Few destinations are currently generating as much interest for American travelers as Cuba—one of the reasons it appears on Fodor’s Go List 2016—and it’s easier now to make a visit to the island than it has been in decades. That being said, we don’t recommend trying to navigate the country on your own. Instead, book a tour through a licensed operator; it’s not only the easiest way for U.S. visitors to see Cuba, it’s also the best. The top operators provide “people-to-people” itineraries that fulfill one of the U.S. government’s twelve approved categories that allows Americans to visit the island: educational travel. To help you out, we’ve selected eight outstanding tours from our favorite operators in Cuba. (Note that these tours are becoming more and more popular, and booking up farther in advance, so plan accordingly.) No matter where your interests lie, you’ll have eye-opening experiences on these immersive journeys that provide intimate access to the Cuban people and their extraordinary culture.
Access’s specialty is exploring culture through cuisine, and food is one of the things that visitors to Cuba are most excited about. Their Cuba Culinary Tour (eight days, from $3490) includes cooking lessons, cocktail classes, farm and market visits, opportunities to cook with local chefs, a stop at a small rum factory, and more. Flights are not included. The group size is limited to ten per tour, so everyone has a chance to get hands-on experience in making ropa vieja, grilled fish, and Hemingway-style daiquiris in Havana, Trinidad, and Valle de Viñales.
Cultural Explorations Cuba
Cultural Explorations offers weeklong tours of the island with a wide variety of themes, but their strongest suits are Cuban art, churches, Judaism, cuisine, and LGBT issues. Their popular Journey Cuba tour (seven days, from $3,599) includes time in Havana, the countryside, Santa Maria, and Santa Clara; another popular option is Havana Art (from $3,995), a five-day tour that dives deep into the capital’s art scene. On other tours, Cultural Explorations also makes stops in Cienfuegos, Playa Girón, and Trinidad.
D-Rod Culinary Adventures
Second-generation Cuban-American chef Douglas Rodriguez, who helms Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, has been leading culinary-themed tours to Cuba since 2014. Markets, farms, field, and ports are all part of the itinerary, as the chef shows you how to pick the best fish and produce of the day. Rodriguez’s tours go to Havana, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Varadero, and his most popular offering is the seven-day Art, Food, & Culture of Cuba tour (from $4,995).
Insight pioneered the people-to-people concept—they’ve been leading trips since 2000—and are one of the few tour operators in the world that focus strictly on Cuba. They offer a half-dozen general tours (one to two weeks in length) that cover the entire island or sectors of it; they also offer an impressive selection of specialty tours, which explore single themes such as Cuban jazz, baseball, or vintage cars. They can also customize tours for groups, within the bounds of the people-to-people requirement. Destinations covered include Havana, Baracoa, Bayamo, Camagüey, Cayo Santa Maria, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Las Terrazas, Pinar del Río, Remedios, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, and Valle de Viñales. Two popular packages are Classic Cuba (nine days, from $4,695) and Undiscovered Cuba (thirteen days, from $5,595).
The highly regarded tours offered by Road Scholar focus on travel as a crucial component of lifelong learning, which is why expert lectures and panel discussions both factor into their itineraries. The operator offers island-wide tours that can last as long as three weeks, but in the mix are also shorter that focus on photography, family activities, and home stays in casa particulares. Cuba Today: People and Society (nine days, from $3,595) focuses on locals and their cultural heritage, while Cuba by Land and Sea (fourteen days, from $4,998) takes guests on a cruise around the island, with stops to explore cities, coastal towns, remote beaches, and the lush interior.
For more ideas on what to do in Cuba, watch the video below.