Go Boldly: Six Unique Cuba Tours

Here are seven companies offering just that, tours that provide a unique lens through which to see Cuba.

Restrictions on travel to Cuba may have been loosened recently, but there are still so many rules about what American tour groups can and can’t do, it’s no surprise most of the itineraries are pretty similar. These educational, people-to-people trips are quickly creating a beaten path in the small, still-sort-of-off-limits Caribbean country. On most tours, you’ll go to a cigar factory, you’ll have dinner at a local family restaurant, and you’ll visit a colonial city. It’s not that these and other iconic activities aren’t interesting, it’s just that some travelers want something a little different.

Here are seven companies offering just that, tours that provide a unique lens through which to see Cuba:

Globus: Veteran tour provider Globus offers a boldly different itinerary with its Eastern Cuba’s Hidden Gems. Bypassing tour-group standards Havana and Trinidad, the trip focuses on less-visited cities and towns including Holguln, Baracoa, Gibrara, and Velasco. The itinerary includes a visit to a musical organ factory, a workshop with local fisherman, a stop in a local’s home, and a trip to a cocoa farm. The cost of the nine-day tour starts at $2,459 (land only).

BikeHike Adventures: Many Cubans travel by bike, making this nine-day cycling tour of Cuba a great opportunity to go at a local pace. The tour starts in Havana, then goes through rural villages, countryside, and colonial towns before ending back in Havana. In addition to cycling, there are cultural activities including salsa lessons, swimming, meals with locals, and free time to explore. The tour costs $2,499 per person (land only); there are no single supplement fees.

Latour: Latour’s Shalom Cuba delves into Cuba’s Jewish history and culture. The eight-night tour includes stops at Jewish community centers, libraries, schools, and cemeteries, as well as visits to synagogues and traditionally Jewish neighborhoods. Latour also offers an LGBT Cuba tour, with a focus on gay life and culture in Cuba. Shalom Cuba prices start at $4,299 and LGBT Cuba at $4,499 per person, including roundtrip airfare from Miami.

Times Journeys: The New York Times’ Times Journeys has teamed up with Academic Travel Abroad to offer a nine-day Cuba: The Time is Now tour with Times reporters and regional experts Anthony DePalma and James McKinley. The tour takes an in-depth look at the history, present, and future of Cuba, and is a good fit for visitors looking to delve into the economic and political issues that Cuba is facing. The nine-day tour starts at $6,495 (land only).

Natural Habitat Adventures: The Undiscovered Cuba tour has a nature focus, with access to biologists, scientists, and park rangers throughout the trip. Activities include touring Cienfuegos Botanical Garden, with its rare tropical specimens; birding in Zapata National Park, and visiting multiple UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The 12-day tour starts at $7,695 per person (land only).

Group IST: The eight-day Havana to Cienfuegos tour is actually a cruise that circumnavigates Cuba, stopping to explore coastal destinations including Havana, Maria La Gorda, Cayo Largo, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos. Nights are spent onboard, and some meals are served on the ship as well. Sailings start at $3,999 per person, including roundtrip airfare from Miami. 

Ocean Doctor: With its focus on scuba diving in the Gardens of the Queen—a marine park comprising 250 virgin coral and mangrove islands stretched over 75 miles of Caribbean waters—OceanDoctor’s Learning Adventures in Cuba offers a different take on the educational emphasis of the people-to-people tours allowed under the current economic embargo. The 11-night tour, which includes accommodations on either a live-aboard ship or a floating hotel, starts at $7,474 per person, and includes roundtrip airfare from Miami.

(Photo: Thinkstock)

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.

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