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Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

Austin, Texas
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Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

I am debating whether to use a Canadian group called "Cuba Explorer" to secure a 8 day education tour of Havana and I think a national park. They have been diligent in answering my questions, etc. I wanted to know if anyone has had experience with this operation out of Vancouver? Tried to do a google search regarding reviews but nothing valid came up.

Thanks!

228 replies to this topic
White Plains, New...
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11. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

There is a 10% for US Dollars in Cuba for what I understand just because is US currency.

Melbourne, Australia
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12. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

Yes and as per my previous post the VERY best that you will reduce that 10% charge is to aprox. 5% depending on what rates you can get e.g. if you were to change USD to CAD at a US airport money exchange you would be very little if at all better off compared with simply taking USD and taking the 10% hit.

- read the money threads at top of this page.

Edited: 7:33 pm, December 25, 2012
New York City, New...
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13. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

I'd like to answer your question when we return. I chose Cuba Explorer because their price was good. I had no idea that I would spend so many hours in filling out forms. I'm from the U.S. and we're going under a general license. More info at the end of January.

Santa Cruz...
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14. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

I'm also considering using Cuba Explorer for a trip in April via Cancun. Any up to date reviews on their services?

Thanks

Pippin

San Diego...
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15. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

Just returned from a tour booked through Cuba Explorer. EXCELLENT! The tour was very good, our guide DANILO VARGAS, was excellent and patiently answered every absurd question that was asked of him. My tour dates were 12/29/12 - 01/05/13. Due to the New Year's holiday, some of our tours were adjusted/cancelled...but still had a great time. Please let me know if I can be of further help to you. I am planning to return in June of this year.

San Francisco...
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16. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

I am a US Citizen and very interested in hearing more about the process of going to Cuba as well as reviews for Cuba Explorer as their prices are very fair. Any additional feedback or information would be very much appreciated!

New York City, New...
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17. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

When I saw the prices of Cuba Explorer, I, too, thought they were low, compared to others. But alas, that wasn't true Firstly, one has to fill out all the forms and that took days away from my free-lance work. I had been to Cuba five times before and I had never had to do this. I head a family of ten and most of them are scattered around the world So I did the forms for all. We were booked on a charter that hadn't paid its bills to Cuba and this charter was not allowed further flights. So another charter was found at very different times. We had to change our airline tickets to and from Miami from many parts of the world. It cost me about $3000. The baggage for my family -- mostly carry-ons cost $100. The Canadian group sent the important health forms at the last minute. Without these forms, we wouldn't be allowed into Cuba.

We received the name of our guide less than a week before we left. A day later,I got the news that the guide was changed. We were staying at Hotel Tejidillo, a lovely Colonial hotel. We were all given windowless rooms, except me, because I have emphysema and cancer and needed air. When we arrived at the hotel, they upgraded three more rooms the next day.

We had a change of itinerary. There was a film being made at the Hemingway finca and I was told that the room at the Hotel Ambus Mondus where Hemingway wrote when he was in Havana, was substituted. I knew that would take about 15 minutes, having been there before and I asked that a market could be added. The Cuban cigar factories were closed to tourists and so other things were substituted without my knowledge.

On the good side, I had asked for and received visits to women's interest groups that proved fascinating. Five out of the seven lunches that were included were outstanding. We had a lot of fun learning salsa and the farewell dinner at El Patio was fine. Our donations at a senior citizens and day care facility proved great. Our guide was a translator and we all warmed to him. Thanks goodness I had my health form when I tripped and was badly hurt. The hospital experience was pure gold. No waiting. The doctor who had to stitch my chin with four small stitches was friendly and professional, as were the nurses who attended me. All was free.

If you decide to go with Cuba Explorer, make sure you know that as an American, you will have to spend a long time with forms. If you are the one making the itinerary, do a lot of research and reading to find out exactly what you want to experience and see. Ask what is closed to tourists. And beware of the towel and glass scam, which happened to our group of ten. (not the fault of Cuba Explorer) "A towel was

missing from one room" the receptionist said, "and one glass." Because we were on our way to the airport and didn't have time to argue that this was far from true, I ended up paying 11 cukes for the glass and 14 for the towel. I had read about this on Trip Advisor but never thought it would happen to me!

I love Cuba and will go back, as I have, every other year, since 2000, but I will not go with Cuba Explorer.

Seattle
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18. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

As US citizens/residents, we chose to travel to Cuba with Cuba Education Tours (also known as Cuba Explorer) in order to have more freedom in our daily schedule and because we wanted to stay in Cuba a few extra days, neither of which we would have be allowed to do if we’d gone with an American-based tour. The trip we went on was in November 2012 so things may be different now (I’m finally getting around to submitting this in August 2013, although I wrote most of it during our trip)

The Cuba Education website has good information for any visitor to Cuba and I highly recommend it. But don’t believe all that you read there about taking one of their tours:

They say “we check after every tour to find out which restaurants travelers liked and provide you with a booklet of suggestions.” Our guide almost laughed in my face when I asked about the booklet. “Just ask me for suggestions”, he said. But he was never forthcoming with any.

