I asked and you answered: What book should we read for our next Friendly Planet Travel Book Club meeting that will explore the people and culture of Cuba? You voted, and it was a close one! We tallied your votes, and the book we’ll be reading is “Last Dance in Havana,” by Eugene Robinson.
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I would never offer a tour that wasn’t a terrific value — that’s the core of our business at Friendly Planet Travel. But there are some tours that are so value-packed, I want to point them out specifically.
I had the opportunity to do just that at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show last month. I named my speech “The Top 10 Affordable Destinations of 2012,” and delivered exactly what I promised. Check out my speech in it’s entirety below.
If you don’t have time to watch the full video, I’ve detailed a few of my favorites, as shared in my speech, below.
Pick #9: Ireland. Like Greece, Ireland has gone through some difficult financial times, but you would never know it from the incredibly friendly and welcoming people you’ll meet when you visit. Ireland has always been a popular destination for Americans, but in the coming years, Ireland is expected to see record numbers of tourists. That’s no surprise. The country is beautiful, with lush, green landscapes; picturesque towns and villages; castles galore; and plenty of pubs where you can mix with the locals, especially since they speak your language.
Pick #6: India. This wild, disorganized country of over a billion people is simply amazing. It has plenty of history and culture to experience and admire. It has an educated, entrepreneurial population that is rushing toward modernity at the speed of light. It has the most gorgeous building I’ve seen, the Taj Mahal, and believe me when I tell you that no picture does this palace justice. That’s how all of India is.
Pick #3: China. Each year, we wait to see if interest in China will finally drop among travelers, but it never does. This is a country that continues to amaze travelers, with its ancient history, gorgeous landscapes, incredibly welcoming people, and, of course, the food. Oh, and did I mention that you can buy an entire wardrobe for pennies on the dollar? Travel to China continues to be a terrific bargain.
Pick #1: Cuba. You might be thinking Cuba is a place that Americans can’t visit. But in the past year, the rules have changed, and a few tour operators are lucky to have been granted one of the new people-to-people licenses, including us. This tropical island is a 50-minute flight from Miami, but until recently, it could just have easily been on Mars. Thanks to a liberalizing of laws, Americans can visit Cuba legally. Visiting Cuba is like taking a trip back to the ’50s, and not just because of the cars. When you visit Cuba, you get to see how people have created a life for themselves with very little money or resources. The music is everywhere, street parties abound, and everyone is welcome to attend. It’s quite an experience.
What places are you planning to visit in 2012? One of these or somewhere different? Let me know here.
|You won’t find tourist traps on our Discover Havana tour|
We started the Friendly Planet Travel Book Club so travelers and fans can connect and experience the joy of travel through reading. Since we had so much fun the first time, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the second meeting. This time around, we’re focusing on Cuba because of its vibrant history, culture, and people.
I wanted to pick a book that delved into Cuba’s rich heritage. But I’ve gone beyond that and picked three books about Cuba. To shake things up, we’re putting the book choice to a vote among our travelers, so you’ll have a hand in what we read. The three choices are:
“Telex from Cuba” by Rachel Kushner. Set in 1968, the novel tells the story of two young people growing up in Oriente Province in Cuba, a place where Americans tended 300,00 acres of United Fruit Company sugarcane. In the midst of the cane plantation were 100 acres the company did not own. Those 100 acres belonged to Fidel and Raul Castro’s father. The sons, who grew up excluded from a privileged American world, started the revolution there. The story is told from three narrators: a boy whose father runs United Fruit’s sugar operation, a girl whose father runs the nickel operation, and a French agitator who helps train the rebels.
“Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro’s Cuba” by Christopher Baker. This nonfiction book tells the story of Christopher Baker as he drives his motorcycle through Cuba over a three-month period in the early 2000′s. He meets and speaks with the Cuban locals, some of which support Fidel Castro and some who do not. He explores the rich heritage of an island gripped by poverty, political uncertainty, and painful transition, all the while charting his own gradual but profound change of heart about the Cuban Revolution.
“Last Dance in Havana” by Eugene Robinson. Using music as a lens, Eugene Robinson shows readers the real side of Cuba and its people. Despite Castro’s attempts to shut down nightclubs, obstruct artists, and subsidize only what he wants, the musicians and dancers of Cuba cannot stop. In this provocative work, Robinson takes readers on a lyrical tour of a country on the verge of revolution, using its musicians as a window into its present and future.
So which one of these books do you want to read for our next book club meeting? You can read more or buy each book on Amazon.com, or at your local bookstore. Tell us in a comment below which book piques your interest and that you want to discuss with other travelers. And if you want to double your vote, Like our Facebook page and vote there too!
We’re gathering on April 17 at the Jenkintown Library to dive into the wonders of Cuba. Voting is open from now until March 6, and then I’ll announce the winner. I’m excited to see which book our travelers choose!
One surefire way to get any kid to do something is to tell them not to do it. That’s the lure of forbidden fruit. For travelers, forbidden fruit comes in the form of countries they can’t visit, due to government bans or other restrictions.
That was the case for travelers wanting to go to Cuba. But last October, we helped blaze the path into Cuba for American travelers, letting them taste the forbidden fruit of Cuba’s culture for the first time in over 50 years.
And now, that’s the case for worldly travelers who’ve been wanting to visit Myanmar, a beautiful country in Southeast Asia, formerly called Burma. You might have heard that political activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and vocal advocate against Myanmar’s former military dictatorship, began encouraging travelers to visit the country as a way to open up Myanmar to the rest of the world.
