Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

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American travel to Cuba: The truth you need to know

We’ve sent thousands of travelers to Cuba over the past few years through people-to-people programs, and we recently conducted a survey to better understand their experiences there. I spent this weekend reading over these travelers’ comments from the survey, and it was mind-blowing. Their trips to Cuba forever changed them — a truly transformational experience that opened their minds, hearts, and souls to the people, culture, and arts of this island nation.

How about you? Looking for an exotic, once-in-a-lifetime tour? A way to connect with a people and culture? These folks would suggest you take a trip to Cuba, soon. Here are some of the most poignant responses from our survey.

Culturally, what impact did your trip to Cuba have on you?

“I learned more about Cuban art and culture than I could have imagined … Meeting world-renowned artists in their studios and talking to young artists was the highlight of the trip. Being able to purchase artwork to bring back was a joy.” – Mona Becker, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in December 2012.

“I saw a vibrant people who love music and art. Who are always striving to be their best. A country where people care about each other and take pride in their country.” – Marilyn Cantisano and Donald Southworth, travelers on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in October 2013.

“It reinforced for me that people are very much the same regardless of nationality, origin, or standard of living.” – Steve Rutherford, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in February 2013.

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Why travel to Cuba and why travel there now!

Today I am more passionate about the power of travel than any time in my long career of helping people experience new places around the world. That excitement stems from a survey of Friendly Planet travelers who have recently visited Cuba under our people-to-people program. The results dramatically underscore how travel, more than any other endeavor, opens peoples’ minds, hearts, and souls, and allows them to form new, authentic opinions about the world.

The survey showed that 81.3 percent of those who traveled to Cuba with Friendly Planet would return again if given the chance. That is the highest intended return rate we have ever seen here at Friendly Planet. The reasons are many and fascinating.

Image © Jeremy Woodhouse | Pixelchrome.com

Our survey revealed that people-to-people programs are transformational events in the lives of our travelers. They go to Cuba not for luxury or creature comforts (Cuban travel infrastructure is still lacking), but rather to experience the people, culture, and arts; connect with Cubans on their terms, under the conditions they currently find themselves; and learn about Cuba now, before it’s forever changed by the outside world.

A trip to Cuba changes minds and opinions, allowing travelers to set aside politics and connect personally with the Cuban people as they go about their daily lives, struggling economically, but achieving much through their art and culture. In some ways, it represents a step back in time, before cell phones and the Internet, when people shared their lives through music, storytelling, and simple small talk within their homes and public plazas. It is this setting that shatters expectations and connects travelers directly with the Cuban people.

Image © Jeremy Woodhouse | Pixelchrome.com


According to our survey, the surprises are many. For example, 78.1 percent of our travelers were surprised by how open and friendly the Cuban people were toward American visitors. Some 67.6 percent said that upon their return, they could more easily separate politics from culture and appreciate the people for who they are!

And isn’t that the real intent of traveling the world and meeting other people? Isn’t our real drive to learn to appreciate the world directly, without filter or bias? It’s easy to form opinions from a distance, even the mere 90 miles that separate America from the Cuban shore. But it’s much more real and much more accurate to shelve our own opinions until we spend time with a people, immersed in their culture.

Image © Jeremy Woodhouse | Pixelchrome.com

Make no doubts about it. These travelers were honest about their experiences. They saw both the good and the bad of the politics and economics of the Cuban experience. But they also witnessed the nobility of the people. Their pride in their heritage. Their intelligence and wit. In fact, the most valuable findings of our survey had nothing to do with statistics and everything to do with heartfelt sentiments. Here are just four firsthand accounts from Friendly Planet’s Cuba travelers:

“You will take away so much more than you can imagine from your trip. After you leave Cuba, ask yourself the question ‘How can I make a difference for the Cuban people?’ My answer would be: Tell everyone you can that you, an American, have been to Cuba and it is time that more Americans go and see … this country and change our attitude.” – Jean Pluchar, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in April 2013.

“We felt like our trip to Cuba was an incredible gift. … There was so much to see and do and absorb, and the people-to-people interactions were what made it so special. Cuba was nothing like the 51 other countries we have visited in the past.” – Robin Hannigan, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in January 2013.

“It provided a more personal understanding of the people, culture, and political structure than you can ever experience in books or TV documentaries.” – Drew Nixon, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in November 2013.

