Seeking the Soul of Cuba: HabanaLive Takes Deep Dives into the Island’s Pulsating Culture
July 1, 2019 by Hidden Doorways
Just ninety miles south of Florida, Cuba retains a culture and way of life a world apart from its neighbors. Cuba has always been a curious place, a country caught in a time capsule, in an era of vintage 1950’s Cadillacs and a period absent from the frenzied pace of technology. Time passes differently in Cuba.
Feel the differences with a walk or bike through Old Havana and the surrounding neighborhoods. Tour the eclectic colonial architecture with an official city historian. Indulge in Cuba’s world-renowned rum and cigars guided by the expertise of a passionate sommelier. Immerse in the music and dance of Cuba with private performances and studio sessions. Discuss the island’s riddling past with historians and diplomats, or cook a traditional meal with a family.
Unlike any DMC in Cuba, the American owners of HabanaLive are highly connected in all aspects of Cuban life and well-equipped to guide you through the regulations. They are Cuba experts with decades of experience across travel, specializing in customized FIT itineraries that incorporate behind-the-scenes access, and producing world-class events and MICE travel to the island. In addition to this travel work, the team engages in consulting, US-Cuba policy, and philanthropy. A family passion project, HabanaLive’s story began when brothers Collin and Michael Laverty traveled to Cuba in the 90s—planting the seed for Collin to become a US-Cuba policy expert. In 2012, Collin and his best friend Adam founded Cuba Educational Travel, the leading educational group travel company for Cuba, which also engages in policy advocacy and philanthropy. Later, Michael and his wife, Megumi, founded HabanaLive to cater to the unique needs of luxury travelers today.
With a deep and diverse network of relationships, HabanaLive focuses on the moments that stand still and linger in the memory: a studio session with Cuba’s leading jazz-trumpet player; a Harley ride into the mountains with Che Guevara’s son; a high-octane boxing workout in the historic Rafael Trejo gym; a cafecito in the home and workshop of a Cuban artist.
With HabanaLive, there is no beaten path. Each experience leads travelers down a different path – one they choose, one that resonates, one that fascinates.
We know that the regulatory situation can be confusing. The policy changes announced in June 2019 eliminated cruise ship travel and the People to People Educational travel category. But travel to Cuba is still possible and 12 categories for legal travel, authorized by the US government, remain in place. HabanaLive has deep expertise in US policy and only facilitates travel that is fully compliant with all US regulations, ensuring that our partners and clients have nothing to worry about.
Is travel from the U.S. to Cuba allowed under the current Administration?
Yes! Although the Trump Administration revised its travel policy for Cuba in June 2019, it is still possible to travel from the U.S. to Cuba in a manner to complies with U.S. government policy. There are still 12 categories of approved travel to Cuba from the U.S. The most common category for FIT travel is “Support for the Cuban People,” and other commonly used categories include “Religious,” “Professional Meetings & Research,” and “Educational.”
To ensure compliance with the appropriate travel category, HabanaLive develops rich itineraries and provides skilled guides to lead your clients through their days. The team is well-versed in the current travel policy and will assist you and your clients to ensure a seamless, compliant, and thrilling experience.
What is the process for getting a visa to Cuba?
To obtain a visa, a traveler simply needs a valid passport. There is no lead time required. HabanaLive can procure and mail visas to travelers in advance of trips, or travelers can purchase visas from their commercial air carrier on the day of travel, at the time of check-in.
How do my clients travel to Cuba?
There are a range of options for travel to Cuba: commercial air, private yacht, private air. For commercial air, United, American, JetBlue, Delta, and Southwest all provide direct service to Havana from a variety of departure points in the U.S. International carriers run direct flights from Europe, Asia, and the rest of the Americas, too.
HabanaLive has extensive experience facilitating travel by private yacht and air. Under the revised Trump Administration policy, taking US-registered boats and private aircraft now require a special license. Please reach out to determine if and how HabanaLive can facilitate this type of transportation for your client’s case.
Cruises operating from the U.S. are no longer allowed to port in Cuba. For clients who wanted to experience Cuba as part of a cruise itinerary, HabanaLive can arrange a land-based program pre-or post-cruise as an alternative.
