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Posts Tagged ‘People-to-people’

The true colors of Cuba: Part 2

Barry Ostrow recently recounted his first trip to Cuba on a Friendly Planet Travel tour. Barry glimpsed the 1950s cars lining the streets of Old Havana, met world-class dance students at Pro Danza, and listened to energetic salsa beats at a Cuban dance club — and that was only in the first four days! Here’s the final account of Barry’s Cuban experience.

Day 5: On the way back to Havana from Trinidad, we stopped at the former French city of Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos is a wealthy city thanks to the presence of Cuba’s oil refineries. Instead of the narrow, twisty cobblestoned streets of Havana and Trinidad, Cienfuegos’ main street is long, wide, and lined on both sides with large stores surprisingly stuffed with consumer goods. One of the highlights of the trip was the unexpected appearance of a band of revelers dressed in colorful Mardi Gras apparel, many on stilts, playing instruments, dancing, and pulling bystanders into their midst.

A few blocks away, we visited the art studio Grafica Cienfuegos. The studio’s business model blended old and new Cuban economics. While salaries were still set and paid by the government, the gallery had to sustain itself — buying paper, ink, and equipment — through the sale of its art.

That night, we returned to Havana and our hotel, the famous Nacional, which overlooked the Malecon and featured collages of all the famous people who had stayed there, including Myer Lansky and Frank Sinatra. The Malecon is a ribbon of sidewalk that runs for miles along the Atlantic waterfront. Since we were there on Valentine’s Day, the entire stretch was packed with young lovers.

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The true colors of Cuba: Part 1

Travel opens peoples’ minds, hearts, and souls, and allows them to form new, authentic opinions about the world. This sentiment couldn’t be truer than among our people-to-people program travelers who visit Cuba through our specially licensed program and experience a world that has been shut off to Americans for decades.

That exact experience happened to Barry Ostrow when he traveled to Cuba on Friendly Planet Travel’s Colors of Cuba tour. We caught up with Barry to get a personal account of his people-to-people excursion to Cuba. Here’s the first half of his story, be sure to check back soon for part two.

Day 1: On my first trip to Cuba, I legally arrived with 21 other travelers in Havana to begin my U.S.-sanctioned Friendly Planet people-to-people tour. The tour introduced us to the social, historical, and educational aspects of Cuba, and it certainly opened my eyes to life on the beautiful, yet troubled island. The narrative of the trip was frank with no holds barred. We saw all of the good things the island had to offer, as well as the bad.

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An American traveler in Cuba: Q-and-A with blogger Megan McIntyre

We’ve sent thousands of travelers to Cuba over the past few years through our people-to-people programs, offering Americans one of the few chances they’ll ever have to soak in the vibrant people, culture, and arts of this island nation. We found that these excursions not only open our traveler’s minds to the wonders of a diverse nation, but they return with transformed views of Cuba as a whole.

We recently interviewed Cuban traveler and blogger Megan McIntyre to uncover her take on her recent people-to-people cultural excursion. From visiting a primary school in Old Havana to exploring the urban farms of Terralismo to meeting Julio Munoz, known as the Cuban horse whisperer, Megan gained a deep understanding of a complex country that has been paralyzed by economic hardship, yet is still passionate about life and optimistic about the future.

Here’s what Megan had to say:

Friendly Planet: Why did you decide to travel to Cuba?

Megan McIntyre: My husband and I love to travel. We find no experience more rewarding than exploring different places, cultures, foods, and adventures. When choosing our most recent trip, we weighed the pros and cons of numerous destinations. Did we want a more active or relaxed trip? How far did we want to travel? Should we return to an old favorite destination or explore somewhere new? With these qualifiers in mind, we opted for an active, new experience that would minimize travel time. From that, there seemed to be only one logical option — Cuba.

2. What did you think about Cuba before your visit?

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Advice for Americans traveling to Cuba

Our recent survey of folks who’ve traveled to Cuba on Friendly Planet people-to-people programs showed how these trips are changing the hearts and minds of Americans nationwide. U.S. citizens get a unique opportunity to meet Cuban people one-on-one in these programs, learning how the Cubans live, work, and play.

