Taking the mystery out of Cuban travel

 In Blog

I write blogs for Sports Travel and Tours’ website. The firm, based in Hatfield, Massachusetts, plans all kinds of adventures for baseball and football fans—and sports fans of all kinds, really. I help to promote those trips by telling stories about them. I feature travelers, tour guides, and trip attractions. Recently, after sending out a press release about Sports Travel and Tours’ upcoming trip to Cuba, the company president, Jay Smith, was invited to submit a blog on what it’s like to travel to Cuba these days. I helped him pen this post, which went live on GoNomad.com in August. 

By Jay Smith, President, Sports Travel and Tours

While some people may think traveling to Cuba is unsafe, and others believe it is now off-limits given changes made by the Trump administration, I am able to tell you with certainty that the country is safe—and accessible. Cuba is a tremendous place to visit for the history, culture, and ambience. The countryside is beautiful. And the Cuban people are welcoming. They want us—and need us—there.

Booking a trip to Cuba has gotten slightly more complicated with the Trump administration’s elimination of a travel designation created by President Obama. If you understand the new designation, however, there is really no difference to speak about.

You can’t just go to Cuba to visit the beach. There are 11 authorized categories that are available to Americans interested in traveling there. You must have an intended purpose. For individuals, the former People to People category allowed travelers to visit and experience Cuban history or to have an educational Cuban experience. That designation has been eliminated by the Trump administration.  

If you want to travel to Cuba now, though, all you need do is check the box for the Support for the Cuban People category, which allows travel to Cuba if guests maintain a full schedule of activities that do not directly support the Cuban government. For example, you can’t stay in a government-run hotel or watch a concert if the band is paid for by the government, but you can stay at Airbnbs or eat at privately-owned restaurants, called paladars.

Trump is trying to put the squeeze on the Cuban government while allowing Americans to support the Cuban people themselves. Don’t worry, though, no one at the airport or in Cuba will be asking to see your trip itinerary.

We at Sports Travel and Tours in Hatfield, Massachusetts, have a trip to Cuba coming up in the fall. Because it was planned before changes were made to the travel regulations in June, we are grandfathered under the People to People category. 

If you like baseball and exploring other countries, you might consider one of our packages. Our trip to Cuba begins Monday, November 4 and runs through Sunday, November 10. To register, visit http://www.sportstravelandtours.com/WebPackage.asp?PackID=19GCUBA.

We plan to explore the country’s incredible history and culture, as we did on a trip we took there in 2016. Our travelers were inspired by the Cuban people, who are eager to show guests around the land they love and take great pride in.

“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, and I’ve traveled all around the world,” said Chuck Carter of Spokane, Washington. “I thought I knew all about Cuba’s government and economy, but when I got there, it was so different from what I had in mind. We found warm, friendly people who were excited to see Americans come to their country. I was certainly surprised, in a good way.”

“Seeing Cuba was really the highlight,” agreed Jeffrey Grossman of Redmond, Washington, who traveled with his son, Seth. “It was less about the baseball and more the experience of visiting this country that has been off limits my entire life.”

When Sports Travel and Tours heads to Cuba again this fall, guests will have full bellies, with stops at El Aljibe, renowned for its 62-year-old secret recipe for roast chicken, and the luxurious La Guarida, Havana’s most well-known paladar, to name a few. Under the wing of tour guide Louis “Edgar” Perez Gonzalez, guests will learn about everything from the Cuban school system to military service to religion.

Trip highlights include a visit to Muraleando, a neglected neighborhood turned community art project; a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia, featuring original furniture, artwork, and personal memorabilia; a walking tour of Havana’s historic squares, with breathtaking colonial architecture; and a stop at Palmar Junco Stadium, said to be the oldest continual use baseball stadium in the world, dating back to 1874.

Cuba won’t be a place where tourists can be glued to their phones, sending every photo through social media within seconds. Internet is not easily accessible, though there are hotspots where phone and tablet users will congregate. Instead, a trip to Cuba is a time to disconnect with technology and reconnect with this beautiful country’s past and the people of its present.

Our travelers will see that Cuban life is quite different from our own in many ways. A good job might pay $20 per month; a surgeon, or the best baseball players, might make $40 a month. But the people are granted stipends for food, and residents don’t pay for housing or medical care. 

Whether you prefer to travel alone or with a company like ours, do remember that—if nothing else—Cuba is safe. Support the Cuban people. Travel there, and explore a country that will take you back to the 1950s.

If you have been invited to submit a story about your business to a local newspaper, a blog, magazine, or trade publication, I’d be happy to help you write it. Contact me.

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