Cuba: The hottest travel topic of the moment. The number one question that arose when I told my friends I was going to Cuba – Is it legal? Though the travel embargo has not yet been lifted for US travelers, traveling to Cuba is not out of the picture. Today I am excited to introduce you all to Conscious Cuba: a luxury travel service that allows Americans to visit Cuba legally and authentically through customized people-to-people tours!
Founded by Dallas-native, Francis Harrison, Conscious Cuba is not your average travel agency. This luxury agency provides a VIP experience for all travelers by creating a customized program catering to your interests and passions. Whether you are a history buff, cigar connoisseur, art enthusiast, you name it, Conscious Cuba creates a personalized itinerary for each traveler to soak in the Cuban culture.
One of my least favorite parts of traveling is planning and logistics. The agency not only mapped out our full schedule during the trip, but planned the entire journey from leaving Dallas to our return. To prevent any mishaps in travel, Conscious Cuba requires travelers to spend the night in Miami before the trip. Since traveling to Cuba requires a bit more prep work than most foreign countries, our tour guide met us at the Miami airport to check us in, provide us with our visas, and guarantee a smooth travel experience!
The agency offers trips for both groups and private tours. Conscious Cuba matched my friend, Lesley, and me with two girls from Atlanta for a group trip – Though we all met for the first time at the airport in Miami and had signed up to spend the entire trip together, we had an absolutely AMAZING time! You can always travel with your same group of friends, so why not be spontaneous and sign up with a group? I left Cuba not only with a whole new understanding of this incredible culture, but also so many new friendships I will never forget! Since all four of us loved art, culture, cuisine, and of course shopping, our tour could not have been any more perfect!
PLACES OF INTEREST:
– Plaza de La Revolucion:A famous square in the city of Havana where the National Library and many government ministries are located – Also a hub for city events and concerts (Hint: The Rolling Stones are rumored to be playing here soon!)
– Habana Vieja (“Old Havana”): One of the most beautiful parts of the city (in my opinion) for architecture and history. I was blown away by the beauty of this area!
– Malecon:This structure created along the coast of Havana is a local hotspot. With breath-taking views during the day, this was our favorite spot for photo ops. At night, the Malecon turns into a gathering spot for locals to meet with friends, listen to music, enjoy cocktails (hello rum-in-a-box), and spend the evening outside. We spent our last night here, and it was the perfect send off!
– Visiting Kamyl Bullaudey’s home and art gallery:I think this may have been one of the highlights of the trip. Kamyl is a local Cuban artist who invited us over for an afternoon at his studio and home. After exploring all of his artwork, he invited us up to his rooftop to chill, while he surprised us with painting abstract portraits of each of us! It was such an authentic and unique experience.
– Parque de La Revolucion: A famous park where you can find the Pavilion Gramma memorial, as well as many other historical buildings, such as the Cuban Museum of Bellas Artes
– Hotel Saratoga:Beyonce stays here, so obviously it’s a must… plus the views are incredible!
– Callejon de Hamel:This neighborhood project houses some of the most unique art created from recycled materials to reconstruct what once was a marginal neighborhood. This project dedicated to the Afro-Cuban dance and religious culture is a must-see spot with its colorful creations, rumba dance performances, and music influence.
– San Jose Market:What’s a vacation without shopping? This local open-air market is the best spot for buying local crafts and souvenirs. What I ended up leaving with: a crochet crop top, crochet halter dress, panama hat, two hand-painted cigar boxes, rum, and Cohibas (of course).
– La Catedral
– La Moneda Cubana: a rooftop restaurant in Havana Vieja. Great environment with live music
– Prado 309
– Decameron: a local spot serving up some of the best Italian food
– Al Divino and La Yoandra: This was one of our favorite restaurants of the trip. A local farm-to-table experience with fresh organic foods grown on site – Be sure to tour the grounds while you are there!
FUN (AND RANDOM) CUBA FACTS
Apart from all of the “must-see” spots, my favorite part about traveling with Conscious Cubawas learning about day-to-day life here. Here are some of the things I found most interesting:
– American cell phones don’t work.. and don’t rely on buying wifi. Embrace the fact you will be disconnected. After a few days, you will love it!
– Credit cards do not exist in Cuba (nor do ATMs). Everything in Cuba is “cash only”, so remember the cash you bring leaving Miami is all you will have the entire trip. Plan wisely.
– You can only bring back $100 worth of tobacco products (this is mainly for the boyfriends back home that ask for souvenirs)
– Right now, the American Flag is a very popular fabric for fashion in Cuba
– Speaking of fashion, you can expect to see a lot of crochet, spandex, and fishnets
– Cubans drink a lot. Expect mojitos, Cristal beers, and Bucanero beers during every meal. And the local hangover cure: a shot of gin
– Dessert is always acceptable, lunch or dinner
– Thanks to Raul Castro, Cubans can now sell real estate. Before that, all houses were kept within the family or traded
– With a people to people license, tourists can NOT visit the beaches – However, you can visit the Malecon!
– A Cuban Sandwich is not what you expect – especially since pickles aren’t even in Cuba!
Our fantastic Cuban exploration definitely credits back to the incredible team we were paired with for the week. Conscious Cuba was created by Francis Harrison after she fell in love with the culture while studying abroad in 2009. Through her determination to share these wonderful experiences and lasting relationships in Cuba with Americans, Conscious Cuba was formed.
The term “tour guide” takes on a whole new meaning when traveling with Colleen – the outgoing 20-something who felt more like our “in-the-know” BFF than your traditional tour guide. Since she lived in Cuba during college, Colleen fully appreciates and understands the culture, and what we needed to know as American girls traveling in this country. If you sign up for this trip, I 100% recommend requesting to travel with her!
For the people-to-people tour, our group was linked not only with Colleen, but also a local tour guide, Natalie, and salsa-dancing driver, Jose, for an authentic and local experience. Hearing their stories about growing up in Cuba and learning what it’s like to live there today made the tour a balanced mix of historical events and the present day.
Overall, I cannot imagine a more perfect experience traveling to Cuba. Havana was more beautiful than I had ever envisioned, the local culture was fascinating and inviting, and everyone I met throughout the journey made a lasting impression I will never forget!
Visit the Conscious Cuba website to learn more about the program AND to book your next trip!
Click here, here, and here to see more of what I wore in Cuba.
While this post was in partnership with Conscious Cuba, the opinions expressed are my own.