“This was the most meaningful trip I have been on. You will not come back as the person you were.” – Cynthia Richmond, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in December 2012.

From my involvement with the people-to-people Cuba program, my own love of travel has been renewed and refreshed. I am reminded that travel opens vistas, encourages understanding and acceptance, and reminds me that people are basically the same everywhere.

Our people-to-people programs to Cuba are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to gain a deep and lasting appreciation for an island nation where people care about each other, are amazingly creative, are able to withstand great challenges, and treasure family and love visitors. No doubt Cuba will evolve, sooner or later, to meet the realities of our world. But for now, at this moment in time, Cuba offers the rarest of chances to open one’s mind, one’s perceptions, and one’s heart and soul to forever be transformed.

We plan to publish a number of the survey’s findings here on our blog and through the media. So check back frequently to learn more about how a trip to Cuba will forever change your life!

Why you have to see these faces of Cuba

Among the greatest joys of visiting a new place is the opportunity to get to know the locals. And after 30-plus years of traveling the world, one constant that I’ve found everywhere is that despite how different we look, live, work and play, people are essentially the same everywhere.

I shared a bit about the people of Cuba through the talented lens of award-winning photographer Jeremy Woodhouse in my latest contribution to The Huffington Post. Jeremy has given us special permission to share some of the faces of Cuba he captured on a recent trip with us, and these photos are absolutely breathtaking. Be sure to click over to see them in full.

You don’t have to be Beyoncé to travel to Cuba legally

The U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) legalized travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens through People-to-People licenses in 2011. But it was Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba in April that ignited the national conversation around American travel to the island nation.

Legal travel to Cuba through the People-to-People licensed program requires that Americans participate in cultural and educational exchanges with Cubans, and get to know them through these personal interactions. This is an extraordinarily enriching experience, as art and culture are inherent in the daily heartbeats of life in Cuba. It’s seen everywhere – from young school children who learn classical dance and can recite great Cuban works of poetry to seniors who spend lazy tropical afternoons discussing art and music over a game of dominoes in the cooling shade.

You can immerse yourself in all of this culture plus more, while also giving back to the country and its people, in many important ways. There is a great symbiotic relationship you can build when you visit Cuba through a People-to-People license. Here are three reasons why you should take a legal trip to Cuba.

You will definitely interact on a daily basis with real Cubans in every walk of life. In my opinion, the best reason to take a legal trip is that the mandated trip itineraries are phenomenal. I’ve been selling and creating travel experiences for 33 years, and People-to-People trips require you do what’s most interesting about Cuba and travel in general—get to know how the people of that destination really live, while sharing a bit with them about how you live back in the U.S.

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Answering your questions about legal travel to Cuba

As more Americans learn about the opportunity to travel to Cuba legally, we’ve begun fielding questions about what the island is like, what travelers need to do to prepare for a trip there, what is and isn’t allowed in Cuba, and how Americans are perceived after so many years of embargo-fueled shortages of just about everything.

I have written my latest contribution to Huffington Post with those questions in mind. Titled “What to know before you go to Cuba,” the article covers what the people of Cuba are like, what Americans need to do to comply with the People-to-People license, and why, if you truly love to travel, you really should visit Cuba. Visit the site to read my thoughts in full.

Do you have more questions about travel to Cuba? Leave them in a comment and I’ll be happy to answer.

Travel enthusiast checks Cuba off her bucket list

Cuba was always on Mimi’s Gough’s bucket list, but she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to check it off. So when the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) made people-to-people travel to Cuba legal, Mimi knew she had to jump at the chance to visit this fascinating destination.

Mimi is a travel enthusiast who has visited over 40 countries in her lifetime. She has traveled on escorted tours and on solo explorations, and was once a travel agent herself! Mimi and her husband went to Cuba on our Discover Havana tour in September 2012, and she wrote about her experience for the Portland Press Herald. I loved her write-up, and asked our blogging team to reach out to Mimi to hear more about her trip.

She joined us for a podcast to discuss her trip, why she chose Friendly Planet for her tour, the great people she met along the way, and the most memorable experience she had in Cuba. Listen in for these details and more.

Thanks so much for sharing your tour experience with us, Mimi! We had a great time talking with you.

