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Soaking up culture in Cuba

Mar 24, 2017 by  Katie Schwartz

Go Ahead Tours Customer Relations Manager Ashley spent a week on one of our Cuba tours. Here, she talks about her time meeting the people, exploring Havana, and learning how to dance salsa from the pros on this sunny island.

metal sign hanging from a cafe building in cuba saying el florida

La Havana Vieja

With an itinerary that’s packed to the brim with memorable moments, it was important to make our free time count. So when we were given an hour to explore in the Old City, I took off to cross a few of the must-sees off my list.

As I walked down Bishop Street (Calle Obispo to the locals), on my way to check out a few of Ernest Hemingway’s old haunts, live music floated out of almost every doorway that I passed. It made for a lively and carefree atmosphere. The first bar I visited on my Hemingway adventure was Bodeguita del Medio, the home of the author’s favorite mojito. My second stop? El Floridita to try his favorite daiquiri!

four cuban musicians sitting outside a bright blue building

Getting to know the locals

One thing that really stood out to me was how genuinely friendly the Cuban people are. Everyone we met, from market vendors to our local guides, were excited to share their country with us. Whether that was in bartering for handmade souvenirs or listening to a musician play, the warmth that came with every interaction really made me feel welcome.

In particular, during our time in Cienfuegos, we met a group of older women who taught us the dances of their youth. While it was a nostalgic moment for them, it was a window into the Cuban culture for my group and I–but for all of us it was a chance to share a few laughs and connect with people who live a world away.

two couples dancing salsa together


Learning to salsa dance was the part of the tour that I was looking forward to the most. And I’m happy to say that it exceeded my expectations. On the morning of day four we found ourselves on a beautiful outdoor stage, surrounded by palm trees, learning the salsa’s (albeit pretty basic) movements and steps from professional dancers.

This particular form of dance is cherished in Cuban culture—to many people it’s not only a social activity, but also a form of self-expression. There was one point in our lesson when the instructors gave a demonstration, and the skill, precision, and passion they showed us made it apparent just how culturally significant salsa is.

Not only was this part of our tour one of the most eye-opening, it was also the most fun. The music was catchy and our instructors made it easy to let loose and have a great time. For me, and many of the travelers in my group, this was the best part of the entire trip. I think the reason it resonated with so many of us is because we were learning about something that’s so important to the Cuban people, that for a moment we felt like a part of the culture.

Ready to take a trip to Cuba? Let us help planning your next trip.

Traveler stories
About the author | Katie Schwartz
Katie is a yogi, writer, and travel lover from Massachusetts. Writing everything from catalogs to email campaigns for Go Ahead Tours, she aims to spread wanderlust wherever possible.

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