Just returned from Cuba: A Cultural Odyssey

We just returned from Tauck's 13-day Cuba: A Cultural Odyssey trip, which starts in Havana and ends in Holguin. It was so interesting to see the changes that have happened in Cuba since we were there 4 years ago. There has been an explosion of new private businesses and restaurants. And Cubans now have the ability to sell their homes, so we saw for sale signs for the first time. There has also been an explosion in smart phones and internet usage; people now have access to great wifi in the parks and pedestrian streets of every town. We also had cell phone coverage from Verizon--mostly 3G--and our travel companions using AT&T said the same.

Havana now has at least 6 large construction cranes towering above the skyline, compared to the one we saw 4 years ago. There are construction/restoration projects happening on almost every other street in central Havana. And whereas there was almost nothing to buy 4 years ago except very expensive art, there are now many first-rate artisans selling their crafts for reasonable prices in markets all over Cuba (sure, there are cheesy souvenirs as well, but so far nothing made in China)!

Given the continued limitations of U.S. Treasury Department regulations governing People-to-People tours, especially regarding the restriction on "free time," Tauck does an excellent job with the itinerary. We did have more free time on this trip than I expected, and the tour director was definitely OK with several of us opting out of planned activities to do something different on our own in Camaguey. I got the feeling we could have even done more of that without anyone frowning at us.

There are no 5-star hotels in Cuba, but all of our accommodations were excellent. The ones in Sancti Spiritus and Camaguey were charming government-owned boutique hotels that had been 18th century homes of the wealthy. The ones in Havana and Holguin (Playa Esmerelda) were newer Spanish Melia properties. Interestingly, the wifi was poorest in Havana (maybe it was just that Melia) and got better as we moved out into the country. There are some long stretches on the bus over bumpy roads, but our directors made sure to have appropriately-timed interesting rest stops.

If you want to travel to Cuba, you cannot expect to have a 5-star luxury vacation, as you might with other Tauck tours. Things change in Cuba all the time, so our tour directors have to be constantly re-assessing the itinerary activities on a day by day basis. This adds to the adventure, and you must be flexible with schedule/activity changes--don't have your heart set on any one thing that you MUST see to make your trip successful. There are so many interesting, vibrant, colorful things to experience in Cuba if you have a curious mind and keep your sense of adventure.


  • I am going to leave on the Cuba: A Cultural Odyssey tour on November 25, 2018. I’m deciding what to pack. Normally, my methodology is, “When in doubt leave it out. The only things I really need are my passport and a credit card.” This won’t work in Cuba. My American credit cards are not valid. From what I have read, even with money, some goods are difficult or impossible to obtain in Cuba. I’m packing things I might need. I might get a cough, Bring cough syrup. I might lose my toothbrush. Bring an extra one…

    I probably will not use most of the extra items I’m bringing to Cuba. I’ll just give it away to Cubans. They will get hard to obtain items and I will lighten my load.
  • Hermes, you are in for a special time! Yes, be sure bring cash and any personal care/drug store items you might possibly need on your trip. There is a 10% surcharge on exchanging US dollars, so if you have any Euros, Pounds or Canadian currency left over from previous trips, take that and you'll get a better exchange rate. There isn't that much to spend money on in Cuba, unless you want to buy expensive art, so $300-$500 should be plenty.

    On this last trip, I found that my Verizon phone worked. And you can buy wifi cards there that will work in the local town squares. It's a happening.

    If you want to take anything extra along to give to Cubans, reading glasses are always appreciated, as well as toiletry items, soap, shampoo, etc. Also school/art supplies.

  • I did not go on a Tauck Tour in Cuba, but I stopped for 2 days from a cruise 2 years ago and contracted some local tour companies for some amazing activities similar to noted above that I captured in my blog. I only wish I had spent more time there!

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