Award-winning tour operator Austin-Lehman Adventures (ALA-http://www.austinlehman.com/), the active travel company setting cultural and adventure vacations standards internationally, reports limited availability remaining on three of its six 2012 9-day / 8-night small group cultural tours of The Real Cuba introduced for the first time in February.
These remaining scheduled departures are April 28-May 6, May 26-June 3 and June 9-17. However ALA anticipates that 25 percent of its Cuba travel bookings will come from custom itineraries with travelers requesting their own private group dates. The per person (double occupancy) rate on a set departure is from $4,498 inclusive of a roundtrip charter flight from Miami to Havana. Required visas are coordinated and handled by ALA that is among a handful of adventure tour operators granted a special license to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba. http://www.austinlehman.com/tours/cuba-tour-trips-107.php
“Our trips are true people-to-people exchanges, accomplishing what the U.S. Treasury Department- issued license for U.S. tour companies is intended to do,” reports Dan Austin, founder and owner. As a result of his own recent experiences guiding a handful of guests on the inaugural tour in Cuba, he has recommitted to a maximum of just 12 participants on all future Cuba adventure vacation packages. “Moving forward our tours will have the distinction of being the only American people-to-people tour groups capped at just 12 participants and staffed by two English-speaking guides.”
“The key to the most meaningful experiences is to keep our groups small so that we can comfortably access exclusive and rewarding people-to-people exchanges. Small groups really are the only way to truly get behind the scenes,” he says. He said other U.S. people-to-people tour groups are averaging between 20 and 40 participants or more.
“This number, of course, will limit other companies’ tours to larger venues and make home and small business visits impossible logistically,” Austin notes.
Examples of exclusive people-to-people exchanges available to ALA guests include a visit with Elsa de Zayas, an 86-year-old aunt of ALA guide Michael de Zayas. The aunt “vividly remembers Cuba before Castro, the chaos during the revolution and through the past 50 years of communist control and U.S. embargo,” notes Austin. ALA guests meet her extended family in an outdoor garden for a traditional pig roast, complete with live music. The de Zayas family has a rich Cuban history including Alfredo de Zayas y Alfonso (1861–1934) who was a Cuban lawyer, poet and President of Cuba from May 20, 1921 to May 20, 1925.
ALA guests also are treated to an exclusive tour of a tobacco plantation, viewing the drying process along with demonstrations of cigar rolling directed by Hirochi Robaina, grandson of the Cuba’s most legendary grower, the late Alejandro Robaina, renowned by cigar aficionados everywhere as Cuba’s top tobacco farmer. Annually 80 percent of Robaina’s tobacco harvest is deemed fit for use as wrapper leaf for Cuban cigars (compared to only 35 percent for other plantations). In 1997, Habanos SA honored the family by launching a new line of cigars bearing the name of this famous farmland, Vegas Robaina cigars.
In addition, guests explore entrepreneurial ventures possible for the first time in nearly 50 years due to the lifting of a Cuban government ban on such activities. In a small neighborhood in Old Town Havana there’s now a school for barbers with an associated shop offering training and reasonably priced haircuts. But the vision goes beyond just training Cuba’s future hair stylists, notes Austin. There’s a plan for a barber-themed playground and a similarly themed coffee shop. Artists have come to the area to set up small galleries and workspaces all assisted by micro loans from the barbershop and school.
“This is a prime example of the ‘new’ and changing Cuba. No other tour groups will be offering this exclusive opportunity,” Austin says. ALA has posted a number of fresh videos and blogs about the Cuba adventure here: http://www.austinlehman.com/blog/expert-in-adventure-tourism