Cuba Vacation? – Don’t Forget These 4 Things When You Go

Cuba Vacation? – Don’t Forget These 4 Things When You Go

Cuba Vacation? Don’t Forget These 4 Things When You Go

After decades of being largely closed to Americans, Cuba is once again welcoming US visitors. While this is an exciting development for travelers, this island nation can be unlike other Caribbean destinations. Steeped in a rich and varied history, Cuba presents its own unique and varied challenges for visitors. Planning your Cuba vacation? Be prepared to navigate specific health, wellness and comfort situations. The following four essentials should help you embrace your visit with ease and enjoyment.

Travel to Cuba? ➝ Why Cuba?…


You’re likely to remember to bring your prescription medications to Cuba, but you may also want to be proactive with other remedies. Cuban pharmacies may not carry the over-the-counter meds you recognize from home. To save yourself some possible discomfort, pack your own preferences for headaches, upset stomach, colds and minor injuries. The small space they take up in your luggage is worth the peace of mind.

Good Shoes

So much of Cuba’s charm and ambiance comes from its historical architecture and colonial flair. Unfortunately, this can translate into some very difficult walking conditions. Cobblestone streets can make walking painful in bad shoes. There is also a constant need to move from the sidewalk to the street and back again in an attempt to dodge cars and pedestrians. Stepping up and down on already dicey surfaces necessitates sturdy and comfortable footwear.

A Washcloth and Toiletries

Many countries in the world do not commonly use washcloths as part of their bathing routine. By all means you can go native, but if you’re a creature of comfort, and if you are not staying in a luxury resort, bring your own washcloth from home. As well, bring your own shower and grooming essentials. The selection in Cuba can be very small and the brands unfamiliar. 

Wireless Entertainment

Access to the Internet in Cuba can be very slow and at times difficult to access. If your phone provider does not offer wifi in Cuba, you will likely have to buy a wifi card from the state-run provider. Even with this card, you may not be staying somewhere that is within a local wifi hot spot area. In short, be prepared to be offline. To ensure you have entertainment, have whatever media you want to consume already downloaded to your device, or bring physical books or DVDs for your laptop. ▄

Cuba Vacation? - Don't Forget These 4 Things When You Go

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Cuba Vacation? Don’t Forget These 4 Things When You Go
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Cuban Cigars – The Basics

Cuban Cigars – The Basics

Cuban Cigars – The Basics

Those with even a passing interest in fine tobacco have heard of the quality of Cuban cigars. Cigar aficionados throughout the world have sung the praises of this small island nation’s chief export for years. Certainly, long before a U.S./Cuba embargo was a thought in anyone’s mind, these cigars were wanted and desired. Winston Churchill made the Romeo y Julieta variety famous. Photographers rarely snapped him without the ubiquitous stogie clenched between his teeth. And in 1961, with the aforementioned embargo looming, John F. Kennedy sent his press secretary on a mission to Cuba with the express purpose of acquiring 1200 Petit H. Upmann cigars. Trade or no trade, Kennedy wasn’t about to give up his Cubans.

Why Travel to Cuba? ➝ Read more…

Best in the World?

But are Cuban cigars truly the best in the world, as some tobacco connoisseurs might suggest? The truth is it depends on whom you ask, as well as a great deal on personal taste. In actuality, many cigar aficionados will tell you that, these days, the cigars produced in places such as Honduras and Nicaragua are of higher quality than those coming from Cuba. But if that is indeed the case, it has quite a bit to do with the fact that Cubans work in the factories in these countries implementing their homeland’s long-cherished hand-rolling techniques.

And it’s the combination of these practiced artisan manufacturing methods as well as general climate conditions that earn Cuban cigars the distinction of being some of the finest in the world.

Cuban Cigars Cuba The Basics - Man smoking

A man smoking Cuban cigar.

