfortable deck. Each day you'll eat at least one meal on shore and experience the best of present day Cuban cuisine, but by returning to the ship for the remaining meals, you will enjoy a wonderful variety of cuisine.
Details: 2015 Departures: Feb 21 - 28; Mar 7 - 14; Mar 14 - 21. Pricing: 8-days from $4,799. Contact: 1-800-368-2794; www.wildernesstravel.com
Join Santa Fe Photography Workshops on this unique opportunity to engage with the Cuban people and to discover the allure that is Cuba through your lens. Their photographic journey offer the rare opportunity to engage with the Cuban people and to discover the country’s cultural diversity and physical beauty with your camera. The music, dance, sports, local produce markets, architectural marvels, stunning landscapes, and most of all the spirited and gracious Cuban people, will enable you to better understand this enigmatic country the perfect tandem: the bustling, urban life of Havana and the verdant, rural countryside, frozen in time, just beyond the city limits. Explore the eclectic and polychromatic streets of Havana, primarily in the historical center of Old Havana and the more modern tree-lined neighborhoods of Vedado. Havana is a city of dreams, an idyllic paradise where economic and political conflicts mix with mojitos and tobacco. From Old Havana move to an even slower lifestyle, the Cuban beach towns and countryside that take you to a world that seems unchanged for the past fifty years.
Details: 2015 Departures: March 17 - 25, March 24 - April 1; April 14 - 22, April 21 - 29. Pricing from $4,275. Contact: 1-505-983-1400; www.santafeworkshops.com.
Introduce your kids to this beautiful island nation and the hospitable Cuban families waiting to welcome you. This 9-day trip with Thomson Family Adventures offers a truly authentic cultural experience, highlighted by many unforgettable personal interactions. Join in a community art project. Take in a local youth baseball game (and maybe play some too). Savor meals in local paladares, newly emerging family-owned restaurants. Ride through Old Havana in a 1950s vintage car. Learn to play dominoes with local experts—a national pastime. Enjoy a private rehearsal of Afro-Cuban dance. Zip line across a vast forest canopy in western Cuba. Canoe through a huge cave complex in the Viñales Valley. Savor a traditional pig roast. Soak in the Caribbean sunshine of Varadero. Visit a local potter’s house and have lunch with the family. Meet with music students and dance instructors, learn to Mambo and more.
Details: 2015 Departures: May 30 - June 7; June 20 - 28, Dec. 26 - Jan. 3. Pricing: 9-days from $4,390. $200 discount for children under 12. Contact: 1-800-262-6255; www.familyadventures.com.
International Expeditions' (IE) immersive itinerary offers a fascinating and unforgettable opportunity to interact with the Cuban people on a deep level. IE’s program includes all of Cuba’s cultural “must sees” including Trinidad, Bay of Pigs, Vinales and Havana with a full schedule of engaging and immersive experiences focused on cultural exchange and education. But what really sets IE’s Cuba itinerary apart is its emphasis on engaging with Cuban naturalists, birders, biologists and conservation groups as participants learn about the transformative power that real, honest conversation can have in the lives of ordinary people.
Details: 2015 Departures: February 26, March 19, April 2, April 16, April 30, May 7, June 4. Pricing: 10-days from $3,998. Contact: 1-855-230-6743; www.ietravel.com.
Banner image by Adam Lerner via Flickr CCL.