Our itinerary, when we signed up, said we’d spend the night in Vinales but the itinerary that arrived just before we left had us coming back to Havana that night and skipping the activities originally scheduled for the 2nd day in Vinales. When I called to inquire, I was told they weren’t able to get a hotel reservation in Vinales (for a tour that was planned months in advance??) Our guide told us that the feedback from groups in the past were that travelers didn’t like spending the night in another hotel. What they really didn’t like, I learned from others who took the tour, was that when they came back to Havana, they were put in a different (worse) hotel than they’d originally been in. In any case, we missed a visit to the Eco Community (part of the Vinales trip) that I’d been looking forward to

The Cuba Education website says they advise against taking a chartered flight from the U.S. as it’s too complex to arrange. So, like others, we arranged a complicated set of flights from SFO to Cancun and then to Havana. This involved having to spend 1 night each direction in Cancun and spend hours going through customs on our arrival back in Cancun. Other tour members came to Havana on charter flights from Florida and said that Cuba Education Tours had easily scheduled those.

Just before we left, we received an e-mail telling us the name of our guide and saying she would meet us at the airport in Havana. I immediately e-mailed Cuba Education Tours to remind them that we would already be in Cuba when the rest of the tour arrived and to be sure to let the guide know we wouldn’t be at the airport. I don’t know where the breakdown happened but our guide ended up being someone other than the person whose name we’d been given and he never got our message so he and the other tour members searched the airport for an hour, looking for us.

The Cuba Education website stresses that people traveling with them are considered special guests in Cuba. We didn’t see any indication at all of that being the case. The party that was planned to allow our tour group to mingle with Cubans ended up being just our group with a few Cuban musicians playing music.

The hotel we stayed at (Santander) had mold in most rooms and many rooms had no windows. We had hot water only 1-2 of the 7 days we were there but we did have continuous electricity. If you read reviews of Havana hotels, this one was not unusual for this level of hotel and can’t really be blamed on Cuba Education Tours but a tour that costs more will most likely be in one of the nicer hotels. The good thing about our hotel was that it was in Old Havana and easy to walk to many places from there.

How good a trip is depends in large part on how good the guide is. Alejandro (our guide) was apparently not trained as a guide although he could spew out some facts. What he didn’t do was take care of the group. When walking as a group, he would walk by himself way ahead of us. When I told him he might need to slow down in order for some people to catch up he said “I walk fast”. Apparently he’s never led a group of 50-70 year olds and doesn’t understand that his job includes making sure we’re all able to keep up with him. He had no sense of time so, for example, we got to the fortress 5 minutes before it closed, then had to race to where the canon ceremony had already started. Again, he walked by himself ahead of the group. Fortunately one of the women in our group had a smart phone with a flashlight app and she lit the way over the uneven ground as we raced to catch up.

Other problems with Alejandro as a guide:

- He was nebulous about time. He’d tell one member to be back at the bus in 10 minutes and another to return in 15 minutes.

- We had to keep asking him to use the provided microphone and then he’d use it a few minutes before continuing to talk without it.

- Because he often wasn’t walking with us, he didn’t point out anything to us as we walked. When we went to Ernest Hemingway’s house, we heard other guides providing commentary as they walked around the property. Our guide, however, said “I’ll see you in 40 minutes” as we left the bus.

-At the organic farm we visited, another Cuba Education group was there at the same time so we had a joint tour. For the first ½ of the tour, their guide provided the translation and our guide did the 2nd half. The difference was striking. Oh how I envied the other group. Their guide not only translated everything so that we could understand it perfectly but she had personality. When people asked a question, she understood and answered. Alejandro, on the other hand haltingly translated but misunderstood questions that were asked of him.

- He never gave us his phone number so we would have had no way to reach him in an emergency

- He did just what was demanded of him and nothing more. We had the sense that he couldn’t wait for each day to end and we ended up finishing early most days. And that was one of the biggest problems with the tour. The itinerary that the guide was given (by Cuba Education Tours) was totally different than the one we were given (we compared them). Soon after lunch Alejandro would tell us we were done for the day. We’d say “but we’re supposed to do x today” and he’d say “not according to my itinerary”. The first few days this happened, we used the afternoon to rest, thinking that for sure the next day would be very full of activities. Because almost the whole week went like this, we ended up spending time resting that we regretted not spending doing all the things that the Cuba Education Tours itinerary told us we’d be doing.

The positive things we have to say about Cuba Education Tours (besides their excellent website) are that 1) it was a small tour group. There were about a dozen of us. A friend I talked with recently (who went with a different company) had 23 in her tour group. 2) Cuba Education Tours made it very easy to get licensed to go to Cuba. There’s no reason that any American can’t figure out a way to go.

petaluma
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19. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

I inquired in to there services because the were over a $1000 less than other companies . Being a Canadian travel company they can not provide a travel licenses to Americans. They gave me some weak link to get a license on my own after reading it I could see like most Americans I could never qualify. If I could get the license on my own I would just go by my self and see what I wanted. Its pretty lame that they reference Americans like they can help at all .

Seattle
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20. Re: Any Americans Used the Canadian Group "Cuba Explorer?"

That's not true that they can't license Americans. HOWEVER, they only license Americans who go on their trips. They don't license just anyone who writes them. I actually was very surprised at how easy it was to go to Cuba as an American. I got licensed by Cuba Explorer and went on their tour but no one ever asked us, either coming or going, to see our license. Both Cuba and US customs just waved us through. The most common way that folks on our tour got licensed was to have their pastor/minister/rabbi sign the paperwork. If he wasn't willing to do that, Cuba Explorer has some ministers they work with who will sign the papers. But if you go through Mexico or through Canada, it just doesn't seem like this is an issue. The Cuba govt won't even stamp your passport so no one knows you've been to Cuba.

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