It’s simple: demand for Cuba travel is booming. And while there are still just 12 categories of licensed categories for Americans to travel to the island, those who make the journey need help. That’s where people like Peggy Goldman come in. Goldman, the founder and president of Friendly Planet Travel, who’s quickly becoming one of the top Cuba travel bookers. Cuba Journal talked to Goldman to find out more about the state of Cuba travel.
How do you see Cuba tourism right now?
Unfortunately, it is great. I say unfortunately, because there is a huge demand, and a great lack of rooms in order to fill the demand. But it’s also very exciting, because Cuba has become, without doubt, the hottest destination of the year. Everyone wants to get there before there are big changes to the country.
What have your clients been telling you about it?
Feedback from people who have been to Cuba with us has been amazing. Well over 95 % rate the experience as either very good or excellent. People love the country, the people and especially the energy and enthusiasm they exhibit toward US visitors. They love the creativity, even the entrepreneurial spirit of the people. It isn’t at all what people expect, and when travelers visit, they are pleasantly surprised.
What’s the best way for a novice US traveler to experience Cuba?
Find a great tour to join. Determine how much time you have, how much you can spend, then compare the various programs out there. Pick up the phone to a few companies and ask questions. If you’ve selected an experienced, service-oriented company, they’ll make the process easy and enjoyable, while providing you with plenty of information so you can properly prepare.
How simple is the booking process?
It should be as simple as picking up the phone and making a deposit with a credit card. If you’ve done your research and chosen a good tour, the rest is simple. At Friendly Planet, we handle every aspect of the arrangements, including flights, visas and all the official documentation. If you have a valid passport and are ready to travel, it’s as easy as going to any other destination, and maybe even easier.
“Cuba has become, without doubt, the hottest destination of the year
What’s your favorite hotel in Havana?
I love the Parque Central. It’s a beautiful hotel, has a great location, and good wifi.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Havana?
There are many great restaurants – particularly the paladars – but my favorite is a small paladar called “La Casa” which serves amazing lobster. Service is great, and the chef is really talented.
What are a few things every traveler to Cuba should know?
Wifi isn’t what you’re used to. It’s a problem to call home from Cuba or get calls to Cuba, unless you’ve done some research and gotten yourself an unlocked phone with a Cuban sim card. Other than communication, don’t expect that the hotels will be of the same quality as other places in the Caribbean. Even the luxury properties may be lacking in some of the basics, like the wifi I just mentioned, but the service you’ll enjoy will more than make up for these things. Outside of the few truly deluxe hotels around the island, accommodations are not what you might expect to find elsewhere in the Caribbean. You should not expect to find markets brimming with fruits, veggies and flowers. There aren’t many places to shop, although if you love art, you’ll find a treasure trove of affordable art in multiple media, and it’s legal to buy it and bring it home. You still can’t use your credit cards, but that should be changing very soon.
What’s your outlook for Cuba travel in the next few years?
Tourism will continue to flourish, and hopefully, the Cuban government will permit new hotel projects to move forward at a more rapid pace in order to accommodate the huge demand. Some Cuban laws which make it difficult for tour operators to function in Cuba will hopefully be relaxed. Perhaps in 10 years time, the beaches will be lined with American-style resorts, but for now, I don’t think there will be huge changes to the way Cuba looks, and I hope there won’t be huge changes to the way Cuba feels. It is an amazing destination, and I can’t wait for my next visit.
To learn more, visit www.friendlyplanet.com.