10 Things You Need to Know About Cuba Travel Now
By Katy Heerssen
Ker & Downey has been partnering with travelers to create their own journeys to Cuba since August 2015. Recent policy changes on American travel to the country have stirred up questions about traveling to Cuba and the future of visiting a place that is so close, but was once too far out of reach for many.
The good news: Cuba is not out of reach with Ker & Downey.
1. What Do the Policy Changes Mean?
In short, the people-to-people style of travel offered by Ker & Downey and our in-country partners are not going to be impacted, for the time being. The recently-announced changes will impact self-planners the most. Arranging a journey on your own that avoids the now-prohibited government-connected businesses is a challenge. Cuba is best explored in the hands of an expert tour operator, a private guide and driver, and your own in-country concierge for constant support. Our legal, people-to-people trips will get U.S. citizens to Cuba with all of these boxes checked, ensuring that your trip is on the up and up, and giving you the peace of mind that comes with our meticulous planning.
2. Getting to Cuba
The routes to get to Cuba are varied, with Delta, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines among the carriers operating flights to the country. Arrive direct to Havana from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston and, of course, Miami. There are direct flights from Miami into several smaller cities too, including Cienfuegos: they only operate once a day so connections can be tricky, but starting here allows for more rural exploration before heading to the Havana city lights.
3. Topes de Collante
Via private 4x4 vehicle, make your way into the Escambray Mountains for a day of hiking. There are a variety of paths to the hidden waterfalls, each with a refreshing swim as your reward. Spot hummingbirds, Cuban Trogan and Cuban toddy among other birds as you explore. Also hidden in the hills: a private contemporary art museum featuring sculptures and other works from the 1980s.
4. House of Music in Trinidad
Music and dance define the essence of the island and its culture, and our favorite place to experience it is in Trinidad. Grab a table or a seat on the steps and watch as the locals mingle and move. The mojitos, cervezas and laughter are plenty while a live local band performs, and the dancers are ever eager to teach the steps of salsa to visitors.
5. Viñales Valley
Follow a local guide on a hike into the most fertile tobacco-growing country in Cuba. Visit a tobacco farm to learn about the cigar-making process from the start from its proud proprietor. Continue on to take in the views from Los Jazmines lookout: the mogotes, the red soil and the lush vegetation paint a beautiful landscape.
6. La Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Conceived as a multipurpose arts and entertainment venue, the FAC is a three-level mecca for creativity in Havana. Fashion shows and live music, film screenings and dance performances, artist signings and DJ battles … the space is big enough to host them all simultaneously, with well-stocked bars dispersed throughout. Arrive early to walk the art and photography exhibits, or stay all night to mingle with people from all over the city. But plan your trip ahead of time: exhibits change quarterly and the space will close for as long as a month while it is refashioned.
7. Hershey Town
Established in 1916 by sweets tycoon Milton S. Hershey, in its heyday Hershey was a self-sustaining community with a successful sugar refinery as its centerpiece. Today the factory is gone and the industry has disappeared, but the community remains, warm and steadfast. In Hershey you’ll meet a local family, share a meal in their home (and some fresh fruit from their backyard garden, if you are lucky) and get a glimpse into life in the town and in Cuba. It’s a direct observation of the challenges and ingenuity that have become quintessentially Cuban.
8. Stay in Trinidad
Trinidad is an impressively-preserved colonial city and we recommend spending two days here instead of its larger neighbor, Cienfuegos. Connect with the charm of the town in Hostel Tuti, a quaint and quiet casa particulares close to the historic quarter. From here, visit the House of Music, a local pottery studio and find tranquility in one of the city's park spaces.
9. Stay in Havana
In Havana, we recommend the elegant and intimate confines of Paseo 206. Positioned in Vedado and a comfortable distance from the Malecon, guests of this boutique hotel are surrounded by fine antique furnishings from France and modern finishes. Privately-operated casas particulares abound in Havana too, from modern apartments to converted colonial homes. Your Ker & Downey travel expert will help select the option that's right for you.
10. Why Go Now
The private sector is thriving, and our way of experiencing Cuba is a direct pipeline to its amazing people. Many young Cuban entrepreneurs are realizing the benefits of tourism and ensuring that each experience retains its authenticity. You won’t see big brands anywhere in Cuba today, but change is inevitable.