In Cuba, A Spa Is Born

The détente between Cuba and the U.S. is less than two years old, and the impact for Cuba’s tourism industry has already been big.

In January of this year, U.S. travelers to Cuba totaled 43,200, a 125% increase compared to the same month in 2016, according to Cuba government statistics.

From January to June 2016, non-family visits (excluding Cuban-Americans) increased from 76,183 to 136,913, according to Cuban government statistics. And newly-restored commercial air passenger service between the U.S. and Cuba didn’t start making a real impact until the forth quarter 2016.

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Last year, Cuba attracted more than 4 million tourists from all over the world, making it second to the Dominican Republic in terms of total visits among the many destinations in the Caribbean.

Old havana art market
Image by Cuba Journal

When you consider that U.S. travelers to Mexico last year totaled more than 20 million, it becomes clear that Cuba’s unspoiled beaches, long coast line (40% longer than Florida’s) and its welcoming people will become a major force in regional travel in the next decade as the new wave of tourists seek to experience Cuba’s once forbidden fruit.

One interesting aspect about Cuba’s society and its transition to a more open economy is the recent policy that permits Cubans to be sole proprietors (called cuentapropistas) in the island nation’s nascent private sector. This new policy has catapulted taxi drivers and waiters to the top of the income spectrum because these types of jobs afford direct contact with tourists carrying dollars.

Another important and fast growing group of cuentapropistas are independent massage therapists and the spa operators capitalizing on a big trend.

Cuba’s relatively high ranking in terms of the number of people trained as doctors and nurses means there are plenty of Cubans with professional medical training who are able to moonlight in the emerging spa and wellness industry in Cuba.

One example of a new spa is O2 (located 26th Street No. 5, and 26th B Street, Nuevo Vedado, Havana). Two (twin) sisters, Omara and Odalys, turned the family house into a full-service spa and called it O2 to reflect the first letters of their names. A third sister and friend joined later.

Twin sisters Omara and Odalys and a third sister started O2 Spa in Havana. Image by Cuba Journal

Omara reflects on the early days, “When we started, we thought having a few customers per day would be a success. We learned a lot and now a few customers per day is not success. Plus we added an outside garden and a small cafeteria because we learned that’s what our customers wanted. A tranquil place and very good service.”

The spa and wellness business is the U.S. is huge, totaling more than $16 billion per year. At 180 million spa treatments per year in the U.S., the surge in American visitors to Cuba will translate into a lot of demand.

Compared to the cost of the average spa treatment in the U.S. ($137), Cuba’s prices are a real bargain at about half that rate. Message therapists and spa service companies are just now learning about marketing and customer acquisition. Very few have websites, so they resort to old school door-to-door methods. And some are working with Airbnb hosts and hotels to sell services on a referral basis.

A young massage therapist learns about marketing on an Old Havana street. Image by Cuba Journal

Vida Spa, started by partners Gabriela de La Rosa and Loipa Rodríguez, is located in the Miramar section of Havana (34th street #308, between 3rd and 5th Avenue – telephone 5 483 3005).

Gabriela de La Rosa of Via Spa takes appointments by phone. Image by Cuba Journal

Another recently started spa in Havana is Holus (located on 8th Street #312, between 3rd and 5th Avenue, in Miramar Havana – email and phone+53 5252 8387)

Holus Spa entrance in Miramar, Havana. Image by Cuba Journal
Holus Spa havana
Holus Spa therapy session. Image by Cuba Journal

Outside Havana, there are far fewer massage therapists and even fewer spa companies with a physical presence. One such enterprising message therapist is Yurixa. She lives and works in Santa Clara, a regional city of several hundred thousand residents.

Yurixa worked in the spa of a major hotel company for six years. She recently started her own operation when her sister agreed to help her get starting by bringing her a portable bed from Miami. Today, Yurixa is a happy mother of two children and feels much more in control of her life and prospects. You can reach Yurixa in Santa Clara by email at

masseuse in Cuba
Yurixa Martin Fernandez. A mother of two and masseuse in Cuba taking advantage of the surge in tourism. Image by Cuba Journal

Travelers to Cuba should take advantage of Cuba’s professional and inexpensive message therapists. It’s a great way to connect with Cubans and also experience the personal touch that the Cuban people are so famous for.

In Cuba, A Spa Is Born was last modified: May 20th, 2017 by Simons Chase