The Facts

Cuba manufactures over 40 different brands of cigar that all vary in price but all of which have a good minimum quality. That means, at worst, any Cuban is going to have a smooth draw. Something that is very important to the typical connoisseur. Take for example Habanos, S.A, Cuba’s largest cigar-manufacturing monopoly. They roll 27 high-end brands, such as Romeo y Juleita, Montecristo and Cohiba, available in 220 sizes ranging in length from 4-10 inches. That’s quite a few options for a good cigar.

The Tobacco

Typically, Cuban cigars are made using five different types of tobacco, all dried in fincas, or outside huts. The outer leaves of the tobacco plant receive the most sunlight, and thus have the strongest flavor. Therefore, these leaves are used as the filler for a typical cigar with the inner leaves providing the binding, or wrapper, that holds the cigar together. Part of the reason Cuban cigars enjoy a reputation as some of the finest around is because the tobacco selection process is so exact.

The Climate

Those who have read up on these cigars have likely heard the Pinar del Rio province of Cuba mentioned in conjunction with tobacco growing. That’s because with a year-round temperature of 75 degrees and 65 percent humidity. In fact, this area of the country is ideal for tobacco production. There is even a small sand content in the red earth that facilitates the growing of the leaves.

Cuban Cigars Rolled by hand without imperfections - Cuba

Cuban Cigars – Rolled by hand without imperfections.

The Preparation

All tobacco leaves used in Cuban cigars are fermented at least twice (some three times) and aged for months or years until such time as they are ready to be rolled. In the Cohiba factory, a converted mansion in Havana, 25,000 cigars are produced daily. In fact, all are rolled by hand without imperfections. Indeed, the process is so demanding that potential rollers must pass a nine-month course before they can begin work.

It’s this level of care, attention to detail, and respect for tradition that has helped the Cuban cigar to be the dominant force in the tobacco market that it is. And while reasonable cigar aficionados can disagree on the merits of Cubans compared with other varieties from other countries. One incontrovertible fact remains, Cuban cigars have more than earned their glowing reputation. ▄

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Cuba Cigars – The Basics.
Written by: Christopher McMurphy. Adapted by Total Advantage by licence.
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What Are They Listening to on the Street in Cuba?  Buena Vista Social Club It’s Not

What Are They Listening to on the Street in Cuba? Buena Vista Social Club It’s Not

Cuban Music – What Are They Listening to on the Street in Cuba?

From the shadowy, balcony-lined alleys of Old Havana, to the close quarters of the city bus, or guagua, Cuban music pervades Cuban life. Through music, Cubans find a way to transcend the political and economic struggles they face daily. In the United States, this forbidden isle has experienced a surge in popularity during the last decade, due in no small part to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club, a group of veteran Cuban performers brought together by an American producer.

Why Travel to Cuba? ➝ Read more…

Cuban Music is a Dynamic, Ever Evolving Sound

But rarely will you hear the Buena Vista Social club as you stroll the weathered stones of Havana’s famous Malecón wharf, nor from the open windows of a 1940’s taxicab with tail fins. While life in Cuba may sometimes seem static, Cuban music is a dynamic, ever evolving sound. Cuban popular music is inspired by the modern trends of rap, hip-hop and techno, but still sounds unmistakably Cuban, anchored by the sensuous rhythms of the island.

Cuban Music - Havana Streets

Buena Vista Social Club It’s Not

One day, during my four months as a student in Havana, my friend Rusbelt greeted me excitedly with news of a concert that was to take place that Friday at the Teatro Nacional.

“You want to hear some good music?” he enthused. “Really good music, way better than Buena Vista Social Club?” How could I refuse?

The concert featured Aceituna sin Hueso (which literally translates to Pitted Olive) and Sintesis (Synthesis), two groups who currently enjoy popularity on the island. We bought our tickets for less than two dollars. The Cuban leadership, to their credit, does a good job of making the arts accessible to ordinary people, providing, of course, that the artists conform to country’s socialist ideology.

