Thomas Jefferson said, “All men are created equal…” In deference to a founding father, not all men create trips to Cuba that are equal. While the U.S. State Department’s roll-back on Cuban policy did not make travel to Cuba illegal again — we repeat, travel to Cuba can still be done legally! — this policy change did make traveling with a licensed tour operator a requirement.

A cursory Google search on traveling to Cuba will yield a long list of operators, but you should proceed with caution. Many of these operators are doing the bare minimum — they’ll get you to the island, and then you’ll be shuffled around to Cuban government approved sites like, well, a tourist. 

At Classic Journeys, your Cuban experience is taken a step (or two…or a hundred) further. You’ll be a traveler, not a tourist, immersing yourself in Cuban culture, getting to know the Cuban people in ways that few Americans can. You’ll meet small business owners like Julio and Nidialys (owners of the classic car workshop Nostalgicars), and have a chance to talk to them about running a small business, and the challenges they face and overcome. You’ll eat in privately owned restaurants called paladars, and experience the true flavor (pun intended) of this Caribbean island nation. 

Cuban car workshops owners in front of vintage car

Two Classic Journeys guests, Bonita and David Turner, came to this very pleasant realization when they returned from their Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos trip recently. When speaking with their friends about their experience, they were repeatedly met with the same response, “Oh we did not have an experience like that.”  Their friends had been afforded little to no contact with “ordinary” Cubans, and as a result, returned to the US with a negative view of the country in general. As one of the first companies to legally bring Americans to Cuba, we’ve forged deep and meaningful relationships with countless numbers of Cuban people in all walks of life, and we know that discovering the REAL Cuba can and should be a life-changing experience.

Cuban children after playing soccer

But don’t just take our word for it. Bonita and David “… acquired a sense of the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people and their devotion to their communities.  We acquired a better appreciation of the many difficult problems faced by Cubans, as a result of the poverty of the country, the heavy-handedness of the government and certain other aspects of the Communist system.  On the other hand, we were able to see some of the good things that the Castro regime has accomplished.  In any case, we believe that were able to acquire a far more balanced view of Cuba than our friends have.”

Cuban farmer with guests

Other guests who’ve joined us on our Cuba tours can attest to Bonita and David’s experiences. Jane Strausbergh was “bowled over by the graceful beauty of Havana Viejo, the creative explosions of Fusterlandia and Le Murelando, the energetic performances of young actors and dancers. I was intrigued by the societal and economic changes, the contradictions that are part of everyday life in Cuba, and the resilient Cubans ability to cheerfully – even pridefully – cope. But it’s the planned and chance encounters with the warm, relaxed and friendly Cubans of all ages that I will remember most.” 

Guests at Muraleando in Havana Cuba

Joanne Betta was “most impressed by the willingness of the people we met to share their way of life – with all of its necessary adaptations – with us.  The young artists and performers we met are so full of hope and optimism in a country with many daily challenges. The Cubans seem to be enjoying a more “relaxed” attitude by their government generally and especially towards free enterprises.

Young Cuban performers with guests

If you or someone you know is thinking about traveling to Cuba, make sure you take your research on tour operators a step…or two… further. Make sure they have relationships that are as deep and rich as the Cuban culture.  And if you travel to Cuba with Classic Journeys, you can be sure that your transformative experience will stay with you long after you return home.