Jazz in Havana (InsightCuba) Part 1

This trip should be listed as a Trip of Lifetime. If you are thinking of going to Cuba then you may want to look into this tour. We were able to experience things that are normally not feasible. The trip vastly exceeded my expectation regarding the quality of activities along with the warm and loving nature of the Cuban people. InsightCuba was professional in all aspects along with having excellent guides (Cuban and InsightCuba) and bus driver. The group size was limited to 24 along with including a full day of activities, all meals (one drink included with lunch and dinner), and all in country transportation (from airport, between all activities, and to airport) with a comfortable and spacious bus. Charter flight from Miami and Cuban visa were extra and coordinated through InsightCuba. There was a single supplement and a departure tax paid at the airport for all people leaving Cuba. The coordination and logistics within Cuba were flawless and smooth. The tour was authorized under a people-to-people license. The people-to-people license required mandatory participation in prescribe set of activities between approximately 9am-5pm daily. These prescribe activities included interaction with musicians, artist, dancers, and historians in Havana and a day trip to Matanzas to do the same. Dinner and late night activities were optional.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Thank you so much for posting this - it is a shame and embarrasment that US citizens cannot travel to Cuba freely. I checked out InsightCuba (even before you posted this)and, indeed it looked great. My only concern is that InsightCuba has what appears to be a monopoly on guiding US citizens in Cuba, and there's not a lot of competition yet in the business (due to barriers of entry in licensing to allow travel under the cultural exchange person-to-person guise). Is this an accurate perception? Can you share your top three favorite activities on the tour (besides the jazz, which looks fabulous)? What other interactions did you have with the locals?

Posted by Michael
Griffith, IN, USA
440 posts

I am not understanding the people-to-people license. Isn't illegal to be in Cuba in the first place?? Althought I really don't understand that in the current times we live in.

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

Americans can go to Cuba legally with certain special groups or organizations. I don't understand either why it's still illegal for Americans to go for a regular vacation. It must be on principle. Americans can legally visit Venezuela, China, North Korea, and other countries which have touchy relationships with the U.S. But Americans can fly to Cuba from Canada or Mexico. Someone told me that you can request the immigration officer in Cuba to stamp a separate piece of paper which you keep in your passport. When you return to the U.S. from Canada or Mexico, you take the piece of paper out and American immigration doesn't know anything different. Whoops, does this violate a Helpline rule of telling people how to break the law?

Posted by Edwin
Arlington, VA, USA
248 posts

Agnes, Various licenses are available for travel. A number of organizations also organize trips (Road Scholars, University of Houston were just two of the others there at the same time) under various aspects allowed for legal travel. It is strictly legit where InsightCuba has to prepare reports indicating the participation and interaction while listing individual names for each activity. This report is provided back to the US government. Previous people-to-people licenses were not necessarily followed and is a reason why a number of organizations have not had their licenses renewed. Other companies I looked into before settling with InsightCuba were National Geographic Expeditions and Ausin-Lehman.

Posted by Edwin
Arlington, VA, USA
248 posts

Interaction involved full participation in all activities which is different than what you see on most tours to other countries. Tours to other countries walk you around providing a narrative, people herd around, and there is very little to no immersion along with you having the ability to do your own thing instead if you want to. On this trip I was able to fully immerse myself in mandatory activities. This included actively discussing, dancing, playing music, etc.. Among my favorite activities to immerse myself in were: - José Fuster Community Art Project - Jazz group, AfroCuba
- Santa Amalia Project There were some activities that were not necessarily to my liking but I still fully immersed myself in them. Participation is mandatory where you are do not have the latitute to skip something and do your own thing instead.

Posted by Laurie Beth
Was MN, now TX
638 posts

I just returned from a Road Scholar (former Elderhostel) people to people tour of Cuba. It was absolutely fabulous and I learned so much my head hurts. You have a Road Scholar guide who coordinates everything and a Cuban guide who translates, educates and makes suggestions for your freetime in the evening. We had lectures most mornings from university professors, we had home visits with a middle class and a rural, of lower economic status family, we visited an art museum, the book market in Havana, private and government owned restaurants, Hemingway's villa, a Caritas project for education, an organic farm, an old sugar mill, Bay of Pigs museum, a children's art school and on and on. Road Scholar includes the visa cost and airfare to and from Miami in their fee and their single supplement is reasonable. I came home with so much information and so much respect and affection for the Cuban people.

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

I looked at the Road Scholar website and am now dreaming of a trip to Cuba. Thanks for your trip report, Edwin!

Posted by Edwin
Arlington, VA, USA
248 posts

Sarah, You are welcome. Glad I could be of some assistance. Looking forward to your trip report!

Posted by Edwin
Arlington, VA, USA
248 posts

Anges, Just saw your message. I am posting here since the site is having a bit of an issue replying. I choose InsightCuba due to the variety of tours to choose from and being able to one that was better suited to my tastes. All of the Cuba tours will have some activities that will be ho-hum for everyone. Just pick one that appeals the most since the final itinerary will be provided shortly before the trip. This is due to availability of people and places and changes from time to time. The general theme/types of visits will remain the same. I went on a National Geographic tour previously and came away with a bad taste in my mouth on the pre and post trip logistics. NG seems to attract more people that are use to being catered too. InsightCuba attracts more people like what RS tours do. All Cuban tours are expensive due to the captive audience of Americans. When you add up the costs they are about the same per day (tour, charter flight, visa, etc.). The deciding factor was length, days of the week, and theme of the tour. I know InsightCuba takes credit cards and does not give a discount for cash in case that would help you. On my tour you typically had a choice of one of two/three choices. While most of the time I choose seafood there was typically a choice of chicken/pork/etc. We had a vegetarian and they seemed to get enough to eat. They just let the guide know when we got to each restaurant for lunch and dinner and the restaurant did their best to get them something they would enjoy. You see more rice than anything. Beans are common but not at every meal. Most of their food comes locally or from Mexico. Not as much salad and vegetables as you would see at home. But I had plenty to eat and so did everyone else. Several of the meals were family style and you could eat as much as you wanted. Let me know if you have any more questions or would like to talk over the phone.