Our group of 14 health care professionals just returned from Cuba this week. Except for myself and our assistant guide, everybody was a first-time visitor.
About half of our group flew on Alaska Airlines from LAX to Havana. Unlike on past Alaska flights, this one was only about 40% full. Only 65 of 160 seats had passengers. The airline employees were very disappointed that these non-stop flights would be cancelled in mid-January, due to lack of customers. The check-in person, the staff who sold the mandatory tourist card, and the flight crew all expressed sadness that there would be no more flights. They really enjoyed traveling to Cuba.
After arriving in Havana, we met up with the rest of our travelers who had flown in from various other U.S. airports. We checked into our BnB’s, located in the Vedado district close to the University of Havana. After that, we went out to dinner.
For the next several days we visited medical venues as well as historical sites. Our health care stops included the Ministry of Health, a local doctor’s office, a pediatric hospital, an orthopedic hospital that treats patients from other countries, a nursing school, and a small local clinic up in the mountains in a rural part of Cuba. The rest of the time we spent learning about Cuban culture, history, and U.S.-Cuba relations. So in addition to all the health care venues, we saw all the highlights that a first-time visitor to Cuba would expect to see, such as the Presidential Palace Museum and Hemingway’s country estate. (For more itinerary details, click on “Expeditions/Our Expeditions.”)
As always, we found Cuba to be safe and friendly, but there were noticeably fewer American visitors this time. Our travel company said that many tours had been cancelled, so that the economy was considerably depressed. Many Americans were simply frightened away because of some misunderstandings. Last summer, President Trump promised a small minority of Cuban-Americans in Miami that he would make it more difficult for Americans to visit Cuba. The regulations eventually were only slightly modified, but the perception was that it would now be more complicated to travel to Cuba. (It isn’t.) In addition, there were vague, non-specific reports about acoustic waves that supposedly affected American and Canadian diplomats. These reports kept changing, and it is still not clear what happened. The US specifically did not blame Cuba for these incidents (which have now stopped), but a travel advisory was issued. Of course, the Canadian government did not issue an advisory, but then again they also have a rational policy that allows its citizens unrestricted travel to Cuba.
Everybody in our group made it home without difficulties. Some expressed a desire to return to Cuba soon. It would greatly benefit both our countries if more Americans decided to visit Cuba this year. Personally—I can hardly wait to go back.