The Lyrics Invoke the Island, the Poverty and Celebration of Cuban Life

Aceituna sin Hueso opened the show to raucous applause. The group’s raven-haired singer, Miriela Moreno, mesmerized her audience with her soaring vocals. My best attempt at describing Acietuna sin Hueso’s musical style is as Cuban folk music infused with flamenco and Celtic rhythms. But in contrast to the imported sounds, the lyrics invoke the island, the poverty and celebration of Cuban life. After the show, I was surprised to find Moreno, sans entourage, in the lobby of the theater, signing autographs and chatting personably with fans.


The headlining act was Sintesis. And, the name of this group describes it perfectly. Although conceived, incredibly, as a prog-rock band in the ’70s, Sintesis’ style has evolved to blend rock, Jazz, and African rhythms with Afro-Cuban religious chants. Lyrics in Spanish, English and Yoruba contribute to the international vibe. The group brought the audience at the Teatro Nacional to its feet, swaying and clapping and singing along with every word.

“What did you think?” Rusbelt asked as we exited the theater. “Better than Buena Vista Social Club?” I honestly didn’t know how to compare the classic Caribbean style of Buena Vista Social Club with the dynamic new sounds I had just experienced. But in the weeks that followed, I came to appreciate a variety of other new artists, whose gritty and sensual sounds that I will forever associate with my time in Cuba. Far more so than with the music of Buena Vista Social Club.

Los Van Van

Apart from Acietuna sin Hueso and Sintesis, one of the best of groups I discovered is Los Van Van. Los Van Van reinvented Cuban salsa in the ’60s and have continued to innovate in their later incarnations. The group’s founder, Juan Formell, coined the term “songo” to describe his daring mix of synthesizers and dance beats ranging from Brazilian, to rap, to meringue.

Salsa Revolutionized the Cuban Music Dance Scene

The sexual charged salsa music of Charanga Habanera revolutionized the Cuban dance scene when it burst forth in the ’90s.  In ’97. Following a sexually explicit television performance, the group was sanctioned for six months by the government. The scandal only increased their popularity. Their aggressive sound resonates with Cuban youth, a generation adrift in time, seemingly without present or future.


Although the group is now based in Spain, the music of Orishas captures the mood of Havana and its unique mixture of hedonism and despair. While influenced by US rap and hip hop artists, the incorporation of son, guaguancó and rumba give them a clearly identifiable Cuban sound.

Reggaetón (Cubanito 20.02)

Another Cuban group that has made hip hop their own is Reggaetón, formerly Cubanito 20.02, who have been called the Beatles of Reggaeton. The mix of reggae and hip hop mostly associated with Daddy Yankee’s hit “Gasolina.” But Daddy Yankee sounds insipid compared to Reggaetón, whose hard core, Latin flavored rap is true to its reggae roots.

The Queen of Salsa

I can’t talk about Cuban music without mentioning the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. While the late exile’s music is officially banned by the Cuban government, it can still be heard echoing through the streets. Although she lived most of her life away from the island, Cruz’s songs still capture something essentially Cuban. Anyone who has every watched the sensuous sway of a Cuban beauty walking down the street will instantly understand what Cruz means by, “La Negra Tiene Tumbao.” “La Guagua” resonates with anyone who has ever dared set foot on a Cuban bus, It’s where sweaty bodies are packed together with aggravating, comical and even erotic results.

Cuban Music – What Are They Listening to on the Street in Cuba?

