If you are wondering to go to Cuba.
By: Andrés Yunior Gómez Quevedo.
Cuba is a different country, mostly because of its history and the actual consequences it and for that reason it is now at its best! If you are going for the first time, having a tour guide with you to show you around and explain a lot of things will enrich your experience on this great island.
To enjoy the country and understand its rhythm and its sights it is better if you have an idea of all the history and gossip that this island has behind buildings, streets, landscapes, food, cocktails, behaviors, words and people.
If you know Spanish get ready for a challenge because the Castellano, which is the Spanish we speak here, it is really fast and has many words that in other Latin American countries and even in Spain does not exist or have different meanings.
In Cuba people laugh at their own problems and anything can inspire a joke, a song, a dance or whatever that means joy. The crazy Cuban sense of humor has been the lifeboat of this society for centuries, and words like Negro, mulatto, fat and crazy are not derogatory. There are not sexual harassment accusations because people look at each other’s attributes all the time, and the men whistle when the ladies pass by, and the ladies throw pick-up lines to the boys and to show affection people can call you “my negro” even if you are white, the young ones greet with a “what’s up crazy?”, and you can see and sense how carefree this people is in spite of all the problems and necessities and struggles.
Again, Cuba is a different country full of fun and a sense of freedom to enjoy every minute with no rush.
As a tour guide I always welcome my future friends at the airport, I know that my country has been on an unfair black list for so long and to have a smiling face welcoming you at the airport can be very cheering.
And to be honest, I love the idea of waiting for complete strangers that I’m going to be with for days. The adrenaline of not knowing how it’ll be like.
I try to go with an old American car with AC to make the experience even more interesting. Havana it is a like a live museum of cars, and we are all so used to see them going around, but I know that people also come to Cuba to live the contrast of the old 40ies and 50ies with the influence of modernity that seems to be entering in the country more and more every time.
One of the first things I make clear it is that living and being in Cuba is a big exercise of patience, because there are many things that are hard to find easily, a lot of stuff must be gotten with old fashion means, you are going to be offline most part of the day and to be online you really have to want it because you have to get a WiFi card and go to a WiFi spot. Things here are not like you know them at home. Cuba in many ways seems to have stopped in time and closed the door, but left the window open and there is a lot coming in through that window.
In Cuba you’ll have more time to actually live, like we all used to do years before, interact, meet and talk to people old school style, go with the flow of the country that it’s very easy to follow because all seems to be about chilling out and drinking and learning too.
After the accommodation and a cocktail and depending on the time of the arrival I try to show first the Old Havana. It is a walking tour with stops in very cool places full of history and fun, like La Bodeguita del Medio, El Floridita, the four main squares of the old town with the explanations of the sights and the culture, including some information about the culture of cocktails in the country, religion, art, society and politics. Some stops will be longer depending on the people’s interests and the people around, the music, the weather, the drinks, whatever that makes the stay better.
Some people have asked me “don’t you get bored of saying the same thing in the tours every time?” and the answer is no, because the interaction makes it different, the feedback and the individual interests make a change and the information might be basically the same, but again, the interaction does its magic.
For smokers and drinkers Cuba is like a paradise since here you can smoke and drink almost everywhere. For those who love music and dance, it is the same, in fact, there will be a time in which you’ll long for silence because there is music all around. For coffee lovers and organic food lovers Cuba is awesome too, but vegans and vegetarians might have a hard time finding the proper meal for the Cuban diet is full of meat, we even use sausage and pork to make the beans.
If you like jogging you can choose the sunrise or the sunset when the weather is cooler and do it through El Malecon with the Ocean on one side and the city on the other side, take little breaks seating in the same Malecon surrounded by fishermen, guitar players, people in love, friends laughing, old cars passing by, sellers, tourists, locals, all type of people, and the best thing: it is really safe. You can even walk around after midnight in the Old Havana without fear.
Part of the classic tour is to get an American car, can be a convertible or not (convertibles are more expensive and they don’t have AC) to take the two or three hours ride through El Malecon to Miramar (the old rich neighborhood, well, still nowadays since diplomats and embassies are there), Fusterland, The forest of Havana, the Revolution square (where I explain more about the revolution) Vedado neighborhood and Central Havana, to end up crossing the tunnel of the Bay to see the Statue of Christ, the Fortress and the amazing view of the city from there.
