I just returned from Zoom Vacations tour to Cuba over New Years and here are my latest take-aways:
1. It is always a special place to ring in the New Year because it reminds me of the many things that I am grateful for, such as: things that work, transparency, access to whatever I want whenever I want it, high speed internet, the list goes on. Now, just so I am clear, on Zoom Cuba the experience is as seamless as it gets in Cuba. So much so that sometimes I forget that my experience is not the same in terms of comfort, as what the average Cuban is used to. Having unlimited cold bottled water on our tour bus is a little miracle.
2. All details have to be planned far in advance to prevent having to go "a lo Cubano" or the Cuban way. Still, for any world traveler, last minute changes - like an artist forgetting to show up at his scheduled appointment, or a restaurant menu change - are nothing new and you go with the flow and on to plan B.
3. Cuba is also not as cheap for Americans as one would expect. Especially if you consider what things go for in the local currency, the Cuban Peso (CUP), which is different than what tourists are allowed to use, the Cuban Convertible (CUC). It goes without saying that in Cuba you get what you pay for, even if what you pay for may seem like a lot for what you get. It's all relative. But if you consider that tourist pricing is calculated to support a wider infrastructure than one can see, then it all starts making sense. In other words, to make a travel experience to Cuba comfortable it takes a lot of resources. If you try to piece together the cost of what you get based on your perceived value, things will never add up. But when you consider all the resources that it takes to deliver that experience, and most importantly, when one focuses on the actual experience then it will all be worth it. It’s good to know that your tourist dollars are helping a lot of Cuban people, not just the ones you come into contact.
4. Traveling to Cuba is very political. It has become easier to get there under the Obama administration than it was under the Bush years. However, a future Tweet will tell what travel to Cuba will look like under Trump. So, best to go now before things change.
5. Preparation is key. Having just returned from Cuba I am reminded of how important it is to research, do your due diligence, and work with the right people in Cuba in order to achieve your goals and meet expectations. Travelers on our recent group to Cuba had an amazing time and without a doubt everyone was amazed by one thing or another. In fact, everyone's ideas of Cuba changed while on the trip, for the better in most instances. Zoom has an amazing local team that works tirelessly to make every trip a success.
6. Cuban has always been and still is a land of contradictions. The average government salary is $30 a month and yet "luxury" travelers shell out well over $500 a night for a room that may go for less elsewhere. It's all relative.
7. It's all about access. In a country like Cuba with limited resources, the best things will naturally go to those that have the right access to faster service, higher quality hotels, buses, meals, guides, etc.
8. Enjoy the moment. You're in Cuba. Yes, the service is sometimes as slow as the internet, but people are friendly, the sun is shining and the fact that there is a glitch in the plans or something is not as one would expect does not mean that the locals are not trying hard to make you happy. On the contrary, they do the best with what they have. Which in most cases is a lot less than we have.
9. In a world that is increasingly modern, with centuries-old buildings being ripped down, to make way for something new, seeing the stunning older buildings and cars in Cuba is truly a feast for the eyes.
10. There are few places where you can see the resiliency and love of the human spirit as you do in Cuba.