We took a Cuba tour with Access Culinary Trips. At the time we went the laws for visitors from the US had recently opened up a bit. At the time of this writing they have recently closed up a bit. Here is the information about the current regulations for visiting Cuba.
Although the laws are always changing, Access Culinary Trips has legal and licensed tours for those of us from the United States to experience the cuisine and the people of Cuba.
My husband and I typically travel independently. In fact, we had never been on a tour before this! However, we weren’t keen on going to Cuba on our own. I did a lot of research and we selected Access culinary trips for our visit to Cuba.
Why did we select Access Culinary Trips for our Cuba tour?
- Access Culinary Trips has an impeccable reputation.
- We love food and cooking and this was a food tour to Cuba.
- Access Culinary trips are small and personal so that you don’t get lost in the crowd. Their Cuba tour has a maximum of 10 people in the group.
- Their tours are immersive and employ local guides.
- They have won awards for their trips so you know that quality is important to them.
- Because of the small size you are able to have unique experiences that you could never have in with a large group.
When I think of all the places we have gone, this visit to Cuba stands out in my mind as one of the best! It was educational and fascinating. We enjoyed being with our wonderful guide and driver and fellow group members. Best of all the experiences truly allowed us to interact with the local people. I highly recommend Access Culinary Trips for your tour to Cuba!
General information about travel to Cuba with Access Culinary Trips:
Be aware that this is not an all inclusive list of every single thing that you need to know about traveling independently to Cuba. Because we traveled with a tour we had help in gathering and preparing all the necessary paperwork.
Documents and information for travel:
- You will need a Visa to travel to Cuba
- There are certain categories under which guests from the US are allowed to travel to Cuba and tourism is NOT one of them.
- Access trips currently uses the Support For the Cuban People category.
- Access trips has a travel agent that can help you with all required documentation.
- You will be able to book your own flight to Cuba.
- Trip insurance will be required including trip cancellation insurance. Check all the details regarding insurance on the Access trips website in the FAQ section.
- You must bring all the cash that you need for the entire trip as those of us from the US still cannot use our credit and debit cards in Cuba.
- It was suggested that we use Euros to exchange as there are taxes and fees when exchanging US dollars that you won’t have when exchanging other types of currency. Access trips will be able to advise you further on this.
- Cuba uses two types of currency. The Cuban Peso or CUP is the local currency, but tourists will mostly use the Convertible Peso or CUC.
- The CUC is pegged to the US Dollar at an exact 1 to 1 exchange rate.
- Be aware that the Cuban peso or local currency has much less value than the CUC. At this moment the exchange rate is 1 CUP → 0.03774 USD. This changes frequently so you will need to double check before your trip to Cuba.
- Our guide with Access Travel took us to an exchange office upon our arrival in Havana to exchange our Euros into the CUC. It was a quick and easy process.
Cell Phones and Wifi
- Check before you go to receive the most recent information about cell phone use in Cuba as the telecommunications market there is changing rapidly. Most US carriers still do not have roaming agreements with carriers in Cuba. Do not expect to be able to easily use your phone.
- What about wifi? There are some wifi hotspots. But in general you will not find easy access to wifi and the internet is slow. Once again this is an area where Cuba is always in flux so ask your guide for more information.
- Cuba is one of the safest of the Caribbean countries and violent crime is extremely rare.
- Although there are certainly issues between our governments, we found the Cuban people to be extremely warm and welcoming to those of us from the US. Remember that many, if not most, Cubans have relatives that live in the USA.
- Not only is Cuba typically a safe country, but your safety is a priority with Access trips. We never felt the slightest bit uncomfortable while there.
- Accommodation choices in Cuba are government hotels and resorts or Casas Particulares.
- A casa particular is a private home that has been given permission by the Cuban government to rent out guest rooms.
- Hotels are either owned by the Cuban government or jointly owned by the Cuban government and foreign companies. From what I learned from my research there are no 100% foreign owned hotels in Cuba and no privately owned hotels in Cuba.
- As of 2017 Americans are no longer allowed to stay many of the government owned Cuban hotels. There is a list of approximately 80 hotels that are off limits to American visitors.
- Casas Particulares are typically a great value and range from basic to luxurious. They are a great way to interact with the Cuban people as well as inject some needed financial help directly to a Cuban family. I highly recommend staying in one if you are touring Cuba independently.
- When traveling with Access culinary trips you will be staying in Casas Particulares.
- The places we stayed were very clean and had air-conditioning and ensuite bathrooms. The Casa in Havana was quite luxurious with a pool and bar. The one in Trinidad was more simple, but still very livable and spotless.
