House of Travel, a Signature Travel Network affiliate that has served high-end travelers for three decades, was ahead of the game in Cuba. “Cuba was a very popular destination before it opened for the U.S. market, receiving charter flights from other parts of the world daily,” says Ernesto Ruben, House of Travel’s director of social media and product development. “We understood it was going to be the next cool destination for the U.S. market, so we sent four team members there to get first-hand experience and local intel.”
A prescient decision, because the fact that U.S. citizens may now take people-to-people trips without being part of a group does not mean that it is easy for them to arrange such trips. That’s where House of Travel comes in: In addition to booking Cuba trips arranged by tour operators, this agency can create people-to-people itineraries for individuals, couples, and families who don’t want to graze with the herd. “We work with wholesalers that specialize in Cuba. They also offer the charter flights,” explains Ruben. “The wholesalers give us net prices, not commission, on the land part of the package.”
In addition to arranging accommodations, transfers, tours and visas to Cuba, House of Travel prepares its go-alone clients with recommendations, including the following tips:
- Buy travel insurance (Actually, that’s more of a necessity than a tip.)
- Hire a guide for at least one day to gain perspective and get oriented
- U.S. credit cards are still not permitted, so exchange money at the airport or hotels—and do so only as needed, because Americans won’t be able to exchange Cuban currency back to U.S. dollars
- Be prepared for minimal access to the Internet
- Tip people; this will work miracles
- Take hotel rating with a grain of salt. A four-star hotel in Cuba might be be a two- or three-star in the U.S.
- Stay in a Casa Particular, a Cuban B&B, to experience local culture
- Similarly, eat at paladares, which are restaurants in private homes. For listings, pick up the Tourist and Gastronomic Passport booklet in Havana
- Cuban art is the perfect souvenir because it’s of very high quality, yet it’s inexpensive
- Havana isn’t the only interesting city: Visit Trinidad, because the city is like a trip back in time to the 19th century. In Santa Clara, check out the nightlife; and in Camaguey, explore the historic streets
- Hiking, biking, scuba diving, caving and birding tours are available all over the island
For more information, visit houseoftravel.net.