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There is no place like Cuba, and there’s no way to experience it except to learn for yourself. When you get there, what will you see?
‘50s-era American cars speed alongside miles of golden beaches, while colonial mansions and revolutionary graffiti line the cobblestone streets of Havana – a city frozen in time. When the sun sets, lovers stroll down the seaside promenade, and sultry Afro-Cuban beats escape the salsa clubs to make the city come alive. Outside Havana, the island boasts swaths of untouched tropical wilderness, filled to the brim with rare and colorful birds. Colonial fortresses dot the countryside, and centuries-old Spanish architecture dominates most city centers.
Road Scholar has been taking Americans to Cuba since 1997, and our experts help navigate the complex rules and regulations around travel to the island. See answers to questions you may have about traveling to Cuba or read below to learn more about this intriguing destination.
“Havana is a fascinating city, starting to emerge from a time warp and bursting with new-found energy. The Cubans have unquenchable spirit, and are filled with joy. The experience will exceed your wildest expectations.”
— Freddie from Carmel, Indiana —
“My Cuban tour was an extraordinary combination of the historical and current situation of this magical island. The opportunity for people-to-people encounters resulted in memorable experiences on a deeply personal level. My fascination with Cuba has increased by this truly unique adventure.”
— Joyce from Ferndale, California —
“I left Cuba with an empathy and understanding of the Cuban people that I don't think I could've gotten on my own.”
— Donna from Silver Spring, Maryland —
Taíno people were among the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida. It is speculated that Taíno tribes were forced westward, some two-hundred years before the Spanish arrival, by a bloodthirsty tribe known as Caribs. In Cuba, the Taínos were able to hunt, fish, plant crops and live peacefully.
With the Papal Bull of 1493, Pope Alexander VI commanded Spain to conquer, colonize and convert the pagans of the New World to Catholicism. On arrival, Columbus observed the Taíno dwellings, describing them as "looking like tents in a camp. All were of palm branches, beautifully constructed."
The name of Cuba itself, Havana, Camagüey, and many others were derived from Classic Taíno, and indigenous words such as tobacco, hurricane and canoe were transferred to English and are used today. Some 400 Taíno terms and place-names survive to the present day.
Student Nemesio Guillot returns from school in the U.S. and introduces baseball to Cuba. Guillot founded the first major baseball club in the country. It became the most played sport in the country in the 1870s and is strongly associated with Cuban nationalism.
The battleship USS Maine was sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain. It exploded and sank in Havana Harbor, igniting The Spanish-American War.
By the late 1800s, colonies allover the new world began to fight for their independence from Spain. Cuban people were divided. Some wanted to remain a Spanish colony, some wanted to be annexed by the United States, and still others wanted Cuba to be an independent country. In 1898 the US joined Cuba's fight for independence after the bombing of the USS Maine. The U.S. won the Spanish-American war and occupied Cuba until 1902
In 1940, Hemingway, with his new wife Martha, purchased a home outside Havana, Cuba. He would live there for the next twenty years. The Hemingways named the site Finca Vigia, or “lookout farm.” They shared their home with dozens of Hemingway’s beloved cats, as well as trophies from many successful hunts and fishing expeditions.
Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar was the elected President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, and U.S.-backed dictator from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution. He instated the 1940 Constitution of Cuba and served until 1944. In 1952 he decided to run for president once again, and, facing electoral defeat, he led a US-backed military coup. His increasingly corrupt and repressive military government led to the Cuban Revolution under the command of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Fidel and Raul Castro meet the revolutionary Che Guevara in Mexico.
Batista is overthrown by Castro’s army of 9,000 guerillas and flees Cuba.
Fidel Castro (first from left) and Che Guevara (center) at the La Coubre March, a memorial service for the victims of the La Coubre explosion.
The Bay of Pigs invasion was a failed attempt by the U.S. government to invade and take over the communist government of Fidel Castro. The invading force was defeated in 3 days by the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.
The Cuban missile crisis resolves and the USSR removes its missiles from Cuba.
Known in Spanish as "Período especial", the Special Period in Cuba was a euphemism for an extended period of economic crisis that began in 1989, primarily as a result of the dissolution of the USSR. This recession transformed Cuban society and the economy, as it necessitated the successful introduction of sustainable agriculture, decreased use of automobiles, and overhauled industry, health, and diet countrywide.
The United States government grants “People-to People” license to Road Scholar.
Tens of thousands of vintage American cars remain in Cuba, manufactured before the revolution and subsequent US embargo of 1960. With no automobile imports coming in, the cars are preserved by Cuban mechanics and improvised fixes by the owners.
Road Scholar becomes one of only four U.S.-based organizations to be granted permission to open an office in Cuba. Notable tenants in this historic building in Havana include CNN and the Associated Press. Our Havana office employee, Ileana Piño, greets each Road Scholar group in Cuba.
“Your view of Cuba (and maybe the world) will find new clarity and joy. Trust me, you must go and experience Cuba yourself... and Road Scholar is the best way for the average person to do it. ”
— Robert from Twin Falls, Idaho —