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Elaine Vargo, Saint Paul, Minnesota

I feel so blessed to have taken the trip. I have some great memories and met some wonderful people. And that's due to Marvin's help in organizing the trip. I can't believe how fortunate I am to know you.

Don and Nancy Hamilton, Red Lodge, Montana

We just want to report to you that our trip to Cuba was super good. There were no problems, and we enjoyed it all. The jazz festival was wonderful, and we took in as much of it as we could cram in. All four of the big evening concerts were exciting and enjoyable. We also enjoyed being in Cuba again walking the streets and just soaking in the environment. On Sunday we attended a worship service at one of the Methodist Churches in Havana. It was interesting as well. They had lots of music, and, yes, it had lots of rhythm and every one was enthusiastic. The service lasted for four hours. We are not used to that, but it seemed normal to the regular people. The church was packed. We had made contact through the pastor of that church, and we had some exchanges with him and other church members. We want to thank you for all of your help! You helped make the whole experience a success! Peace!

Larry Englund, Saint Paul, Minnesota

My wife and I enjoyed our trip and found it to be enough of a taste of Cuba that we would definitely go back. The people we encountered were friendly and helpful. The architecture of Havana is beautiful. Our trip to the senior center was informative. I have to say that the lack of American corporations like McDonalds is a welcome change, though the other effects of the embargo are obviously not so good. All in all, your preparations helped to make this a much easier trip than expected. Thank you for your help. My wife and I both thought the trip was too short, and are looking forward to finding another opportunity to travel to Cuba and meet its people.

Nancy Coward, Key West, Florida

Our Just Jazz trip was the perfect way to kick off the holidays and I believe the entire group had a very memorable vacation. With respect to my personal experience, I was pleased with most aspects. Ludwig, our guide, was very good with the group. The visit to the Belén Convent was a highlight of the trip. It was a very fun trip that I will recommend to friends.

Sebastian Lazzara, Brooklyn, New York

The trip to Cuba was absolutely wonderful. We had a fabulous time. Our guide Hoji was the best. He spoke perfect English, he was funny, informative and he was a wonderful escort, making sure all of us were well taken care of. He made helpful recommendations to restaurants and venues. Hoji really made my stay in Cuba a perfect experience. The Hotel Raquel was a bit run down but the location was perfect in old town Havana and the staff was attentive and professional. We had dinner at a private family home our second night in Trinidad. The food was excellent – fresh fish and lobster followed by music and song by the husband. After dinner Hoji took us to an outdoor music and dancing show, which was so much fun. Our last hotel, Hotel Saratoga was the BEST. The accommodations were truly five-stars. Our driver Poncho was excellent; he too was professional and good humored. We had a slight problem when the bus broke down on our way to Trinidad. After several failed attempted to fix the problem they called the tour company to get us another bus. We had a new driver and bus that afternoon and part of the next day, then Poncho was back with us the rest of the trip. Your guide went beyond his normal tour guide duties; he was with us beyond what the tour schedule allowed making sure that our every request was delivered. I definitely recommend your tour company based on our excellent adventure in Cuba. Thank you so very much and God bless.

Eileen Gmerek, St. Louis, Missouri

I feel so blessed to have taken the trip. I have some great memories and met some wonderful people. And that's due to Marvin's help in organizing the trip. I can't believe how fortunate I am to know you.

Laki Halper, Chevy Chase, Maryland

Our trip went without a hitch. Once we got through the airport madhouse, our guide Alden met us and from then on it was great every day. It was an excellent trip well run and informative. Leonardo did a great job with trip organization. I am ready to start planning the next one! We had no problem with customs and immigrations. Meanwhile, a happy healthy New Year to all of you.

Richard Madenburg, Santa Ana, California

Found visit to Cuba to be fascinating; people-to people interaction was great; had no problems whatsoever in returning to USA. Immigrations and customs were non-events. Cuba Explorer Tours met all our expectations and would use you again. All had an enjoyable experience. The weather was perfect – virtually no rain and clear blue skies every day. Temperatures were comfortable, mostly in to mid 70s. Needed a light jacket on some evenings. No mosquitoes. Hotel Nacional was an interesting venue from an historical perspective, however not geographically friendly to the Old Havana. The many small boutique hotels within the old city would have been more accommodating, I think. Guide José and Driver Fernando were both professional and courteous.

Susan Madenburg, Santa Ana, California

We very much enjoyed our trip to Cuba, the smiling faces and kind people. My husband and I are generally independent travelers who have toured the world over for years and we were happy to finally experience Cuba and its people. When we travel we like to bring ourselves into the culture and lives of the people of the Country we travel to. We travel with few expectations and for the most part are always surprised and delighted. We knew going into Cuba, the five-star Hotel Nacional would certainly not be the same five-star expected in the US, Paris, or Dubai. I do think the carpet could be replaced and the buffets could be stepped up a bit, but certainly not anyone's fault and again it is Cuba, Not America! I believe we all were aware before going to Cuba that we were not going to find great culinary cuisines due to shortages, etc. Our bus driver Fernando was very kind and a very safe driver. Our tour guide José Ramon was very nice and tried hard to please all, which I'm sure was not an easy task.

Miriam Baker, Artist, Newport Beach, California

We are glad that we were able to visit Cuba and we were surprised that the people were not as poor as we had been led to believe. Most of the people that we saw had enough to eat and clothes to wear and were enjoying life. They were friendly and kind (finding chairs for my husband with his bad knee) and colorful. Their artwork was vibrant and the country is rich in excellent sculptures and it was a lot of fun to see all the great 1950s American cars all bright and shinny.

