Many an American has been practicing the salsa and merengue lately. That's because, for the first time in 50 years, US citizens are once again able to travel to Cuba. And, while they still are not able to visit the island nation on their own, educational, “people-to-people” expeditions—such as those offered by Zegrahm—provide travelers the chance to engage with locals while experiencing the country's distinctive character before it changes.
For those who wish to heed Cuba's sensual call, our new travel guide, Cuba: A Guide for the Expedition Traveler, provides a look inside the history and culture of this enigmatic Caribbean island, as well as its wealth of heritage and natural attractions including nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The entire old city of Havana was granted status, and its lively streets seem frozen in 1960 from when the US embargo was first put in place. The city's Museum of the Revolution, housed in the Tiffany & Co.-designed palace of the former dictator Fulgencio Batista, explores the Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban Missile Crisis from Cuban eyes.
Just outside the city visitors will find Ernest Hemingway's former home, Finca Vigía, which is now a museum housing the belongings of beloved “Papa,” including Picassos and thousands of books. As for that sultry rhythm, music is central to Cuba's culture and heard everywhere including Café Taberna, where the legendary Buena Vista Social Club regularly performs. Expedition participants experience a live performance, arriving in authentic style via a “Yank tank” or vintage American car.
That musical group brought worldwide attention to the son genre, created in the streets of Santiago de Cuba. This colonial cultural capital is best known for its Morro Castle, considered a masterpiece of Spanish-American military architecture. Other Heritage-designated cities include French-founded Cienfuegos, the “Pearl of the South,” and red-tiled Trinidad with itsroaming troubadours. Adjacent lies the Valle de los Ingenios and the remains of more than 70 former sugar plantations.
Bereft of tourism over the past half-century, Cuba's natural attractions remain pristine for now. They include a diverse, 1,000-square-mile-long coral reef system and the Zapata Swamp, the largest wetlands in the entire Caribbean and home to 1,000 plant species alone. (Among its 170 species of birds is the bee hummingbird, the smallest on earth.)
Cuba: A Guide for the Expedition Traveler also includes practical information such as currency exchange, as well as insight into Cuba's typical dishes—most likely served with a side of black beans and rice, colorfully known as moros y cristianos (“Moors and Christians”). You can download a copy of the guide here.