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Austin-Lehman Adventures (ALA) has announced it will host cultural/educational adventures to Cuba beginning in early 2012. The company has received a license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Affairs to promote cross-cultural, people-to-people contact through guided tours in Cuba.
Christopher Baker, the author of six books on Cuba, worked hand-in-hand with ALA to create an itinerary exclusive to the tour operator. Baker will lead many of the set tour departures himself along with other recognized experts in Cuba lifestyle and culture.
“Because most Americans have been prevented from visiting Cuba since the U.S. embargo in the 1960s, we are extremely curious about our neighbor just 90 miles to the south of Key West, Fla.,” said Dan Austin, founder and director of ALA. “Our license will allow us to finally lift the veil and rediscover this destination that’s been off-limits to Americans the past 50 years.”
According to Austin, Cuba is a natural addition to the company’s portfolio.
“Cuba fits well with our core goals of exotic/desirable destinations, easy access from the U.S., lots of activities, a distinct and colorful culture, a friendly and welcoming host population and opportunities to immerse travelers in authentic Cuban life including world-renowned music, cuisine, art and dance,” said Austin.
An example of the kind of itinerary offered by ALA is the company’s 10-day The Real Cuba program. A hallmark of the program is the chance to meet Baker’s friends in Cuba for an up-close-and-personal look at daily life in there.
The tour is priced at $4,998 per person, double occupancy (plus charter air from Miami), and ALA pays a 10 percent commission to travel agents. Maximum group size is 12, with two guides.
The 10-day program begins in Havana with accommodations at Hotel Iberostar Parque Central. Highlights include touring Old Havana, dining with Baker’s Cuban friends, visits to community projects such as colonial mansions turned into rehabilitation centers, maternity clinics and schoolrooms, as well as visits to private homes to see the conditions under which ordinary Cubans live. Participants will also travel to the Flores district to visit Casa-Estudio de Fuster, the studio-home of Jose Fuster, often called the “Picasso of the Caribbean.” The evening features traditional bolero and other musical forms at Gato Tuerto, a nightclub.
The group will also travel to Vinales, where they will visit a private finca (estate) of the late and legendary tobacco farmer, Alejandro Robaina. Visitors will meet Robaina’s son and workers to learn about tobacco growing, cigar production and the daily life of tobacco farmers. The group will have lunch at the estate and then continue to their hotel, Los Jazmines, perched atop a mogote (a dramatic limestone formation) overlooking the Vinales Valley. In the afternoon, clients can explore the colonial village of Vinales and dine at Casa de Don Tomas, a charming historic eatery where troubadours perform traditional Cuban country music.
On the fifth day, the group will travel to Las Terrazas, a post-revolution model rural eco-sustainable community built around a lake. Among the places the group will visit are a women’s artisan cooperative and a colonial-era coffee plantation.
The group transfers to Trinidad on Day 6 and 7. Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most impressive of Cuba’s colonial cities. An optional nighttime tour takes in one our more of the city’s cultural clubs to learn about Afro-Cuban music and dance. The next day the group boards a 1906 steam train to visit the Valle de Los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), with lunch at Hacienda Iznaga, a former slave plantation where the group learns about the roles of sugar and slavery in Cuba’s history. Returning to Trinidad, they’ll be introduced to a babalawo (high priest) to learn about the santeria religion. Overnights in Trinidad are at the Hotel Iberostar Gran Trinidad.
Before departing, the group returns to Havana via the old colonial city of Sancti Spiritus and the industrial-university city of Santa Clara, where a local historian educates the group about Che Guevara and the battles that he led here. Groups will also have the chance to meet Eduardo Monsejo, director of the Museo de Automoviles (the Car Museum) and members of the Club de Autos Clasicos de Cuba. Together, they journey to the Museo Hemingway in classic prerevolutionary cars.
Arriving at Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s former home, Ada Rosa, director of the Museo Hemingway, will educate the group about the Cuban perspective on Hemingway, his associations with the isle and the difficulties of restoring and maintaining his former home. The group will then return to Havana stopping at the El Morro Castle and the Fortaleza de la Cabana fortress. The last night includes a farewell dinner at La Casa, one of Havana’s finest paladares (private family restaurants).
On Day 10 the group departs Havana for the return chartered flight back to the USA.