Guest Blog: Meet the Cuba Expert
Eleven Cuba Questions for Almaz Journeys Founder Joe Sandillo
1. Tell us why we should travel to Cuba in less than 50 words.
Cuba is one of those places that offers a bit of everything – a vibrant arts scene, jaw dropping natural beauty, welcoming people and a rich and fascinating history being written before your eyes. There is so much more to Cuba than just classic 1950s cars, rum and cigars!
2. How can Americans visit Cuba legally?
There are 12 categories for legal Cuba travel authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury, including the most recent addition of people-to-people exchanges – our Havana Weekend and Taste of Cuba itineraries both fall in this category.
3. What most surprised you about Cuba?
There is a real sense of community that exceeded even what I expected to find after more than 50 years of the U.S. trade embargo. You can see and feel the many ways Cubans work together to help each other, and I am also constantly impressed (and delighted!) with how much more Cubans look you in the eye and really talk to you.
4.What’s your favorite aspect of travel to Cuba?
More so than almost anywhere else I’ve been, Cuba’s people are the main attraction. Their resolve, their ingenuity, their warmth, and their sense of humor all are impossible to not notice.
5. Where do you like to stay in Havana?
I always prefer the renovated, private villas or apartments in Havana, especially for a family or small group of friends. Compared to the top hotels, these often are the best value with far better service and food, not to mention the possibilities for personalizing your experience. Why fight for a spot at a hotel bar when we can bring in a bartender and organize private salsa lessons poolside at your villa one evening?
6. What was your best meal on your last trip to Cuba?
The dinner of shrimp in coconut sauce and grilled octopus we had at a shack on the beach, along the road to Baracoa in eastern Cuba. I only wish I’d had my phone with me to have snapped a picture of the food, as well as our host Victor and his family.
7. What are 3 things everyone should do while in Cuba?
1. Visit the gallery of a young artist, to get a taste of the tremendous creative energy in Cuba. 2. Roll and then sample your own cigar – in Viñales, they dip them in honey! 3. Don’t check your email – the internet is still rather slow, anyway, and you’ll make far better use of your time looking around and taking everything in.
8. If you had only a week to travel to Cuba, where would you go?
9. And if you had two weeks?
I would add in Santiago and Baracoa, on the eastern tip of Cuba. You’ve got amazing national parks near Baracoa, and Santiago is the heart of Afro-Cuban culture with an incredible musical tradition.
10. Most important things to take with you?
Patience and an open mind – with these, you’re guaranteed one of the most enriching travel experiences you’ll ever have.
11. Last but by no means least – what’s your favorite spot for a drink in Havana?
There are some great bars and rooftops now, but nothing beats sipping some aged rum on the malecón along with the locals in Havana!