Most people tend to use the term “travel” and “tourism” interchangeably, but with Cuba’s new accessibility for Americans, it is worth a minute to consider how these two terms are actually very different in the context of many travel destinations – but more so in Cuba because of its isolation from the US and the special rules that apply to Americans traveling to Cuba.
Tourism involves going to look at something and then leaving. Cruise ship day stops come to mind. On the other hand, travel involves engaging with people and places in ways that provoke reflection on the differences with your own home country and the ways in which people are similar despite the trappings of clothing, language and even culture. Travel involves time and patience.
A trip to Cuba is among the most sought after destinations in the world today. Beyond the lure of the forbidden fruit aspect of Cuba, the island nation possess a variety of superlatives that are only now being discovered and developed. In architecture, Havana is home to the largest collection of remaining colonial-era architecture in the world. It’s pristine coastline is 40% longer than Florida’s and, as the largest island in the Caribbean, there is a wide variety of terrain. Art, cigars and music complete the mosaic-like quality that can only be summed up as “authentic.”
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Cuba’s isolation and relatively undeveloped tourism industry means getting around and gaining access to people, places and things is not as simple as in other places. This does not mean Cuba is unsafe; in fact, it’s much safer than most cities in the US. Plus, Cubans generally love Americans.
If your goal is to avoid the all-inclusive resorts and engage in something more akin to “travel” than to “tourism,” then you should consider the offerings by the multitude of US tour companies that operate in Cuba, some of which have been operating there for many years. These companies typically handle flights, compliance with US travel restriction to Cuba, visas, transportation and programs that get you inserted into the culture and environment that would be difficult to do by yourself.
Here are some examples:
Unless you have a large yacht on which to explore, the next best way to see Cuba by water is by kayak. Idaho-based tour operator ROW Adventures, one of the first companies authorized to offer kayak tours in Cuba, operated 18 kayaking trip last season. In fact, ROW has launched Cuba Unbound as a separate brand specializing in active Cuba tours including hiking, bicycling and more.
ROW Adventures’ experiential and educational itineraries comply with US travel rules. In fact, there’s a lot more offered than just kayaking. Exploring UNESCO World Heritage sites, visiting a crocodile breeding center and learning from experts about Cuba’s ecological wonders are a few aspects of the tours that make the trip memorable.
Orvis organizes fishing tours of Cuba. The company is the first major US sporting company to do business on the island.
Simon Perkins, Orvis’ senior manager of adventures and hunting, said Cuba’s pristine natural environment and improving US-Cuban relations present anglers with a unique opportunity to fish in a country only just now opening to US companies and visitors.
Perkins’ family has owned and run the Vermont-based company since 1965.
In addition to guiding fishing, Perkins said, the company will take clients to meet Cuban artists and musicians to showcase the island’s culture.
Smithsonian Journeys offers a tour for travelers interested in learning about the history, culture and contemporary issues facing a nation in transition. The next tour is November 4-12. Smithsonian Journeys, part of the famous Smithsonian Institute, focuses its Cuba offering on four main aspects: preservation of Cuba’s architectural heritage through efforts by UNESCO World Heritage sites; Cuba’s sophisticated art traditions; the African origins of Cuba’s Santeria religion; and the complex rhythms and unique Cuban music styles.