SEATTLE — Cuba is a beautiful place to visit but often eludes people because of restrictions and a lack of accessibility. However, a trip there ISN'T impossible! AAA Washington recently hosted an Oceania cruise to Havana, Cuba through the Panama Canal with a stop in Cartagena, Columbia. Travel expert Lisa Anciaux just returned from the trip and had great things to say about the little country in the Caribbean, "It's so hard to describe because there's something just so earthy about it. It's like going back into time. It's just electrifying."
Sailing through the Panama Canal, you'll notice several interesting ports. Lisa was fascinated that the canal is still operated the old-fashioned way -- with two men in rowboats roping up giant cruise ships to guide them through the canal.
Arriving in Cartagena, Columbia you'll first notice that colorful colonial buildings stand together with modern high rises. Old Town features architecture from the 16th century. The city also has great restaurants and beach resorts to relax after a long day of walking through the port town. "It's really an up and coming new place to go and it is safe right now."
There are endless things to do in Havana, Cuba -- a town known for its music, culture, and food. Before docking at the port, you'll sail through the historic Bay of Pigs, where you'll see a fort from one side of the ship and the famed Malecon on the other.
The ship also makes stops at the fortress Morro Castle and the Plaza de Armas. Famed author Ernest Hemingway's old house is also open to the public, which is left exactly how it was when he lived there because he never returned after traveling to the US. Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-visit.
Walking around the city, you'll notice dozens of classic cars in tip-top shape. "You just get this feeling of coming back into time."
If interested you can visit the old cigar factories and the rum factory and learn more about how those products are made.
For nightlife, there are several famous bars for dancing and drinking Daiquiris and Mojitos, two of the most popular cocktails in Cuba.
Since there are restrictions on getting into the country, going on "people to people" or group tours like this cruise with AAA makes planning much easier. Some people are reluctant to go on planned trips because they want free time, but AAA provides plenty of space to explore the city on your own. You do need a visa to enter the country, but the cruise will already have this packaged. It's one more thing you won't have to worry about.
There are restrictions for tourists concerning places to shop and items that can be brought back to the US, but it's not as limiting as you may think. There's a myth that you cannot bring back cigars, but Lisa was told you could actually bring back up to 100. "It almost reminded me of traveling to Russia or China -- it's got the same kind of restrictions there."
If you're still reluctant to vacation in Cuba because of their political landscape, Lisa said they bonded with locals and were treated with respect, "People were very friendly, welcoming and proud to show off their country. It was very enjoyable."
AAA Travel will be hosting a 10-day Cuba-only trip on Oceania in October 2020. To learn more about it, call 855-361-7667 to speak with a travel agent.