For night life there are options that can’t be missed like The Factory of Cuban Art, well, we call it just the Art Factory, if you like Cuban music and Jazz, La Zorra y el Cuervo is the only bar that plays real Cuban Jazz every night from 10 pm to 1 or 2am, also the Jazz Café. The gay bars, and if it’s a weekend you’ll have more than 3 options, you can also do some kind of gay hopping since two of them are near each other in the gay friendly neighborhoods and the one with the latest show it is ironically placed in front of the Revolution Square. There are other options like the EFE bar, King Bar, and eventual concerts or activities of last minute, because in Havana some things can happen just like that, and you can suddenly find a concert or a party going on anywhere.
I love the Cuban Symphonic Orchestras and try to take the ones who love this type of music to the places where they have concerts, they are old churches with the right magic to season those rhythms…something to see, and also, the artistic quality is really good. The same with the Cuban Ballet. Access to art in Cuba is not expensive and it is so worthy.
We try to have two or three days in Havana, and also save one of them for an Art tour in the museum of Cuban Fine Arts along with visits to private galleries and studios, and also save a piece of day for the gay beach Mi Cayito.
There are places in the country that are so worthy to see, and two of them are Viñales and Trinidad. Viñales it is like one of the most beautiful country sides of Cuba, and even if you are not into cigars that are the main industry of that area will be hard not to fall in love with the sights and the tranquility, the pure air, the food and even the nightlife which is way different than Havana.
Trinidad it is a city that never changed its looks, the colonial architecture it’s original, nothing fake, and the accommodations will be full of the best and more beautiful from the vintage and the best from nowadays for the tropical weather, AC and showers. From Havana it is two hours to get to Viñales and 5 to get to Trinidad. You can do Viñales in one day and go back but Trinidad you have to stay, and it is so worthy.
Of course, these places are touristy, but in Cuba all the best is touristy since not much locals can afford any of these simple pleasures, there are a few places the locals use that tourists find interesting sometimes, but those eventually become touristy too. The good thing is that the locals mingle with the foreign very well and the American influence in the Cuban culture through the history until nowadays it is very alive.
Gay life in Cuba it is not something forbidden anymore, and you’ll find amazing how supportive people can be. Most of the more popular restaurants and bars have gay owners or a story related to a gay character, or gay waiters, so you don’t have to be in a gay friendly neighborhood to enjoy, in fact, it is more likely that you’ll have more fun in a mixed place than in a gay bar.
Farewells are always hard and the feeling of becoming friends can come so easily in Cuba, maybe it’s the weather that makes us like that, because even the tourists become more friendly, it can be the alcohol with the music and the heat, you don’t know until you know, but there is a magic in the air of this little country that makes people happy, and believe me, you’ll go home or wherever you are going next feeling luckier and better. I partner with Charles Kimball in the USA at www.outincuba.org to make this all happen. If you want to know more from the USA or anywhere please contact Charles Kimball at Outincuba@gmail.com or call him in California at 707.266.8235.
Andrés is from Santiago De Cuba, freelance journalist, painter,blogger and local guide in Havana City.
He is a voracious reader, jazz follower, occasional singer and history lover. He is always looking for the story behind everything. Not your typical Cubano according to aesthetics but a real creole man according to beliefs
Andres is also a great writer..Copied below are some great observations in his own words......
My group of four visitors from Florida and California had a FANTASTIC and WONDERFUL time in Cuba. As a group, my friends and I have traveled to several countries/cities and this was a really special trip. We spent two full days and an evening with our guide Andres from OutinCuba.
Andres (friends call him Yunior) was incredible and truly became part of our group as a guide and a friend. Everything was wonderfully planned, we went to great places to eat (which was a particular worry of mine since my friends have complicated dietary restrictions), we learned a ton, and we were able to relax and enjoy our time there. He ended up joining us for other meals outside of our scheduled time and spending even more time with us as a friend.