Restaurants and food in Cuba
You learn about the soul of a people when you eat their cuisine. Food is a part of who we are. It is memories. It is warmth. It is family. It is tradition. It is community. it is creativity. It is artistry. It is identity. I believe that you can’t really understand a culture without understanding their food and this is what your Access culinary trip is really all about, learning about the Cuban people through the food of the country.
- In Cuba there are government owned restaurants as well as Paladares.
- Paladares are privately owned (though state sanctioned) restaurants. They are often in someone’s home.
- Most people believe that the government run restaurants tend to serve food that is less innovative and more bland. Although, as with everything, there are some exceptions to this rule.
- Currently there is a list of government owned restaurants that Americans are not allowed to patronize. I have no idea how, if at all, this is being regulated.
- On your Access Culinary trip you will eat at Paladares as well as have meals in private homes.
- There is a burgeoning organic farm and food scene in Cuba. On your Cuba tour with Access Culinary Trips you will explore some organic farms.
- The food of Cuba is a mix of Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences. It is not spicy! Beans and rice are a staple. It is also a cuisine that was and is still created in part from deprivation. As certain items became difficult to obtain chefs must continuously adapt their recipes and menu choices.
- While on your Access Culinary trip your breakfast will be provided by your Casa Particular.
- We were advised not to drink the water in Cuba, so we did drink bottled water. However we did eat salads, and have our share of frozen drinks and none of us got sick.
The Itinerary for our Cuba Tour with Access Culinary Trips
- We spent 5 nights in Havana and 2 nights in Trinidad.
- Although we were in Havana for 5 nights much of our time was spent taking day trips from the city to other areas of Cuba.
- Because of the restrictions that Cuba has on tourists from the US the schedule will be fairly full. The laws state that those visiting under the category of Support for the Cuban People must have a full-time schedule of activities resulting in meaningful interactions between American travelers and the Cuban people.
- Your itinerary with Access Culinary trips will support Cuban entrepreneurship. You can feel good knowing that you are helping the average Cuban citizen.
- I have written a detailed post about everything we did while on our tour of Cuba with Access Culinary Trips.
How We Got Around
We traveled everywhere in Leonardo’s classic Chevy! It was spacious for the 6 of us and had air-conditioning. He keeps his vehicle in immaculate condition and Pototo always had bottled water for us to drink while we were on our longer travel days. Read more about the classic cars in Cuba here!
What We Liked About our Cuba Tour with Access Culinary Trips
I have nothing negative to say about our trip! Here is a list of some of the reasons that I am glad that we choose to visit Cuba with a tour as well as why I’m glad that we selected Access Culinary Trips specifically.
- Not having to worry about transportation. We loved riding in Leonardo’s vehicle and knowing that he would get us where we were going safely. I have read that transportation can be an issue in Cuba as the bus routes can fill up quickly and you will need to schedule in advance. I have also heard stories about taxis breaking down and that it is just generally difficult to get around outside of Havana.
- The size of the tour. There were only 4 of us! The maximum would have been 10. This enabled us to have amazingly personal experiences with locals that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
- Although it was a full schedule we never felt rushed. There was always time to ask questions or stop and have a coffee.
- The days were well planned. The schedule was busier in the beginning of the week when you had more energy and became more relaxed as the days went on.
- We really enjoyed the places that we stayed. It was nice to be able to visit with our hosts. We were always very comfortable with air-conditioning and our own bathrooms.
- Pototo was an excellent guide and Leonardo was an excellent driver and we enjoyed getting to know them tremendously.
- We never felt as if we couldn’t ask questions about anything – even the most difficult topics. Obviously there are issues between the governments of our countries but we felt that we were able to discuss things openly.
- Along the same lines we never felt that anything was being covered up or whitewashed over. There was real conversation about the hardships of the Cuban people beyond what we could see with our own eyes.
- We visited the typical touristy places such as the Floridita, and Fusterlandia, but we also had experiences that the average tourist would never have. We were guests for dinner in Pototo’s Havana home, we ate an organic farm to table meal at the young farmer’s house and pushed back the furniture and danced salsa in the apartment of a young local.
This trip to Cuba changed me in ways that are hard to put into words. I tried to do so here if you are interested in reading some of my more personal thoughts and feelings.
If you are interested in the details of what we did on our itinerary or for help to plan your own trip to Cuba, here is another post that will not only tell you what all we did, but also give you a ton of information about things you can do on your own visit to Cuba.
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