A Trip to Cuba Under the New "Support the Cuban People" License Itinerary!
It was our second visit to Cuba, and this time we traveled under the new “Support the Cuban people license,” one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba for Americans. It was a breeze getting there, and who can beat the low-fare of $99 one-way on Southwest Air’s 1-hour flight out of Tampa to Havana!?
As we shared in our recent blog, Cuba: How to Travel There Today with Recent Changes in U.S. Travel Policy, the newly revised regulations at the end of 2017 eliminated the "People to People (P2P) for Individuals" license. So if you wish to travel as an individual to this colorful Caribbean country, the Support the Cuban people license is the best way to go of the 12 categories, as it encourages travelers to support and engage with local businesses and independent entrepreneurs like artists, musicians, food vendors, filmmakers, etc. Whatever your interests, you can find a way to support the Cuban people!
Our itinerary included comfortable homestays in casa particulares, delicious meals at family-run paladares; a retreat to relaxing eco-sites that show case Cuba’s natural beauty and local artisans, and a fascinating visit to community projects where we engaged with local religious and cultural traditions.
Los Pocitos Community Project
A highlight of our trip was a visit to Los Pocitos, a community project in an unofficial neighborhood that serves as the center of the Abakúa fraternal society, and our time (and delicious lunch!) with Havana University professor Michél Santor, who coordinates it. The community is an informal settlement unique for its active expressions of Afro-Cuban identities and contentious religious practices.
While rich in culture, the people of Los Pocitos rely on an informal economy to subsist. Michel and his colleagues have committed to a participatory development project in Los Pocitos to help the community build more secure livelihoods by drawing on their strengths.
For visitors interested in supporting the Cuban people while traveling to the country, this is an excellent opportunity to contribute to a well-conceived sustainable development project. Visit our Discover Cuba: Cultural Immersion and Community Projects website page to learn more!
Eco Retreats to Unesco Biosphere Reserves to Soroa and Las Terrazas
A short day-trip from Havana, the two “eco-communities” of Las Terrazas and Soroa are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves which offer a relaxing break to enjoy the mountain air and village life.
A haven for bird-watching, nature-walking, and canopy-touring, Las Terrazas is also home to an eclectic community of artists (with open studios), and a handful of hiking trails which wind through the mountains that surround the community which provide wonderful views of the valley. On our hike, we saw plenty of birds, including woodpeckers and the Cuba’s national bird, the trogon.
Las Terrazas is also home to Cuba’s only zip-line canopy tour (built by Costa Rican company!) which extends over the surrounding hillsides and includes a total of 6 zip lines. It starts at the hotel and zigzags its way over the village, eventually crossing the lake twice. It’s a fun activity and is popular with both foreigners and nationals alike. Visitors can also enjoy horseback riding, mountain biking and and kayaking on the lake.
Soroa is another “eco-retreat” and a 20-minute drive from Las Terrazas. The community is named after a Frenchman who owned a coffee plantation here in the 19th century. Here, we enjoyed a homestay with a beautiful view of the valley from our patio and a home cooked meal with our local host family. The multi-generational family lived together in a home and had proudly built two units that they rent to guests.
The big attraction in Soroa is the Orchid Garden, or Orquideario, which was created by a Tomás Felipe Camacho, in memory of his wife and daughter in 1943. The garden is extends over a hillside with paths leading between large trees, ferns, and greenhouses. A nice variety of delicate, intricately colored orchids are on display in the greenhouses. The garden is home to over 20,000 plants and 700 species, 250 of which are native to Cuba.