He's such a lovely person -- an artist, a historian, true Renaissance man -- and someone who gave us great insight into the culture and country. He even painted us individual paintings that had significance to each of us -- along with giving us a bottle of rum and cigars.
He made our trip really special -- we were all emotional during our final time together.
We couldn't have asked for a better guide or a better trip
My partner and I were fortunate enough to be escorted around Havana by Dayron on a tour. His command of Cuban History and culture is strong, but equally as impressive is his objective understanding of the complicated history between Cuba and the USA. As Cuba continues to become an increasingly popular tourism destination for US residents, guides capable of delivering a personalized,educational and entertaining experience will become ever more invaluable. Any visiter to Cuba would be at a significant advantage in the company of Dayron!
AH Denver CO,USA.
Dayron Ortiz led us an a whirlwind Havana City Tour in May of 2016. He greeted my partner and me at the airport with smiles and hugs. Dayron oranized transportation, casa arrangements,meals, and sightseeing during the day tour: we were in excellent hands. He continued to be available to answer questions and provide recommendations even after the tour. As a cultural ambassador, Dayron spreads the warm heartedness of Cuba with every spoken detail of history and current events. His eyes are filled with the passion for sharing Cuba with visitors. Dayron will continue to excel in Tourism.
Sean I. Denver Co.
We traveled to Cuba in September. We arranged our travel through " OUT IN CUBA".Dayron Ortiz was our guide. We couldnt be more pleased! Dayron became part of our travel group. He is so likable, knowledgeable about his country, flexible and calm when a challenge arises. Dayron had the ability to gauge our interests, find the enexpected and just hang with us in a relaxed way. We learned a lot about Cuba and its culture from our time with Dayron. We were all sad when our trip was over!
Julia and Gerald S.
We really liked Dayron. He is very personable and worked hard to make sure his guests are taken care of. We were very happy with our accommodations and had very nice hosts. Dayron was also quite good at helping us make last minute changes when we decided we wanted to do something different. One thing I liked in particular about Dayron was that he has such a happy and easy-going personality. He was very attentive to our particular interests and needs and even stayed up late with us when we decided to go out late. It was very much fun and difinitely a wonderful experience we could not have gotten with a traditional group tour.
Now that we have had a couple of days to settle back in (eat eggs! Ha!) and really reflect on the incredible experiences we all shared, Charles, who made all the magic happen, has requested your feedback which would be greatly appreciated. SO if you could spare a few moments to give your thoughts on the trip, that would be wonderful.
We already informed him of how easy (and anti-climatic!) it was getting back into the US from Cuba – I get a harder time coming in from London! J…..And also how wonderful Dayron and Andres were.
New York City
Fernando is the youngster of the team.
He is 24 and a law student at the U Of Havana. It seems that he knows every one in Havana and has a smile that never quits. His English is the best. He has taught many of our guests why Cuba is so vibrant and such a great culture. He is our good friend.
Charles is that voice on the other end of your phone call. He has been in the hospitality business his working life. He has been offering travelers Wine Country experiences for years from both Napa and Sonoma California.
In 1999 his brother married a Cuban woman and so began his love with Cuba. With the opening of Cuba to american travelers he knew that there was a place for private custom experiences in Cuba. He does not like using the word "TOURS" because of his past challenging times with so called tours. He prefers no more people than "can fit into a taxi or small van"
Travel,food and friends are but three of his best passions in life. His goal with OUT IN CUBA to to make your time in Cuba...stress free and just full of the love of life!.
Dayron is our "Main Man in Havana". Here in his words......
In 2013 I got a degree in Advertising, Public Relations and Marketing at the University of Havana. After graduated, I began working as an Account Executive in the Advertising Agency of the Ministry of Tourism of Cuba, and simultaneously I started a business partnership with Yunior Crespo as a guide.
Both jobs allowed me to develop skills for conducting organized tours (historical, cultural, architectural, etc.) either for a single person, couples or groups of tourists in a wide range of locations throughout Cuba and informing visitors about heritage sites and attractions such as museums, art galleries, etc. I also improved my interpersonal communication skills as well as english as a second language.