What kind of communications infrastructure is available in Cuba?
All major international carriers have coverage in Cuba. Travelers should confirm with their specific carrier and plan the terms of coverage. Roaming rates from international carriers in Cuba are very high, so we advise travelers to turn off cellular data except when necessary to connect, and to view the trip to Cuba as an opportunity to disconnect.
Many accommodations provide WIFI services throughout their properties (e.g. the Kempinski Hotel, Parque Central Hotel, Hotel Saratoga), so travelers can access the Internet via their laptops or cell phones while on premise. There are also WIFI hotspots throughout Havana, Vinales, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos for access in public connection points. These WIFI connections are generally reliable and enable basic email, web browsing, and phone calls; streaming and video services may take more time to load.
Is it possible to use U.S. credit and ATM cards in Cuba?
In general, U.S. credit cards and ATM cards still do not work in Cuba. Few places accept traveler’s checks. Credit and ATM cards from Europe, Canada and countries other than the U.S. usually work, but ATM machines and establishments that accept credit cards are not always accessible. Travelers can exchange USD into the local Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) at any location in Cuba, for a fixed exchange rate: 1 USD to CUC: 0.873. If travelers have direct access to Euro, they can bring Euro for a marginally better exchange rate.
What’s an ideal length of time for a trip?
3-4 nights if Havana-only. For a 5-night stay, add in a day-trip to Vinales. For a 6 or 7-night stay, add 2 nights in Trinidad / Cienfuegos.
Is it possible to have a true luxury experience?
Yes. From accommodations to restaurants to experiences, Cuba consistently mesmerizes its visitors. HabanaLive curates each day to meet the highest quality standards and understands the expectations of VVIP travelers.
What are the best months for visiting?
Late October through May. June through August are as hot and humid as Miami, but also offer low season rates.
Is Cuba safe?
Cuba is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Part of the beauty of visiting the island nation is being able to walk freely without worrying about violent crime. Travelers will see families and young kids in the streets at night and feel reassured of the safety. As with any urban area, petty theft does occur and standard precaution should be taken.
Can travel advisors get commissions from hotels in Cuba?
While hotels in Cuba do not operate on commission pricing, HabanaLive includes a commission for advisors in our ground package rates. These ground package rates include accommodation, private guide, private transportation, meals, experiences, and commission.
Updates following Cuba’s Revised Travel Policy:
- On October 25, the Trump Administration banned flights from the U.S. to the 9 non-Havana airports (e.g. Santa Clara, Holguin).
- This does not have a significant impact on US travelers to Cuba, as the vast majority fly in and out of Havana.
- Commercial flights from the US to Havana (Jose Marti International Airport) are continuing without change. The major US carriers—American, United, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest—all run direct flights into Havana.
- Departure cities with direct flights include New York, Boston, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Atlanta, and Houston
- As previously, Americans can still travel to Cuba as long as their itineraries comply with one of 12 approved travel categories. This remains unaffected
- The majority of HabanaLive’s clients travel to Cuba on the “Support for the Cuban People” category, whereby our program is designed to ensure impactful, supportive exchanges and experiences with Cubans.
- We also run trips on the “Religious Activities,” “Professional Meetings & Research” and other categories as dictated by the travel purpose
- Visas can still be processed the same day or purchased directly from your commercial airline, on the day you travel
- Private flights are still possible through most charter brokers and fractional ownership programs, e.g. NetJets, WheelsUp, FlexJets, etc
The Latest on Shortages:
- For many years, shortages on fuel & other products have been a part of life for Cubans. Part of what makes Cuba and Cubans remarkable is the ability to find creative solutions and demonstrate resilience in the face of such shortages
- While there have been stories in the news about the recent shortages, in general, this is no different from previous years, and does not affect the tourist infrastructure and experience.
- Feedback from HabanaLive’s clients is that learning about the geopolitics & economic situation in Cuba is part of what makes visiting the island so fascinating.
- As a company, HabanaLive is committed to assisting Cubans as much as they can, and Americans visiting the island and contributing to the economy is a key part of this support!
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