Cuba trips are back. Here is the opinion of a tour operator: Travel Weekly

Gay Nagle Myers

“Cuba is open!” said David Lee, founder and owner of Cultural Cuba, a company that offers trips to Cuba for Americans.

“We’ve been waiting for this since March 2020,” he added. “It is essential for Cubans that tourists return, and now the day has come.”

Although Cuba had technically been open for several months before the official reopening date, strict quarantine regulations, reduced air travel, lack of accommodation and low vaccination numbers in Cuba had significantly limited visitor arrivals. .

By mid-November, however, fully vaccinated Cubans numbered more than 77%, according to Health Ministry data; its goal is to have 95% of the 11 million residents vaxxed by mid-December, including children over the age of two.

Since last week, vaccinated travelers must present proof of their vaccination and unvaccinated travelers must produce the result of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before arrival. Quarantine and additional testing have been eliminated.

Lee said the elimination of quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers has been a game-changer in travel to Cuba.

“There’s no doubt we’re seeing bookings for the holiday season,” Lee said. “Demand is high. In 2019, Festive reservations were sold out long before that. Now, of course, the reservation window is much shorter because Cuba has just reopened.”

Work with a travel consultant

Cultural Cuba, which works through travel advisors, caters to affluent and well-traveled visitors and became a member of the Virtuoso Sustainability community this year.

“We all want to support our travel advisor partners, so that their clients can enjoy legal travel seamlessly arranged under the Cuban People Support License with Cultural Cuba as the sponsoring entity,” said Lee.

A portal dedicated to travel advisors on the Cuban cultural site allows Registered Advisors to arrange time slots with their clients and Lee to discuss clients’ interests and reasons for wanting to visit Cuba.

“Our travel advisors are our true partners,” Lee said. “They bring the clients to us, and we do the rest: paperwork, accommodation, flights. It’s seamless and secure. Everything is included, and commissions start at 12%. We build itineraries based on what their clients want see and do. private guide is with them throughout. Our concept is to travel with a local friend who wants to take you into their world.”

What Cuban travelers can expect

Visitors can travel in classic cars from the 1950s, now equipped with air conditioning. A photographer accompanies the travelers for about a day, takes photos and then presents them with a photo book as a souvenir at the end of the trip.

All guides and drivers are fully vaccinated and wear masks as per protocols.

Meals are taken at paladares, which are restaurants in private residences or apartments where the owners live. Menus go well beyond the rice and beans commonly found in Cuba, and payment for a meal goes directly to the owner under the Supporting the Cuban People category of legalized travel for Americans visiting Cuba. .

“The US government wants to make sure the money goes to the Cuban people,” Lee said. “Our company supports several initiatives to support Cubans, including a kindergarten for underprivileged children, much like Head Start in the United States. We also have a center for the elderly and we support a Cuban dance company.”

Nightlife spills out onto the streets of Cuba with music and dancing in every neighborhood, especially in Old Havana. Guides turn into nightlife concierges who call ahead to find where the best salsa bands are performing, for guests who want to take advantage of that scene.

Cigar pairings and rum tastings can be arranged, as can Havana city bike tours, outings for birdwatchers, and “time outs for travelers who just want to take a nap in the morning.” afternoon,” Lee said.

He described a visit to Cuba as a place full of magical possibilities. “The Cuban people are artistically talented, highly educated and culturally curious,” he said. “They are proud of their family and want to share their experiences and connect with their visitors.”