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.

What were the most surprising things you learned about Cuba during your trip?

“The arts were surprising and beautiful and flourished. But the people were my favorite. They had such life in their eyes even though they had so little.” – Kristin Samson, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in December 2012.

“How open and friendly Cubans are toward Americans …. What a wonderful community of people they are.” – Marilyn Cantisano and Donald Southworth, travelers on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in October 2013.

“How they help each other and share what little or much they have, and how they are there for each other.” – Lillian Fipps, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in late summer 2012.

How did your trip to Cuba affect you on a personal level?

“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.

“It put things into perspective. Cubans have to struggle far more to lead a decent life. The access to food and goods is far more limited for them. Despite that, they appreciate what they have and simply do what they need to do in order to get by.” – David Steiner, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in April 2013.

“Made me realize how enduring these people are with all the crisis events that have affected their country and yet they manage to greet guests with a smile … Cubans we met were warm, charming, and very pleased to share their lives with us … It was very interesting to see how the old and new are blended together in Cuba.” – Karen Kanar, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in October 2013.

Why did you decide to travel to Cuba on a people-to-people tour?

“Cuba is a curiosity that should be experienced by all who value freedom. My curiosity has been satisfied and I’m considering returning to Cuba on a humanitarian mission – not just as a tourist.” – Larry Armstrong, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in June 2012.

“I wanted to see Cuba through my own eyes and make my own judgment about the people, the government, and the culture.”Jessie James Jr., traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in December 2012.

“I traveled to Cuba with people to people because I wanted to experience the way of life as it is now before it changes and becomes modernized. I loved the food, the old American cars, and the friendly Cubans.” – Abe Cruz, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in October 2012.

“I have wanted to travel to Cuba since the early 1960s, but wanted to travel with the approval of the U.S. Government.” – Pat Henneforth, traveler on a people-to-people program with Friendly Planet in May 2012.

Stay tuned. We have lots more to share with you drawn from our survey of Friendly Planet travelers who visited Cuba on our people-to-people tour. More than any other source, their firsthand accounts will inspire, motivate, and educate you to an entirely different world, only 90 miles from the shores of Florida.



    My late husband and I went to Cuba in the middle late 70’s. It was a cruise and our tour guide was a Russian that spoke perfect English. He wanted to know if we could understand him. His English was better than ours. Saw Hemingways old resident and his pet ducks grave plus so much more. I would love to go back again, but it wouldn’t be the same now that I’m widowed. But it was quite an experience at that time.

  2. Richard Re"aux

    I would love to go to & move to Cuba , if allowed. After living in St. Tomas USVI , and sailing around the Caribbean , I know its one of the last most preserved Islands left. I would love to spend the last of my years in the Beauty of Cuba and its people. I know for a fact that the major Hotels have bought up or leased the most desirable land on the Island. once there allowed it will never be the same. Just like what happened to Camana Bay in the Dominican Republic.. The most beautiful place in the 80’s I’d ever seen as well as the people.

  3. L Cavendish

    Someone should organize a huge flotilla in Key West…hundreds of boats…and just sail to Havana.
    The embargo does not represent what the majority of the American people want any more…if it ever did.
    Most visitors from the US are prior Cuban residents/citizens traveling back to see family.So things can’t be too bad there…or they would not be travelling there so much (or at all).
    I really don’t see the logic in an embargo where we (US) are theonly ones involved.
    Besides…plenty of US citizens go to Cuba by first going to Canada, Mexico or The Bahamas.Cuba does not stamp US passports.
    If you don’t bring back cigars, cigarettes, rum ,medicines or animals…you are usually OK…even if you tell Customs and Border Protection (CBP) you went to Cuba.

  4. David in MA

    Life is good when the tour is programmed so what you see is what is wanted for you to see on a guided tour. Besides that, most Americans do not relate to those people never being able to break out of their current circumstances. They are there for life, Americans can “go home” to their comforts and land of plenty……..for Cuba (and many other countries)poverty is forever.

  5. Steve King

    I have always been intrigued by Cuba. It has always been such a disappointment that I could not. Joyce Overmyer I would love to travel with you to see the beauty of this country and it’s people.

  6. Hopefully the flotilla won’t be necessary if Americans who visit the island and see for themselves the impact of the embargo return home and let their legislators know it’s time to lift it.

  7. It is true that the tour is highly organized, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a chance to speak and interact with native Cubans where they live, work, and play. As we travel throughout the country, we meet with many people, and many share their thoughts with us. We can see what life is like for them in Cuba, and they are open about the fact that they live in a society that is not free. They know it, and so do we. When we travel to Cuba, we share stories about what life is like for us with the people we meet. It’s part of the program. And while poverty is definitely endemic in Cuba, our tours support the nascent entrepreneurs who are creating new businesses.

  8. craig

    As an American, I traveled to Havana for 2 days via Cayman Islands, and it was well worth the effort. I stayed in the Old Town Near Obispo/Malecon. The thing that stuck out in my mind was after I arrived at Jose Marti Intl. and went into the city in a cab, I saw a family driving with the kids in what look to be a 1942 Packard with the wooden doors just buzzing along beside us. Take a horse drawn carriage tour around the Old Town. Well worth it!

  9. Ron Traylor

    I visited Cuba in 2010. I found it to be a very beautiful place where the people are friendly and surprisingly open to U.S. citizens despite the trouble our blockade has caused them. I also found Cuba to be very safe. There is little crime there and the government does not seem to be the monster the U.S. government would have us believe they are. For example, while there, the so-called “women in white,” who demonstrate to free relatives, they say are jailed for political reasons, where themselves arrested while demonstrating. I found myself in the middle of this protest and learned that these people were arrested for leaving their approved parade route after the police made repeated requests for them to get back to the parade route. We arrest folks in the U.S. who demonstrate without a permit and or who violate the terms of the parade permit. However, when I got back to the U.S. the press had a field day misrepresenting what had happened. The press totally ignored the true facts and presented what had happened as an example of political oppression. It is true that the government is on a heightened state of security on account of attempts by the U.S. to subvert the government. We are a super power that invaded Cuba by proxy and we continue to try to undermine Cuba. The response is some repression. For instance, access to the internet by the average Cuban is heavily restricted. While visiting the University of Havana, students showed me a huge room with perhaps thousands of file cabinets containing research index cards. They told me sarcastically that this was their internet. But for the most part, I came across folks who freely expressed their views and they weren’t looking over their shoulders while they did so. I was there at a time when thousands of people were being evicted from their homes in the U.S. on account of the financial crisis. In Cuba, people don’t get evicted from their homes. I was saddened to hear that the U.S. government threatens cruise lines with banishment from U.S. ports (for up to six months) if they cruise to Cuban ports. And yes, I did suspect that the Cuban secret police were mingling with tourist at the hotel there in an effort to keep an eye on people. In fact, one, I suspected, said provocative things against the government to try to draw out my political views. And yes, I did speak with a university professor who said he had been fired for his political views. We in the U.S. have also been in a heightened state of alert at times in our history when we have felt threatened. After 911, many rights were abridged and there is still a hangover from that time. People in this country are also punished and stigmatized for political views.


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