Cuba

December 8, 2015

The Beauty and Struggle of a Family Vacation to Cuba

For the last year people have started to flock to Cuba to see the island nation before tourism fully takes off. But don’t be fooled, tourism has already taken off. We’ve been offering family vacations to Cuba for the past year and we’ve seen first-hand the incredible and beautiful experience that it can be. But we’ve also seen the hurdles that come with visiting a country behind in infrastructure and overwhelmed with visitors. The growth of travel to Cuba has come about almost too quickly and while the country has been doing a great job in providing people with ways to visit, it won’t be your typical family vacation and you should be in the right mindset and prepared for this once in a lifetime experience. Traveling with your family to, and through, Cuba will never be as it is today.

 

group in havana

The Beauty

Cuba is inherently unique, yet also somewhat familiar.  The language is different, the culture is completely different, and the government is nothing like ours, yet a favorite past time in Cuba is baseball. They love to dance, enjoy a meal with family, and have an appreciation for art. It’s the difference in the similarities that can make a family vacation to Cuba so rewarding for you, and especially your kids. When your kids meet Cuban kids on a baseball field or at a dance school, it becomes clear to them that they can make friends no matter where they are and that’s a feeling and education that you can’t put a price on. There are several great cultural exchanges to have in Cuba and these exchanges will be the highlight of your vacation. Mix in a bit of culture with incredible ocean views, nature hikes, zip-lining, chances for wildlife viewing, and a ride in a classic Cadillac and you have yourself the perfect family vacation!

 

handshake after baseball

The Growing Pains

The average Cuban doesn’t have much in the terms of luxury and material goods. The average income is around $20 a month. That said, it’s important to understand that Cuba is still very much developing. As its infrastructure comes along, so does the ease of traveling. The hotels are busy and space is very limited. The hotels won’t be up to the “American Standard” and rooms will be basic, air conditioning may not be available, and Wi-Fi is nearly non-existent. But that’s ok. You go to Cuba for the people to people connection and to experience a country that is rapidly changing in real time. You’ll see everything that you want to see and have an amazing time doing so, but it may not happen in the order that the itinerary says. Isn’t this part of the adventure? Expect the unexpected. Going to Cuba is still a rare occurrence, so when you do visit go with an open mind and you will be truly amazed and touched at what you see and experience!

There’s no time like now to take your family to this top destination for a family vacation!



June 30, 2015

Three Great Cultural Exchanges to Have in Cuba

Although Cuba is just 90 miles off of the coast of Florida, not many people have ever been or even know much about this Caribbean island. Much of that has to do with the political tensions of the U.S. and Cuban Governments over the last few decades. With those tensions shrinking and relations becoming better, it is only a matter of time before the tourism floodgates in Cuba burst open. After that happens, Cuba, for better or worse, will never be the same. If you can get to Cuba before this happens, here are a few cultural exchanges you should take part in on your family vacation.

Go See a Baseball Game

Baseball is known as America’s pastime. But it also has that reputation in Cuba. Baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by Cuban students returning from studying in America and American sailors who ported in Cuba. Baseball replaced the Spanish bullfights as a source of entertainment. Still under Spanish rule, the government took this as a sign of disrespect and outlawed baseball in Cuba. This transformed baseball from a game to a symbol of freedom and independence. Baseball is important in Cuba and watching one of these games and organizing time to have your kids join a little league practice or to have catch with local Cuban youth can be an amazing experience. This will be an exchange that your kids will not only have fun doing, but will also educate them in immeasurable ways!

Cuba baseball

Visit a Potter’s Studio

Cuban pottery is a popular form of art in Cuba and the works of pottery produced are incredible. The details of the designs are fun and intricate. No two pieces of this ceramic art are the same as they’re all made by hand; making them unique to the artist and to the process. Watching the potter’s while they work will give you and your kids a new appreciation for what it means to “work with your hands.” Take time to speak to the potter and learn from his process, the best case scenario is arranging to visit a potter and share a meal together. There is no cultural exchange like those over a delicious meal!

Play Dominoes

Almost as important as baseball in Cuba, is the game of dominoes. As you explore the streets, alleyways, and parks of Havana you’ll be sure to see one thing over and over again— a table of people playing dominoes in the street. Dominoes is the game of choice for people to play after work for a bit of competition and fun! The game is a bit different in Cuba than here in the U.S. In Cuba, dominoes is played in teams of two, similar to bridge. The other main difference is the dominoes in Cuba go from 0-9 (double 9) opposed to other places that usually play 0-6 (double 6). Meet a local who can show you the ropes of dominoes and teach you a few tips and tricks to improve your game!

Domino Lesson 10

These three cultural exchanges are just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to ideas for your family to have the best Cuban vacation possible. You can also visit community art projects, learn to dance to the Mambo, and join locals for a traditional village roast. With Thomson Family Adventures we can make sure that you have a people to people exchange that you can’t get anywhere else!



June 12, 2015

Four Unlikely Places for Great Wildlife Viewing

Taking time to explore the wildlife in countries can be an amazing experience. We share this world with beautiful creatures that live in the forests, jungles, mountains, and oceans. Seeing animals in their natural environments is breathtaking. Once you have seen some of these places, the importance of conservation efforts and responsible travel can’t be ignored. Viewing wildlife on a family vacation isn’t just good in the Galapagos and Tanzania. Here are four places that aren’t traditional destinations for wildlife and they are all part of North America!

Baja

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Baja is the western most part of Mexico, just to the south of California. If ocean and marine life is of the slightest interest to your family, then Baja must be on your bucket list of places to visit. Baja is the best of the best when it comes to life below the sea. The Sea of Cortez is home to the largest variety of whales in the world and every year gray whale mothers and their calves migrate to Magdalena Bay where they come close enough to visitors that you can touch them! This isn’t even to mention the thousands of fish that swim in the waters- and sea lions!

Panama

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When you neighbor Costa Rica it’s hard to compete in the wildlife department but, Panama does very well. It is home to over 200 mammals, 200 reptiles, 150 amphibians, and 900 birds (the most of any Central American country). Darien National Park in Panama is one of the best places to go bird watching in the world. A few of the birds that people travel to see are the harpy eagle, quetzals, macaws, parrots and toucans. Panama also has a great monkey population in spider monkeys, white-faced capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and the Geoffroy’s tamarin which can’t be found anywhere else in Central America.

 

Cuba

When thinking of Cuba, it is hard to think of it as a place great for a wildlife adventure. But the truth is that Cuba has the most animal species in all of the Caribbean. One of the more fascinating animals in Cuba is the bee hummingbird. Many believe that this is the smallest bird in the world, just over 2 inches long and weighs less than an ounce! The locals say it is a symbol of love and call it a “zunzun.” Cuba is also home to crocodiles, flamingos, butterfly bats, reef sharks, and the emerald humming bird and much more!

Canada

Big Horned Sheep

While hiking in the Canadian Rockies you are bound to see some incredible and massive animals. Numbering in the thousands, there are plenty of opportunities to see elk. These creatures are majestic and you may want to get as close as you can to them, but remember they are wild and you need to stay at least a couple of hundred feet away. Your family will also have the chance to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep in action climbing the sides of mountains! There is also a scarce population of wolves and cougars that are rarely seen. Canada is truly a wild adventure and these animals only help add to the ambiance!

Taking your family vacation to any of these destinations is bound to be filled with excitement and great wildlife. Get out there and see the beauty that nature has to offer!