For as long as we have been cruising we have always booked independent excursions as we like to give to the economy of the countries we visit. Usually the companies are private individuals that are providing a service to travelers. I reviewed the previous travelers experience in TripAdvisor and chose Cuba Connection Tour. A small company located in Havana who originally started with two individuals have now expanded to 11 member team in 8 years. We had the pleasure of being grouped with Jose and Gilbert. These gentlemen were really exceptional from start to finish. We started off with them breaking down the tour which started with a morning walking tour through the new city and then the old city of Havana. As tour guides they were very knowledgeable and pointed out significant and important sites, churches and architecture throughout the tour. Without them we would have been lost wondering around not knowing where we were going. We had the opportunity to take great pictures, stop for authentic cuban coffee and engaged with the local people and actually see how they lived and got a little bit of Cuban lifestyle in the heart of the city. One thing Jose allowed us to do was create our own tour. He asked us what we wanted to see and do. We told them we wanted to see how people lived, experience their foods, culture and see real Havana away from the tourist spots. They tailored the excursion based on our requests. Jose and Gilbert were able to tend to answer all of our questions and cleared up many misconceptions of Cuban life and pointed out the lifestyle changes that recently improved certain areas for the islands residents. We learned about opportunities available to home owners being able to convert parts of their homes to partial small businesses as well as on going reservations being made throughout the city of Havana. We also stopped at Cigar and rum shops where we were able to get great deals on various kinds of cigars (Hint: There are cigars better than Cohiba)…ask Gilbert and he’ll educate you. Also ask about the best rums and the history of Bacardi. Later on in the tour we had the pleasure of driving around Havana where we saw important government buildings and points of historic interests. There were many parks and statues we saw and learned of leaders past. What we loved most was we were able to stop and different locations if we wanted to and Jose and Gilbert were happy to give us the history of places we found interesting. They took us to a river where we had the luck to see a small group of people at the river bank practicing an Afro - Cuban baptism which was very bizarre and left us speechless. They described the different practices that were derived from African and European cultures and how the people made Cuba what is it today. We then stopped at a little house which turned into a small restaurant in the backyard complete with live band, food, drinks and dessert. This was the best part of the tour as we were able to taste samples of Cuban food ( Pork, Chicken, Shrimp, Steak, Rice and beans…etc). We tried the mojitos but enjoyed the Cuban beer more than anything. Finally, we were placed in 2 Vintage cars (50’s Chevy and Belair) which were comfortable and fun to ride around in. We soon realized these cars were actually taxis and were surprised at the amount of all the vintage cars that looked so new. The bottom line to all this is without a tour guide visiting Cuba on a cruise ship will be a waste of time because the city is not laid out in an easy to discover way. You NEED someone to take you to the important places and sites in new and old Havana. Without Jose and Gilbert we would have had no idea between what was government run and privately run businesses. Without Jose and Gilbert we would not have had the ability to drive further into Havana and experience the many local sites and actually see how people live in Cuba.
Visited: Aug 11, 2018