In Havana I joined a group of carpenters, plumbers and electricians for a game of…
Dammit. Of all the places on my bucket list, Cuba is WAY, WAY up there. Back in grad school one of my fellow students was doing his Ph.D on the impacts of tourism in Cuba and the lucky bastage was spending months at a time, for several years on end, in that rich, diverse and…to most of us at this point….mysterious Carribean island.
That was in the 1990s when travel to Cuba for most Americans was just not possible.
A lot has changed since then. Travel to Cuba is FINALLY now a possibility for Americans and the famed eco-tourism company International Expeditions is one of the few companies licensed to organize and lead travel to Cuba.
Today, International Expeditions announced a pretty impressive give away simply for signing up to learn more about their amazing Cuba offerings. Check it out.
For me of course there is always the allure of places that have been off limits for so long. But more than that Cuba fascinates me for the language, music, art, food and tropical wildlife.
Cuba is one of those places with an incredible history. For millennia before the Spanish, the islands was inhabited by a variety of Mesoamerican cultures – and then Columbus showed up. For hundreds of years Cuba was ruled by as one of the wealthiest of Spanish colonies, mainly because of sugar. People were imported as slaves or workers from all over the world. Still more came as privileged business people looking to make a fortune. All of these contributed to the unique melting pot that is today Cuba. For most of the 19th Century rebellions ran the length of the islands as Cubans increasingly pushed for independence. It was only during the Spanish-American War that Cuba broke from from Spain, officially declaring independence in 1902. The economic boom of the following decades was sadly shadowed by political corruption and a series of brutal dictatorships. Again, the people rebelled and overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Since then, Cuba has been ruled by the Communist Party while simultaneously suffering under a comprehensive American embargo. Since 2008 however, things have begun to change.
In a recent Green Global Travel interview with IE Expedition Leader Ana Maria Perez, a Cuban native pointed out that
“Tourism is not new in Cuba, and has specially flourished since the mid-1990s. Thus locals have grown accustomed to seeing and interacting with foreign visitors. Both the cultural exchange and the injection of cash into the local economy are aspects that Cubans welcome, with the green light from the government. The well-known history of the United States, the fact that a lot of Cubans have emigrated there over the years and this Cuban community abroad is not seen as evil anymore (like it was in the 80s), make it possible for an easy interaction between locals and American visitors. Everyone has heard of or has a relative who lives where you (an American visitor) live; or they want to know your intake about let’s say the unfortunate death of Robin Williams, so questions and communication flow. If you add to that the well-known reputation Americans have of spending money when they are on vacation and tipping well, then it’s even better.”
Some of the places in Cuba that I would love to see include the Valle De Los Ingenios or Valley of the Sugar Mills, an UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site populated by the decaying remnants of the wealth created by the sugar industray. While the impressive old estate houses are now decaying into history, the pictures I have seen of the place pull at my sense of history. Then there is the Zapata Peninsula, this one a UNESCO Biosphere Researve hosting nearly 1000 flora species, hundreds of bird species (including the world’s smallest hummingbird, the bee hummingbird!) as well as reptiles and mammals in abundant supply!
Ack. It is killing me! I want to go!
Again, Ana Maria Perez:
“Nature is particularly impressive in Cuba. When Cuba comes to mind, most people immediately think of music, culture, cigars, rum, vintage cars… But as we tour the island, away from Havana and the other cities, getting closer to the mountainous areas of Topes de Collantes in the Escambray Mountains, and the Zapata swamps, our guests start to realize that there’s much more to Cuba. The beauty and diversity of the bush, the fascinating endemic species of birds including the world’s smallest bird: the bee hummingbird which is slightly bigger than a bee and beats its wings an estimate 80 times per second; and the masterful ways in which our naturalist guides bring it all to life for our guests, help draw a broader picture and suddenly, another side of Cuba finds its way into your heart.“
International Expeditions has operated all over the world and continually ranks at the top of responsible tourism companies. International Expeditions was one of the founding members of The International Ecotourism Society, and has essentially had the same mission statement since they were founded in 1980:
“The purpose of International Expeditions is to stimulate an interest in, develop an understanding of, and create an appreciation for the great natural and cultural wonders of our Earth.”
The company was founded on the belief that those who feel a deep connection to an environment and its people are more compelled to preserve those wonders. I of course agree with this belief and continue to promote both Geotourism via this site and its very close relative ecotourism via my work with EcoAdventures Media.
Internation Expeditions continues to influence ecotourism standards and has been named among the Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth by National Geographic ADVENTURE and one of the World’s Best Tour Operators & Safari Outfitters by Travel + Leisure.
Register for the Giveaway!
So now, get the goodies.
International Expeditions wants YOU to know that travel to Cuba is now legal, safe and responsible. Simply by signing up for the email newsletter about their trips to Cuba you will be entered in a give away – and you don’t have to buy anything (of course you WILL want to buy a trip to Cuba once you read the itinerary….). Check it:
Grand Prize: $500 travel certificate & Gear Pack
2nd prize: Gear Pack valued at @$100 – two hats, two memory foam travel pillows, Eagle Creek packable daypack, luggage duffle, collapsible water bottle, daypack first aid kit
3rd-5th Prize: $100 Travel Gift Certificates
So go here and sign up to learn more about International Expeditions 2015 ecotourism travel to Cuba and to sign up for this cool giveaway! I did!
This post is sponsored by International Expeditions