During my time as a guide, I've had the chance to work with people from all over the world (Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, etc.) but mainly from North America (United States and Canada). I've also had the opportunity to work as a guide for different companies that bring groups of americans to Cuba.
At the present time, I'm partnering with the travel agency: "Out in Cuba", and they've chosen me as their guide in Cuba.
As a private guide, I've had the chance to visit and explore most of the interesting places in Cuba (Havana, Vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, etc...). Therefore, I'm able to provide my clients with a guiding service anywhere in the Island.
As I said before, being a guide allowed me to meet people from many countries, but mainly from Canada and the United States. Some of my very good friends nowadays are from the US. There's no doubt that there is a lot of great people in America with a lot of skills, knowledge and experience for sharing with cubans. I've experienced that cultural exchange personally. That's why I consider that cubans and americans becoming closer politically, economically and culturally is a very positive thing and I feel really proud to be part of it with my job. I can’t wait to pass on my knowledge and passion for Cuba to all the americans that, for sure, are about to come, ensuring they have the opportunity to experience the best my country has to offer in safety and comfort; and to promote friendly tourism with enthusiasm and in a way that connects with as many people as possible.
Nancy is a bon vivant 27 year old Visual Artist and Travel Host.
Her forte is Havana and Cuban art. She has shown many international travelers the vibrant art scene that Havana and Cuba has to offer. ART IS HER THING!
Here are some words from Andres.........
May 20,2018 Answers to Questions asked of a recent OUTINCUBA returnee...We think that O. and her friend liked our team...thank you O!
1. Growing up Cuba was never really on my radar because it was just always on the "forbidden" list. When Obama eased up on the travel restrictions I was very excited and knew a couple of people who had visited and loved it, but it seemed in the blink of an eye, there was a new administration and the rules changed again. But I was still very intrigued and decided to investigate what the new rules were to see if I could visit as well.
2. Making arrangements through an American contact was definitely comforting and made things easier. There was the huge convenience of being able to make payments before arriving since you don't have access to cash and credit cards as an American. And having an American contact that was familiar with our governments guidelines and rules was a big relief too. To have an expert help us navigate what we should be doing to comply was huge for us.
3. I had a lot of anxiety initially about making sure our trip would comply with U.S. guidelines. I started doing research on my own and while I got the overall feel for what I needed to do to comply with my travel category, there was still a level of uncertainty because it was all just so new to me. Having Charles explain the guidelines and confirm my own research conclusions made me feel confident that I was following the rules to travel to Cuba under my chosen category of Supporting the Cuban People.
4. I don't know if being in the Global Entry program made a difference , but when I returned to the States I was out of the airport in 5 minutes. No one asked me anything.
5. It was SO amazing to have a friendly face greet us at the airport. I admit we were a little nervous when we arrived just because the whole planning of the trip was so different than any other trip and we didn't quite know what to expect. So having someone there to welcome us and make us feel comfortable right away was priceless.
6. There are too many things to list. Havana is unbelievably beautiful so that alone was a treat but I think for us getting to know our guides, hearing their take on what daily life is like in general and for them in particular, was just the most beautiful part of the tours. We got to learn about a life that is quite different then what we are used to and yet there is always that common human thread- we all have the same dreams and desires and emotions no matter where we come from. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to meet and spend time with our guides in Havana. I was so impressed with their knowledge of the city, their openness and their warmth.
7. Well we had big dreams of going to a drag show but they all apparently start at 1am- no way that we old ladies were gonna be able to stay up that late! So we didn't really get to dance the night away but that was 100% fine for us . We had action packed beauty filled days and amazing dinners and a view of the sea from our casa with glasses of wine- so we were in heaven!
8. I would recommend doing some research on your own first so you can get a better idea of "can't miss" things that interest you. I would absolutely recommend once you have a general idea of what you would like to do to get in touch with a service like Out in Cuba to help you make your wish list come true as well as make sure you are complying with the U.S rules for your safety and peace of mind. Charles was very helpful with tips about Havana and really listened to what we wanted. And it translated seamlessly to our tours which was delightful.
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