Cruising is the best way to visit Cuba
I have wanted to visit Cuba ever since watching episodes of I Love Lucy. Desi Arnaz’s band introduced the rhythmic Cuban music, rousing romance and a sense of excitement. Now that Americans can travel to the island, travelers are flocking to experience the irresistible mix of a colorful culture and rich heritage. In fact, you need to go now – before its charming retro atmosphere is transformed by modern tourism.
While there are numerous tour operators with permits to visit Cuba on the approved, “People to People” program, the country’s limited hotel supply and infrastructure have not been able to handle the demand. So, visiting Cuba from a cruise ship has the advantage of unpacking only once and being able to visit different parts of the country without long hours in a motor coach on rough roads
I recommend choosing a small ship (carrying fewer than 1,000 passengers) as only a few ports can accommodate large cruise ships, and even then, the guests may have to tender ashore due to limited dock capacity. Plus, large cruise ships tend to only visit Havana, so you would miss seeing the UNESCO World Heritage city of Cienfuegos, the Spanish Colonial city of Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba, birthplace of the Cuban Revolution. This was our ship docked at Sierra Maestra Port, aka Port of Havana.
To really experience this one-of-a-kind Caribbean island, look for an itinerary that visits at least three ports-of-call on the island. This will enable you to see everything from the fortifications of Old Havana to the tobacco fields and limestone cliffs of Viñales Valley. I visited Cuba on a ship sailing around the island, on an itinerary that started with two days in Havana. Then we sailed around the island to Maria La Gorda, the Isla de La Juventud, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Guided sightseeing and all meals were included in the cruise fare. So, in Havana, we explored four main public squares, finding the home of Ernest Hemingway and his favorite drinking establishments for mojitos and daiquiris. Every day we enjoyed lunch at locally owned cafes, always with some musical entertainment. Interesting public art in on display throughout the city – and add in the lively culture combining Latin dancing, and the flavors of traditional Cuban cuisine, the result is a stunningly unique island destination that you will thoroughly enjoy. The highlight for me was dancing at the Buena Vista Social Club!
Of course, everyone in our small group had the opportunity to ride in beautifully restored American classic cars when we visited Cojimar. There we found Hemingway’s home in the country where he lived for 21 years. We had a Cuba Libra at his favorite seaside restaurant where he wrote “The Old Man & the Sea”.
From Havana we sailed to Maria La Gorda where we visited the Guanahacabibes National Park, Cuba’s largest natural preserve. After swimming in the shallow, crystal-clear water, we enjoyed a sunset dinner on the beach.
The next day we visited an art and music school for youth on Isla de La Juventud. As part of the “People to People” program, we visited a maternity ward at a local hospital and enjoyed an amazing seafood lunch at a local paladar.
Our next port of call was beautiful Cienfuegos, known as the Pearl of the South. Founded by the French, the city center is a showplace of French neoclassical architecture from the 19th century. As such, historic city center of Cienfuegos was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2005. As part of our People-to-People tour, we enjoyed a private concert by the Chorus of Cienfuegos. Singing acapella, they have received many awards of distinction and have performed in the most important theatres and auditoriums in the country, as well as international stages.
Our final destination was the Spanish colonial city of Trinidad, named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. A highlight was visiting the studio of Lazaro Niebla, a very unique woodcarver. He creates reverse woodcut portraits on discarded colonial window panels.
As you can tell, Cuba is a country of art and music. The citizens of Cuba are eager to welcome Americans. If you are interested in experiencing all that Cuba has to offer, give us a call at Alliance Travel Partners. We can help you navigate the many choices so that you have a travel plan that is perfect for you!
~Connie Cornelius, MBA, MTA, CLIA Accredited Cruise Counselor, Alliance Travel Partners