Where you should travel with your tax refund

Tax season is officially over and you might be expecting a refund check in the near future. The average person will receive a tax refund of about $2,755, according to the IRS, which can come in handy if you want to get away on an international vacation. To help, I’ve broken down a few suggestions for where you can travel at a few different price points.

If you’re looking to stay under about $2,000 per person, I recommend:

  • A Taste of China or Beijing & Tokyo. Visiting China is the trip of a lifetime for travelers interested in exploring a culture truly different from their own. The country has impressive modern achievements and an ancient, rich culture. Beijing, China’s capital, and Shanghai, often called the “Paris of the East,” are two of the most dynamic cities in the world. And Xi’an, a large industrial city, is the site of one of the world’s most important archaeological treasures: the army of 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soldiers buried to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor.
  • A Taste of Ireland or Discover Ireland. As I’ve said before, whether you have Irish roots or just a love of Irish culture, there has never been a better year to visit Ireland. That’s because The Gathering, a year-long celebration of Irish ancestry with clan gatherings, festivals, sporting events, music, and concerts, is going on this year. This event only adds to the lush countryside, friendly and wonderful people, and the array of beautiful destinations — Dublin, Kerry, Killarney, Kilkenny, Limerick, and more — in Ireland.
  • Captivating Costa Rica or Costa Rica Pura Vida. From jungles, cloud forests, and active volcanoes to its rivers and Caribbean and Pacific coasts, travelers need to experience everything that makes Costa Rica the jewel of Central America. This destination has beautiful resorts and adventurous travel opportunities — making it the perfect place for every kind of traveler. And the location is out of this world: the island contains 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity. (more…)

Clearing up 4 misconceptions about Cuba

When news broke that Jay-Z and Beyoncé had traveled to Cuba, it reignited questions about whether Americans can travel to the island country legally. In those conversations, I heard many misconceptions about American travel to Cuba, and wanted to clear a few points up.

I wrote my latest contribution to Huffington Post, titled “Dispelling Four Misconceptions About Travel to Cuba” to do just that. I cover how Americans can travel legally to Cuba through People-to-People licensing, the cost of a trip to Cuba, the island’s tourism infrastructure, and more. Click over to read what I wrote, and I welcome your thoughts in a comment below. 

Media spotlight: Friendly Planet’s people-to-people license renewal for travel to Cuba

Announcing our people-to-people license renewal to travel to Cuba has been incredibly exciting for all of us at Friendly Planet. We’re passionate about showing travelers everything this historical and cultural country has to offer, and I’ve been doing my best to spread the word about people-to-people travel to Cuba through the media. Here are some recent news stories that have featured us, in case you haven’t seen them yet.

Cuba ‘people to people’ trips back on track for Americans.” USA Today’s Laura Bly was one of the first to report that the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) approved license renewals for people-to-people programs to Cuba, and ours was one of them. For more background on the license renewals across the industry, be sure to read her full article.

Cuba culture trips back on as licenses are renewed.” Christine Armario of the Associated Press tapped me for information about the changes we made in our Cuba programs to make sure they complied with requirements. I also forecast my hope for continued travel to Cuba in the coming years. Click the link above to read her story in full.

Cuba Radio Interview.” I spoke with the KPAM Portland Travel Show about the people-to-people program that facilitates travel to Cuba, and how Americans act as personal ambassadors on these tours. Listen to my interview for all the details.

I hope you find this information useful in learning more about American travel to Cuba. Feel free to share your thoughts or questions about traveling to Cuba through people-to-people licenses in the comments section.

Getaway Dossier: The colors and culture of Cuba

As you might know, we recently received our people-to-people license renewal to travel to Cuba. If you haven’t yet made the trip, boy, is it worthwhile. I recently returned from my first trip to Cuba and had an amazing time. In fact, Cuba was the shortest distance I have ever traveled to enter a whole new world.

Since my return, I’ve had Cuba on my mind, and I thought what better way to share my Cuban enthusiasm than to feature it as my next Getaway Dossier.

The most common things people associate with Cuba are cigars, antique cars, and salsa, but there’s much more to the country than you might imagine. This small island contains some of the most creative, artistic, resourceful, cultural, and friendly people you’ll find anywhere, and that’s before we even get to the colonial cities, unique religions, and plentiful World Heritage sites. To help shed light on this mysterious island, here are some of my recommendations for things to see, do, and know if you’re planning a trip to Cuba.

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