Cuba Photo Safari 2017
Ever since travel restrictions were eased in 2014, more and more Americans are interested in visiting Cuba. Without a doubt, anyone can go buy a ticket, find a private house online, change money and try to find as many cool things, reliable drivers and great food as possible in seven days. My trips include all of the above and much more. And while it’s impossible to “blend in,” you are more than just another tourist when you’re with my Cuban friends and me.
We leave Key West on Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays, for seven nights and you are welcome to spend as much or as little ‘down time’ as you like. There will be several opportunities to venture out on your own to explore and after much time and effort, I now have several preloaded cell phones that work in Cuba. Each couple will have their own phone so we can easily stay in touch. This is literally a game-changer. As much as most people love the idea of being away from their phone, being connected in a foreign country makes things much more efficient
In order to travel legally to Cuba, we are required to follow an itinerary that encourages a “People to People” experience. This is not a museum tour, and rest assured, we will be engaging lots of wonderful people.
Cuba is a beautiful country, but everyone agrees, my friends make the difference and it’s my pleasure to include and hire them for my tours. From tour guides, to artists, dentists, photographers, fishermen and writers, you will walk away from this trip with new friends for life.
Per U.S. law, my trips are centered on digital photography. From beginners to expert level, all are welcome. If you don’t know how to shoot or manipulate a camera, I will share many tips and insights. If you are an expert shooter, I will show you things that have taken me decades to find. Additionally, I have lots of camera gear I’m happy to loan. Over the week, we will cover lots of interesting ground and in the evenings, if you’d like, we can review your images.
Unlike 20 years ago, Cuba is not a really cheap place to visit. Sure, if you want to sleep in a side bedroom of someone’s house downtown, eat at gas stations and street kiosks and use the bus system, you can do Cuba on the cheap. However, for a reasonable price, you can stay in private, comfortable places, eat amazing food and have a chauffeured vehicle every day. Our driver, Roberto, is at our disposal for the whole week so there’s no searching or waiting for taxis. This is a major perk as taxi fares add up quickly and finding available cabs, at times, can be a drag. Another perk with a private driver is that you don't have to haul everything (backpacks, camera bags, daily purchases) in and out of different cabs all day long.
A typical itinerary is below.
Arrive in Havana an hour after leaving Key West, move the luggage to our waiting vehicle, change money and head for the mountains of Pinar del Rio.
Our first three nights are spent in the charming town of Vinales. Google it. Since 1999, I have visited all 15 provinces and Vinales remains at the top of my list. It’s a magical place. Activities available are horseback riding, organic farm and botanical garden visits, cave tours, zip line canopy tours and an incredible visit to one of the country’s top tobacco farms where my friend, Osvaldo, will dazzle you with his knowledge of the art of cigar making, from seed to stogie. Whether you smoke cigars or not, it’s a fascinating experience.
On the fourth day, we will head back to Havana to a very nice, private home, which is exclusively for our group. Each couple has their own room and en suite bathroom with hot, running water and air-conditioning.
We will visit Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia, which features his boat, the “Pilar,” along with countless other original artifacts. We will also have an English-speaking tour guide for a day in Old Havana, plus visits to the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Morro castle, an optional evening at the Tropicana nightclub and much, much more.
I always encourage my clients to do some Googling to find other points of particular interest. Even though I’ve been to Cuba more than 40 times, I'm still discovering new things. If you’re interested, there are art museums and galleries, gorgeous architecture and centuries-old churches that are open to the public, and with our small group size it’s much easier to move around than the dreaded bus tours filled with expressionless tourists. If you wanna see something in particular, just let me know.
If there is one thing that has certainly changed in the past 20 years, it’s the food. In 2008, the Cuban government began issuing a lot more licenses for private citizens to open restaurants and the resulting competition has led to some truly amazing fare.
So while the food is no longer a concern, any visitor to Cuba must realize that it really is a third-world country and things tend to happen (or not) from time to time. A random blackout, or an attraction is closed for no reason. Thankfully, it has been my experience, year after year, that when one door closes, at least one more opens.
As for luggage, we are able to bring the same amount of luggage on the charter plane as you can on a regular airline. Each person can bring one suitcase and a personal item. There is a $25 charge for the suitcase on the American side. Cuba does not charge us on the way back to Key West.
Everyone asks me how much spending money to bring.. I have always suggested bringing enough for $100 per day. However, with so much included in my tour, all that remains to pay for is your lunches, a few dinners, and perhaps the, ahem, “occasional beer.” Both lunch and dinner can range from $10-$20.
As for shopping, there really isn’t a whole lot to buy. There are a few clothing stores here and there, but Cuba isn’t really a shopping destination. We will, however, visit an artisan market where reasonably-priced Cuban art and trinkets are plentiful.
The U.S. government limits tobacco and alcohol purchases to a combined value of $100. So, for instance, if you have $50 worth of cigars, you are allowed $50 worth of alcohol. You may also bring back a total of $400 worth of Cuban art. At times, they'll hit you at the Havana airport for $3 apiece for artwork.
Per person cost of this trip includes:
Airfare from Key West to Havana…$550
Cuban Travel Visa…$100
Tour cost includes…
Personal transportation for seven days
Accommodations for seven nights
Daily breakfast (eggs, meat, bread, fruit, juice, coffee)
Lunch at Hector Luis Preito’s tobacco farm.
Lunch at two other fabulous restaurants
3 huge, traditional dinners (including a Cuban pig roast)
Preloaded Cuban cell phone usage for each couple with ability to call the U.S. if necessary.
Guided tour of Havana by English-speaking guide
Nominal tips for driver, butlers and maids
Four dinners/four lunches