The big lesson from our survey? As traveler Cynthia Richmond told us, “This was the most meaningful trip I have been on. You will not come back as the person you were.”

Respondents were also eager to offer advice to other Americans traveling to Cuba. If you’ve been considering visiting this island nation, read on to hear what they had to say.

Just go, and go now!

“If you have the opportunity, go. It’s an experience of a lifetime.” - Jose Deleon, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in May 2012.

“Don’t put it off, go now! You won’t regret it. What a wonderful opportunity and I can’t wait to go again!” - Suzanne Wells, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in March 2013. (more…)

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!

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.

Nuanced diplomacy: One result of people-to-people travel to Cuba

Ever since Ellen Creager of the Detroit Free Press published her article last August asking whether legal travel to Cuba was in danger of ending, I’ve had many calls from journalists asking about my thoughts on the subject. Friendly Planet Travel, which I started more than 30 years ago, was one of a few commercial travel companies granted one of the first people–to-people licenses back in 2011, and now everyone wanted to know about our renewal. Had we applied? Had our renewal been granted? Had I heard about the evident slowdown (at best) or complete cessation (at worst) of the licensing process?

Had I heard about it? We waited each day for the magic message from OFAC that our license application had, indeed, been renewed. I had read every single printed word on the subject since we submitted our renewal application in June, not sooner than 90 days prior nor later than 60 days prior to our expiration date, according to OFAC’s new rules.

Yet, as the days and weeks passed with no word from OFAC except that our application was still pending, I continued to believe we would get our renewal. I was pretty sure that we would get another go at organizing groups of travelers ready to engage in the kind of interaction between people that is the ideal, the dream outcome, of world travel for the true travel aficionado. Don’t ask me why I was so sure, because all the signs pointed to some other scenario, instigated by political agendas, the elections, and who knows what else. (more…)

Friendly Planet Travel receives license renewal for travel to Cuba!

BACK TO CUBA: Friendly Planet receives its people-to-people license renewal to send travelers to Cuba!

BACK TO CUBA: Friendly Planet receives its people-to-people license renewal to send travelers to Cuba!

We have already sent over 1,000 travelers to Cuba in the first year of our people-to-people license (Jan.–Sept. 2012), and the year isn’t over yet. We’re hoping that many more travelers will take the opportunity to visit this unique country, rich in culture and history, because the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) just renewed our people-to-people license through September 2014!

OFAC grants people-to-people licenses to travel providers that promote contact with Cuban people through educational exchanges concerning art, music, culture, and a whole host of other topics. It’s through this license that we, and our travelers, have experienced this wonderful country through meaningful and rewarding interactions with Cubans.

For travelers who travel because they love to explore new places for the purpose of meeting people in other lands, understanding how they live, what’s important to them, and being able to share the same about themselves, our people-to-people tours provide a perfect opportunity. We’re very excited to be able to continue offering these tours as one of a very select few tour operators fortunate enough to have this license.

We’ll continue to offer our two tours to Cuba: the five-day Discover Havana program, set in Havana with trips to Cojimar and Las Terrazas, and the eight-day Colors of Cuba program, which visits Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, and more. We also plan to offer a new tour to Santiago, pending OFAC approval.

These tours include round trip airfare from Miami via a U.S. government-licensed charter service and letter of authorization, as well as a Cuba entrance visa. They also include all land transportation, superior hotel accommodations, and meals. Travelers will engage in comprehensive programs of educational exchanges organized by Friendly Planet with a professional, English-speaking local guide who will facilitate these exchanges, as well as the benefit of a Friendly Planet representative who will lead travelers throughout the program.

Have you traveled to Cuba on a people-to-people exchange program, or are planning one in the future? We’d love to hear your story! Feel free to leave it in a comment below.

Calling all travelers! Friendly Planet is licensed to visit Cuba!

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.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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