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Cuba Tour Companies

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We are looking at tours going to Cuba and are deciding between GeoEx and InSight. Has anyone traveled with either of these tour companies? We usually travel independently, so this is our first experience at going with a tour group, and we are hesitating to decide! Any input would be helpful!
Thanks,

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    Hi Jodes, I have traveled to Cuba many times over the last 15 years. I know the country and I love it. I have not traveled with these two specific groups, but I know pretty much how all American groups work in Cuba.

    Either group you choose will follow a specific agenda and you will be kept busy from morning until night. GeoEx is significantly more expensive (about $1000 more, but there are benefits to this company Insight has much larger groups (24) and do not stay in the best hotels . They say they stay in a 5* (Cohiba melia), but the location, in my opinion, is just awful--its in Vedado--which is a perfectly nice residential place, but not if you are a tourist on foot.

    GeoEx stays that the Saratoga or the Park Central Hotel (my favorite). The nicest thing about these hotels is that they literally touch Old Havana on one side and the Prado on the other---and a short walk gets you to the nicest part of the Malecon. You can go strolling by yourself in the early morning, afternoon and evening without needing a cab. To me, the nicest thing about Old/Central Havana are walking around in the morning when things are just getting started and the light is gorgeous. Thus, staying at one of the hotels around Central Park is great. (a less expensive option with great location is the Telegrapho Hotel on Central Park. )

    Every trip is pretty similar. Look for one that stays in a hotel near Old Havana and you go out to dinner at Paladares rather than the state run restaurants. I would also look for a trip that had no more than 15 people.

    There are countless groups going to Cuba. Look further than those two.

    Either group will do a good job. It's my perference to go smaller and stay at the Park Central, but others will have a much different view. The best thing to do would be to stay at a Casa particular (there are gorgeous ones now), but you would not be able to do that with these groups.

    NB: when comparing tour prices, sometimes groups look cheaper, but it is only because they aren't including round trip air from MIA to Havana, visa etc. (see Insight "not covered" section). Other companies include them.

    A friend of mine who organizes photo tour to Cuba, uses Cuba Educational Tours. She could not speak highly enough about this company. http://www.cubaeducationaltravel.com/travel.html This group also does general tours through their website. There are a number of them listed. I noticed in havana they use the newly renovated Capri Hotel (Mobster Sam Trafficante's "joint" in the '50's) It just reopened last year. Great bar. It's about a block away from the Hotel National. I've been the the pool bar on the roof, I haven't seen the rooms, but it's new, so unlike the over rated Hotel National the bathrooms will all work.

    You will love Cuba. You have lots of choices including just going through Mexico. However, if you want to go legally, look around. the costs for the same trip vary widely. Decide what kind of hotel you want to stay in and the size of the group. Everything else will pretty much be the same.

    I'm sure others will have good suggestions. Have fun!

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    I went with RoadScholar and it was great. But, from what I observed and read, since the Cuban government tourist Office takes over when you get to Cuba, the tour company doesn't really matter too much. BTW, RoadScholar offers a number of different Cuba Tours.

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    I'd advise that you check out http://www.authenticubatours.com as well as www.http://cubaexplorer.com. Both are based in Canada and have tours for US citizens. The costs are lower than Insight as well as the other one alluded to, and what's offered is definitely above average.

    I went with the latter company in March of 2015; our program was enriching; our guide superb, and fortunate for all, the group size was 14. And as for as the tour itself and all of its components, the only downside was the limited time that we could spend in Cuba. But, three in the group stayed a week longer, and a couple (man and wife) arrived a week prior and traveled independently. I was in awe of them because I'd wanted to stay longer but could not. Think it involved what license one traveled under and when one booked. But, in looking ahead, I am so "stoked" that I plan to return via the first tour company in December for Habana's 31st International Jazz Fest; I like the itinerary and other offerings, and since I've been there, I'll be able to forego those places in Habana where I've previously been and go to other culturally-related venues on my own which are not included. Am looking forward to my third visit!

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    Since Eddwarm had such a good experience with Cuba Explorer, I wanted to share my experience for a different perspective on this company.
    My wife and I went to Havana for the Jazz Festival in December 2015. As all of the jazz tours were already sold out, we contacted cubaexplorer.com to arrange a private tour for us together with Jazz Festival passes. As we could not find another way to get festival passes in advance and wanted touring days, we agreed to pay Cuba Explorer US $1400 for 2 and ¾ days of touring with a private guide and driver, including 3 lunches, jazz festival passes and airport transfers. This price did not include the hotel, which we booked ourselves.
    Cuba Explorer provided us with a “guide” who had extremely poor English, with very limited vocabulary and often incomprehensible pronunciation. Furthermore, we are convinced that she was not a real trained guide, but probably someone’s friend making a bit of extra money. She gave us virtually no history of any of the sites we visited, a typical complete explanation being along the lines of, “this building was named after two sisters important to the revolution”. She even gave us “facts” that made no sense, such as “this building is post-revolution colonial”. She didn’t know facts that any real guide would know, such as the population of Havana. Further, she admitted to not having previously visited popular tourist sites such as the Hemingway house in many years.
    While we visited many sites, we learned almost none of the history of Cuba and that was a huge disappointment. When I emailed the company email address as well as Carlos, the Cuba Explorer contact in Cuba and the one who had put together our tour, he denied that she wasn’t a guide. Neither he nor any other company representative responded to my polite follow-up email either. I would never trust this company and having done my research on them following my trip I've learned that others have had bad experiences as well.

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    You probably already went on your trip, but I can't recommend Pototo's Tourist Services enough. We just returned from Cuba and went with another couple, and Pototo set up everything for us...casa particulars, full time driver with sweet '52 Chevy, full time English-speaking tour guide who was SO awesome, 2 meals per day and a full list of activities/trips. It is private, so you kind of tell them what you like and are in to and they will plan everything. It was THE way to do Cuba: you get awesome insight and information from locals, without being stuck on tour buses with a million other tourists. It was awesome. A trip I will never forget!

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    << The nicest thing about these hotels is that they literally touch Old Havana on one side and the Prado on the other---and a short walk gets you to the nicest part of the Malecon. You can go strolling by yourself in the early morning, afternoon and evening without needing a cab. To me, the nicest thing about Old/Central Havana are walking around in the morning when things are just getting started and the light is gorgeous. Thus, staying at one of the hotels around Central Park is great. >>

    I agree that this is probably the best option; we spent 4 nights in a casa in Vedado which was good, but meant we had to take taxis into the centre of town every day; at the end of our trip we had 2 nights in Havana Vieja which was much more convenient.

    <<I've been the the pool bar on the roof, I haven't seen the rooms, but it's new, so unlike the over rated Hotel National the bathrooms will all work. >>

    just to follow up on this, some Aussie friends we made in Cuba popped into the Nazionale for a drink and by mistake opened a cupboard to discover a huge bag full of used toilet paper which had obviously been collected from the toilets but not disposed of.

    it certainly put me off going in, let alone staying there.

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    On my RoadScholar trip we spent the first few days in Havana in The Nationale....I loved it! Any small problems I had with the room were quickly resolved and my room and bathroom were very clean. (it did take two flushes of the toilet)...sitting on their beautiful landscaped lawn was lovely. They offered a huge breakfast buffet.

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