The last six of our 14-member group left on The Island returned to California yesterday. Our expedition officially ended last Monday, but some of us stayed over a few days. Four took a bus to Trinidad, one returned to Varadero by herself to spend 4 nights at a beachfront BnB, and I visited with friends and researched options for future groups. We met up at a large BnB home in Havana on Friday, then flew out of Havana Airport Saturday about 1:00pm. Our non-stop flight to LAX arrived at the gate just before 4pm. Although we didn’t fly in a new “luxury 737” (like 2 weeks earlier), it was a pleasant flight. It was about half full, so I have concerns about long these half-empty LAX>HAV>LAX charter flights will continue. (The 8-9 flights per day from Miami and back seemed to always be full.) Presumably CTS–the charter airline–has done the research, and expects increasing numbers of passengers on each subsequent LAX Saturday flight in the next few months.
Although we had some glitches and re-scheduling issues on our recent trip, I believe our overall expedition went very well. We sure had a lot of fun. It seemed like we were always laughing at things that were funny, and at things that were not supposed to be funny. Traveling around Cuba is definitely more complicated, crowded, and unpredictable than last year at this time. There are many more visitors–Americans, as well as Europeans, Canadians, and others. If you are traveling to Cuba in the next few months with a commercial tour, you’ll find a disclaimer to the effect that “great effort will be made to follow our itinerary, but there may be changes beyond our control.” You can count on that! This is especially applicable now, and it especially applies to greater Havana. January and February are also the peak months for tourism in Cuba. In general, there are more hotel rooms available outside of Havana—in the countryside, and in Central and Eastern Cuba.
There is also a noticeable increase in construction, remodeling and restoration of buildings in Havana, as well as infrastructure improvements. Some of the areas around Central Park at the western edge of Old Havana are temporarily closed for remodeling. It is still possible to walk around and see the numerous attractions and incredible architecture in this area. Much of this work has already been completed. Several of us attended the Ballet Español de Cuba in the recently remodeled Gran Teatro de la Habana.
Instead of cutting back on tours because of all the craziness in Havana, I have decided to Embrace the Chaos! I am still able to secure rooms in “sold-out” hotels. (I think the Cubans appreciate that I brought U.S. Americans to Cuba for several years before the recent normalization process began.) I still have two Cuban Health Care expeditions scheduled: April 16-25 and June 11-20. I am also planning another one for November 12-21, beginning four days after the U.S. presidential election. I think that will be an especially interesting time to visit Cuba—both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have indicated they would support the continued normalization process started by Presidents Castro and Obama in November 2014.
In addition, I will be offering new one-week custom expeditions to Cuba, from Saturday to Saturday. These will take advantage of the new LAX>HAV non-stop charter flights, although participants will also be able to depart from Miami. In most cases, I will not accompany these groups. However, my top-rated Cuban guide has extensive experience working with unaccompanied groups. The focus of each group could be health care, or anything else: architecture, music, dance, bicycling, hiking, history, fine arts, etc. In most cases, each group will consist of 10-16 travelers, who will already have something in common. They could be members of an extended family, a travel club, a church, a company, a vintage car club, faculty members, etc. All would be traveling legally on General Licenses #515.574; Category 9: Support for the Cuban People. (Everybody qualifies!) Each group would have their own bus, driver, and experienced guide at their disposal. Prices will be considerably less than my current 10-day expeditions, and will depend on different variables. For more information, please click the “Tours/My Tours” tab on my website.
Even though some Americans have expressed worry and reservations about Cuba’s forward economic spurt, I don’t think anything can reverse it now, especially with the most likely presidential candidates of both parties on board. It has been fascinating watching the significant changes in Cuba in the past few years, particularly in the last 12 months. There is still a long way to go, and I strongly believe Cuba will eventually become America’s next best ally.