Cuban Music is Readily Available in the United States

Cuban music is becoming more readily available in the United States. Look for these releases and more in your independent record store or Internet music retailer:

  • Aceituna sin Hueso: (03), Consumir Preferiblemente Antes de… (’05).
  • Sintesis: Ancestros (’87),  Ancestros, Vol. 2 (’92),  Orishas  (’97),  Ancestros, Vol.3 (’05), Habana a Flor de Piel (’01).
  • Los Van Van: Te Pone la Cabeza Mal (’98), Llego Van Van,(’99), ¡Ay Dios! ¡Amparame! (’96) The Legendary Los Van Van: 30 Years of Cuba’s Greatest Dance Band (’99).
  • Charanga Habanera: Hey, You, Loca! (’94), Pa’ que Se Entere La Habana (’95), Tremendo Delirio (’97), Soy Cubano, Soy Popular (’02).
  • Orishas: A lo Cubano (’00), Emigrante, El Kilo (’05).
  • Cubanito 20.02: Soy Cubanito (’03), Tócame (’05).
  • Celia Cruz: Azúcar Negra (93) Mi Vida Es Cantar (’98), Siempre Viviré (’00), El Carnaval de la Vida (’03), Regalo del Alma (’03), Exitos Eternos (’03).

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Cuba Travel – Americans Going to Cuba for a Vacation

Cuba Travel – Americans Going to Cuba for a Vacation

Cuba Travel – Going to Cuba for a Vacation?

In January 2016, Cuba and the U.S. signed to launch the first commercial air service between the two countries in a half-century. As a result, with the agreement in place, Cuba travel is far easier for anyone in the United states. American carriers can fly 20 times a day to Havana, and 10 times to the other places in Cuba.

If this fills you with hope that you can visit the Caribbean nation one day soon for a great, affordable vacation, there are a few things that you need to know first. Most importantly, the general license under which you need to travel only recognizes a few different travel purposes as legitimate.

What are the Purposes Recognized?

The general license allows 12 different travel purposes, including: visiting close relatives, travel for academic purposes that offer credits, scientific research, artistic collaboration, sporting or public performances, and journalism. A visitor also needs to show some proof of legitimate involvement in such activities. Therefore, what you can’t do is to simply pack your bags to go to Cuba for a vacation.

Read more about  Americans Traveling to Cuba

Cuba Travel - Americans Traveling

You Can Always Find a Way to Vacation There

People-to-people travel is an initiative that U.S. citizens can use to travel to Cuba for cultural participation, for the purpose of, the establishment of friendships with Cuban citizens, a cultural education, and the spreading of awareness of American culture. People-to-people travel is freely allowed as an educational experience of direct engagement. Under these circumstances, it is possible to sign up to people-to-people groups heading off to Cuba, and to use these trips to go sightseeing. However, since these trips are usually jam-packed with schedules of cultural and business meetings, prices tend to be as high as $4,000 to $5,000 per person.

Cuba Travel Tip!

Total Advantage Travel & Tours highly recommends that you choose a Canadian city for your Cuba travel departure. They will fly you to Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver easily, at reasonable rates, thereby eliminating some of the costs and inconveniences experienced by travelers to Cuba from Miami and other US departure points.

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Flying in Under the Radar

If you aren’t willing to pay high prices out of the US, affordable commercial flights and packages are available through countries such as Canada. Consequently, if you want to follow the letter of the law, it’s important to receive a release from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Most people simply book through Canada without a release from the treasury department. So they book one flight to Canada, and then book a separate flight from Canada to Cuba. Hence, anyone traveling between Canada and Cuba will receive no stamp on their passport. Thousands of American tourists visit Cuba in this way, and it can be the most affordable way to go. ▄

Americans traveling to Cuba

Cuba has no restrictions on US tourists. On the contrary, Cubans welcome US visitors with open arms.

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Cuba Travel – Americans Going to Cuba for a Vacation.
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Service Oriented Travel Experiences

Service Oriented Travel Experiences

Service Oriented Travel Experiences

We are a full service oriented travel agency and tour operator, handling all forms of travel.

Total Advantage Travel & Tours Inc. is an undisputed leader in travel to Cuba & the Caribbean. We’ve been in business since 1999 and have booked hundreds of unique tours, all-inclusive vacations and travel experiences. We offer top-rated resorts, great flight deals, cruises, shore excursions, day trips, family-friendly vacations, LGBT-inclusive trips, Luxury Travel, Honeymoons to Cuba and to destinations worldwide!

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