Suu Kyi had asked travelers not to visit Myanmar because she felt strongly that the repressive military regime should be thwarted from profiting from tourism. But now that the military dictatorship has been replaced by a new prime minister who is taking steps to improve life and freedom in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has invited travelers to once again come visit. While Myanmar is still far from becoming a modern democracy, the changes cannot be ignored. And when Aung San Suu Kyi asked, we listened.
We think this is a golden opportunity, as in the case of travel to Cuba, to use global tourism as a means to help bring a country from a dark past into a brighter future. To that end, we’ve just created a new tour to Myanmar that will give you a chance to experience this lush, tropical country.
Its Buddhist spirituality, natural beauty, and warm citizens make it among the most unique, friendly, and enchanting destinations in the world. In fact, it is said that Myanmar, as it is today, is like a glimpse into the past to a time in Asia before consumerism and other trappings of modern life began to invade and take over ancient culture.
But that’s just scratching the surface of why you should visit Myanmar. Here are five more reasons you should put Myanmar on your “must-visit” list.
Experience the revival of the Myanmar people. Suu Kyi has spent her life striving for democratic freedom for the people of Myanmar. Now that the path toward freedom is slowly opening, Myanmar’s people are experiencing a time of great optimism and joy as their country begins changing. Indeed, by visiting Myanmar, you are, in effect, an ambassador for peace and hope, and by your very visit, you are helping fuel the country’s revival.
Help Myanmar be a member in good standing of the global community. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Suu Kyi last December to help restore Myanmar’s diplomatic relations with the United States and open international trade. This is setting the stage for Americans to follow. You can be part of this historic moment by being among the first to bridge the culture gap between our peoples.
Bask in Myanmar’s luscious countryside. This Asian country’s landscape has remained largely untouched by industry and development, ironically due to Myanmar’s history of repressive dictatorships. This contrasts greatly against the industrial countries surrounding it, such as Vietnam, China, and even South Korea. Travelers will get front-row seats to the simpler way of life the people of Myanmar live, in stark contrast to our fast-paced Western society.
Strengthen Myanmar by seeing it. Myanmar is an amazing destination to experience with all five senses. And everything you experience will help improve the economy by creating jobs and stimulating growth in the industries that touch tourism, such as hospitality, restaurants, transportation, retail, and more.
Friendly Planet Travel aided Myanmar during Cyclone Nargis. Cyclone Nargis tore through Myanmar on May 2, 2008, leaving over 140,000 fatalities and $10 billion of damage in its wake. When it hit, we reached out to our Friendly Planet travelers for their support to aid in the country’s recovery. They came through with flying colors by raising $15,000 in under 48 hours — I couldn’t have been more proud! If you were among those who supported Myanmar, you’ll be able to see those you helped firsthand.
If you’re ready to explore one of the most exotic and fascinating countries in Asia as a witness to a national transition in real time, I suggest that you consider Myanmar. And keep your eyes to the blog, as I plan to post more about Myanmar in the upcoming weeks and months. If you travel there with us, I’d love to hear about your experiences when you return.
Friendly Planet is proud to announce that we have received a coveted license to organize and operate people-to-people educational exchange programs.
A People-to-People license is one given to a travel provider whose purpose is to promote contact with Cuban people through educational exchanges concerning art, music, culture, and a whole host of other topics.
And we’re elated to announce that the Treasury Department granted it to us. We received so much positive feedback that we knew we wanted to offer travel to Cuba in a meaningful way.
So we’re kicking off two brand-new educational programs. Our participant travelers will be able to engage in activities and cultural engagement with the people of Cuba. The best part: These programs will pack a lot of value at an affordable price, just like the rest of our programs.
The five-day Discover Havana program, priced at $1,899, allows Americans to meet local Cubans and interact in direct and open educational exchanges with these Cubans concerning, among other topics, education, art, and U.S. relations. It will all be set in Havana’s vibrant culture and rich history at some of Havana’s most historic and significant locations.
The longer, eight-day Colors of Cuba program, priced at $2,899, offers a more in-depth program of educational exchanges throughout this diverse island nation at many of its most culturally significant sites. Among these are Old Havana; Cienfuegos; and Trinidad, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These programs are a great value, and by my mark, they’re about $300 to $500 less than other Cuba programs out there. You can check out our website for a detailed itinerary on where we’ll be staying, what we’ll be doing, and who we’ll be interacting with, but I’ll give you an overview of what we’ll be doing there.
Our travelers will be able to indulge in Cuba’s art scene, which is so special because it gives them a look into the soul of these people. Meet and interact with local artists and photographers, talk to historians at museums, listen to music, and see art from all over the country. They’ll experience a cultural mix that will show the personal side of Cuba.
And one of the things we’re most excited about is our travelers will be able to interact and exchange ideas with the Cuban people. They’ll have meals with Cuban families, attend events in local neighborhoods, visit local schools and interact with the children, learn about community agriculture, and speak to Cubans who live in urban communities.
Both programs will include round trip airfare from Miami via U.S. government-licensed charter service and letter of authorization, as well as a Cuba entrance visa. Each program includes all land transportation; superior hotel accommodations; all meals; comprehensive programs of educational exchanges organized by Friendly Planet with a professional, English-speaking guide who will facilitate these exchanges; and a Friendly Planet representative who will lead you throughout the program.
Check out the press release we issued about our new programs in Cuba. And if you have any questions about Friendly Planet’s programs to Cuba, you know where to reach me or you can call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.