A Life in Travel

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The Zimmerman family connecting in Cuba

The Zimmerman family connecting in Cuba

Considering travel to Cuba? Check out this trip review and travel tips with images from the Zimmerman family, 5x alumni travelers having been on Wildland Adventures to Costa Rica, Patagonia, India, Kenya and Peru. They asked us if we could arrange a short weekend-to-weekend adventure to Cuba with their adult son and his partner. They viewed this custom trip to Cuba as their first of more adventures to the island so they decided to stay together as a family in an apartment and focus exclusively on exploring Havana in depth. Jeff was specifically interested in pursuing his interest in drumming and everyone in the family wanted to learn all about Cuba. They also wanted to have time for independent exploration beyond the people-to-people guided connections we planned for them each day. Their trip review will give you a good idea of what to expect on our custom adventures to Cuba designed according to each traveler’s interests. 

"Cuba was the most connective and fascinating trip we have taken with Wildland! And that is saying something!!!" 

"Our Wildland Adventure to Cuba was an intensely educational trip especially in the current geo-political context. Everything we did, and the beautiful way we connected with everybody felt so current and relevant. As Americans, we appreciated being able to form such a deep understanding of Cuba and its people after the country has been shrouded and misunderstood for so long."

Can't get 'em any fresher than this!

"Going with guides is critical. Joslin and Yadi really opened us up and connected us with Havana. I had one friend who went to Cuba and spoke Spanish but she found it hard to figure out what was going on. You need to be there with someone who can help you tap into the grey market that’s so prevalent there now. You can’t just connect on the web to find out what’s going on. Everything is word of mouth or by phone between locals. Our guides gave us a local phone to stay in touch with them anytime we were on our own which helped us maximize our experience when we were exploring independently. The normal travel technology tools are just not in place to do simple things like looking up what’s open, when places close, or how to adjust the schedule when things change." 

Dining in a local paladar with our guide Yadi.

"You did an incredible job crafting our trip, and once there our guides asked for our input repeatedly and adapted the activities each day to our requests. The best example of this was when we asked Yadi if it was possible to experience a Santeria ceremony. She gran-slammed it when she made informal arrangements for us to be welcomed by a priest as guests in a private home with amazing bata drummers calling forth the Orisha spirits of their West African-based faith."

Beautiful bata drum at our Santeria gathering.

"Raphael our driver was a highlight. At 50 cupes/month he couldn’t make enough as a doctor so he bought a van to drive tourists around. He’s very educated, speaks great English, was super engaging and informative, and he’s a great driver. When the tunnel to get to Hemmingway’s house was closed he knew exactly how to get around the gnarly traffic.Together, Yadi, Joslin with Raphael were an outstanding team. We connected with so many local Cubans through all the activities they set up."

"There were so many special experiences arranged for us like a private chef who prepared an amazing dinner in our apartment including a professor of international politics from the University of Havana who joined us at the table. Professor Camilio was so articulate, open, and sharing. He explained how Cubans feel about relations with the US. No way was it anti-American. Dinner on the terrace, talking about international politics, how US elections could be a turning point for relations with Cuba, Guantanamo, the embargo (they call it the “blockade”), and the unspoken industry of anti-Castro politics with the corresponding flow of money between DC and S Florida. It was such a rich and memorable evening."

Wildland arranged for a private chef to prepare dinner in our apartment joined by Professor Camilo of Havana University.

"Music and rhythm was infused in everything we did, especially considering my wants. One highlight was our private session learning about Cuban music history with music professor Alberto Faya—we could have spent all day with him!"

Musicologist Alberto Faya was incredibly knowledgeable about all dimensions of Cuban music!

"The joke in Cuba is, “If there’s a line there must be something there.” But thanks to our guides we never had to stand in lines. When we asked about going out to hear some music one night, Joslin went 2 hours ahead to hold a front row table at the Diablo Tun Tun club to hear Ray Fernandes. When we entered, there she was waving at us to make our way through the crowd whereupon we were greeted with a bottle of rum to mix Cuba libres at our table! It was an early show so after dancing for 2 hours she took us down the street to a favorite paladar for a lovely dining experience. She became a new friend sharing what she loves most about Cuba."

Ray Fernandez at night club Diablo Tun Tun!

"Instead of going to government owned restaurants, we only ate at paladars. In many cases it felt like we were going into people’s homes, and in others it was more like a restaurant. Vista Mar was our favorite in a swanky house with a pool. We dined on the 2nd floor of the residence that looked like a location set from a James Bond movie. The pool extended right up to the beach where we sat after dinner sipping rum and smoking a Coiba while surf sloshed up the glass wall. We would never have found these kinds of places without a guide because paladars keep popping up all around the country."

A beautiful facade in Old Havana near our apartment.

"We took $2,500 for one week in Havana for our family of four. It’ not a cheap trip. Dinners with drinks at nice paladars were $160-200 for four. I’m not a food traveler but the meals at these places were outstanding. You need to exchange a lot of currency. Our guide served as our bank on many occasions and that was an extraordinarily convenient service. Smoothing this out for travelers is infinitely helpful. The one time I exchanged at a hotel I was lucky there was no line. Otherwise there were always people in line when we exchanged money.

Be prepared to tip small change when you take pictures of people on the street. We were asked not to encourage beggers, although there weren't many. You will need small change for public bathroom attendants. And finally, rather than form opinions and cast judgement about Cuba's revolution, we mostly listened and asked lots of questions to understand the many complexities of life and politics in Cuba. There was so much for us to learn about Cuba."

A family that rides together...

"Right now Havana is like a living museum that hasn’t changed in 40 years. You don’t just look left to right, but up and down. Someone described the crumbling facades of the city as, “Havana is like a melting confection.” It’s such an intense experience learning about the culture of Cuba, just taking in Havana in 5 days was plenty fulfilling enough. We didn’t even feel like we needed to go to the beach…probably next time."

Interested in joining one of our scheduled small group trips to Cuba? Or want to plan your own custom itinerary to Cuba designed according to your dates and interests? Ask our Cuba expert Grettel Calderon or call 1-800-345-4453 or 206-365-0686. . 

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