Photo By: Courtesy of Chamber explorations
Colorful American cars from the 1940s are parked in front of El Capitolio, Havana’s former seat of government. The Los Altos Chamber of Commerce has planned a guided tour of Cuba in the fall.
Move over, Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
The Los Altos Chamber of Commerce plans to shepherd 30-60 local residents on a U.S. Treasury Department-sanctioned visit to Havana, Cuba, Oct. 31 to Nov. 7.
From a tour of pedestrians-only Old Havana, a 500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, to landmarks including the former state capitol El Capitolio and famed author Ernest Hemingway’s “Finca Vigía,” or Lookout Farm, the eight-day trip will spotlight the island’s music, art and history.
Hemingway lived in Cuba for 20 years, writing “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Islands in the Stream” there in the 1940s and ’50s.
Before the Fidel Castro-led Cuban Revolution, which began in 1953, crime bosses ruled the Caribbean nation and operated nightclubs like the Tropicana, where the rich and the famous came to wine and dine. The chamber tour will stop at the Tropicana for an evening of 1950s-era music and glamour. Shades of Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy” reruns.
The Los Altos group will also visit a second UNESCO site, the Viñales Valley in the western province of Pinar del Río, a landscape of flat-top mountains, tobacco plantations, caves and rivers.
During a guided tour of the Francisco Donatien Cigar Factory, travelers can meet with factory workers and learn the history of fine Cuban cigars. The factory produces Cohiba and Monte Cristo cigars.
A subsequent stop at a traditional, family-owned tobacco farm and farmhouse offers cultivation, drying and cigar-rolling demonstrations. The family serves Cuban coffee in the rural setting, according to tour operators.
• Plaza de la Revolución, where Castro rallied his people.
• Bocoy Rum Factory, established in 1878. Docents will discuss Cuba’s rum industry.
• Colon Cemetery, named for Christopher Columbus, established in 1876. The site includes elaborate memorials and 500 mausoleums and chapels.
• Museo de la Revolución, which holds artifacts from the revolution and the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
• Museo de Guanabacoa of Santeria Orishas, which features exhibits on Santeria Afro-Cuban culture, a sugar-cane machine and an early-1900s Cadillac.
The U.S. government restricts tourists from traveling to Cuba but offers some groups and individuals government-sanctioned licenses that allow access. Those traveling to Cuba must be licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which authorizes legal travel. The Cuban government requires visitors to keep logs listing their transactions and the places they’ve visited.
Tour operator Premier World Discovery/Chamber Explorations has accompanied 3,000 visitors to the communist country in the past year, said Los Altos Chamber of Commerce President Julie Rose.
Two years ago, the Los Altos Chamber sponsored a trip to China.
“Travel is a good source of fundraising for us, and we have a target audience,” she said.
According to Rose, people travel in guided groups to places they can’t easily go on their own. Last year, for example, the Chamber canceled a trip to Ireland due to lack of interest. Rose speculated that tourists can get there without a group.
“We initially were interested in Cuba because travelers can’t really go alone,” she said. “It’s forbidden fruit.”
Rose said a recent informational meeting on the Cuba trip drew at least 30 people, and most have signed up for the trip.
“I’ve been told by others who have been to Cuba that it’s a fabulous destination because of the scenery and music,” she said. “There’s also a lot of interaction with local people.”
Rose said she’s especially looking forward to the paladares, dinners held in Cubans’ homes. Cuban cuisine fuses African, Caribbean and Spanish culinary styles.
It’s also a great time to go “while it’s still the way it is” – uncommercialized, Rose said. Even in China, she added, the travelers saw Kentucky Fried Chicken and other American chains, which don’t exist in Cuba.
The trip costs $3,599 double occupancy; $450 single supplement. The cost includes round-trip airfare from Miami, hotels, meals, visa and travel insurance, tours, admissions and more.
To download a brochure, visit www.losaltoschamber.org/pdf/cuba-trip2013.pdf.