Olivia Maria Baratta, Attorney, Atlanta, Georgia

The trip was fantastic. I can't say enough good things about it. It completely exceeded my expectations. Frank, our guide, was great. The only "negative" about the trip was the long delay in securing air tickets so we could fly via Miami. And I realize we chose this route because we did not want to take the Cubana flight. I've told all my friends to contact you for any Cuba travel. Thank you for an amazing trip!

Erica Serlin, Madison, Wisconsin

My sisters and I (Triple Trouble) enjoyed the tour tremendously, and we all felt we got "a lot of bang for the buck" without scrimping on comfort and amenities. The tour was very well planned and geared to a wide variety of interests. I really felt I got a good introduction to Cuba, especially Havana, of course. The people on our particular trip were lovely and relatively seasoned travelers, and Danilo was simply spectacular! He was warm, engaged, flexible, knowledgeable, genuine, and funny. His English was also fantastic. He was a pleasure to listen to and clearly grasped the nuances of our questions, never became defensive, and provided service that was above and beyond the call of duty. I adored the city – its architecture, old cars, fabulous music everywhere, terrific art, incredibly gracious people, and some delicious food, and the tour was paced well to provide a mix of structured activities and meals and time on our own. Also, the information provided in advance was generally very helpful. (I continued to feel a little baffled about the tipping and gift expectations however.) Highlights of the trip for me included the House for the Boy and Girl, Callejón Hamel (although we were there too briefly to catch much of the dancing), the walking tour of Old Havana, Organopónico Vivero Alamar, the Museum of Regla, the studio and lunch at José Fúster's, the Plaza del la Revolución and the José Marti memorial and museum, Viñales and the tobacco farm, the tour of Museo Belles Artes, and the recording studio. Despite some hiccups, the tour was a huge success. I would definitely return to Cuba on another Cuba Education and Culture Tour and would highly recommend it to others.

Robert McElvaine, Clinton, Mississippi

My trip the week before last was wonderful – possibly my best one yet. I believe everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks so much.

Richard Summa, Tallahassee, Florida

WOW! PRICELESS! I had an AWESOME time in Cuba. Special thanks are also due to my guide Grency, who was a perfect host – personal and informative and just very nice. The people were very nice in Cuba. I made friends with many musicians and accomplished the number one thing that I wanted to do – perform with some of the local musicians that I met. In fact, I returned home with a video of me playing guitar with the band in Hotel Nacional.

Gwenda Blanks, Nurse, Alexandria, Virginia

There is nothing NOT to like about Havana. The people are warm, friendly and SO TALENTED. Great music everywhere! The itinerary was leisurely (no waking at 6 or 8AM) and our guide Liliana was knowledgeable and patient. The hotel was a bit of a disappointment, but the only one in an otherwise outstanding experience. I plan to return someday and see more of the island. You have been efficient and professional. Thank you.

Brett P. Holmes, Chicago, Illinois

We both loved our trip to Cuba and found the country to be even more spectacular than imagined. The cigars, rum, food, and music were all very unique and special and I hope that Cuba never loses its authentic culture and personality. Most striking to me was the architecture and overall charm of Havana. It's just so natural and unplanned, and that's what makes it so spectacular in my opinion. I can't think of too many improvements at the moment because we found the experience to be fluid and well organized. Hopefully, we can return someday soon. Thanks again for checking on us!

Sally Welker, Roanoke, Indiana

We enjoyed our Cuba tour. We especially liked our guide Liliana. She was intelligent and informative and so very patient and kind. We have invited her to the US and would love for her to be our guest. The Hotel Nacional, would not be considered a five-star by American standards, however it was real nice, but not great. We enjoyed our trip however, I would not consider returning to Cuba. Thank you for your concern, and good luck to you in the future.

Judith Timmel, Emeryville, California

I loved my stay in Cuba. I'm sure I will be back someday. The people express themselves through music and dance so eloquently. One must listen to the music to know the Cuban soul. The Hotel Nacional was fine and it was fun to stay at such an historic place. However, if I go again, I would stay somewhere such as Old Havana from where one could walk to places of interest. The activities were for the most part excellent. Our tour guide, Linnet, was very cheerful and upbeat, knowledgeable and a pleasure. She was always willing to help us with reservations and tickets to other venues. Free time: I always like a lot of it, and was pleased to find a good amount of it compared to the only other tour I have been on. I love to dance and didn't get enough of it.

Ronald Strouse, Chef, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

First and foremost, we had a good time. Havana was intriguing, the people and architecture and history. We feel fortunate to have stayed at the Hotel Nacional. Staying there is worth a little more money, if necessary. The jazz festival did not disappoint! The bus was comfortable, our driver was capable and polite and Linnet, our tour guide was everything we could have hoped for. She was friendly, informative and kept things going. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. Of course, we share our experiences with people we know and we will recommend you as well.

Mavis and Maarten Hemsley, Duxbury, Massachusetts

We had a wonderful time at the Jazz Festival, and our guide Liliana was the best. She was full of enthusiasm and really connected with everyone in the group. Her knowledge of the history of the Island was outstanding, and nothing was too much trouble for her. We have been on a lot of trips where the guide seems disconnected, but not so with Liliana. Although she is young, she has a great future ahead of her in tourism. She is a credit to your company.

Sandra J. Price, New York, New York

This was my second trip to the Havana Jazz Festival with your organization. I enjoyed myself so much the first time I had to go again. I have no complaints, as all the services were excellent including hotel, restaurants, tour guide and driver. The Cuban people are exceptionally polite, honest and accommodating. I left my camera in a restaurant and was assured that it would be there when I returned the next day. Yes, it was there.

Norma Milne, Banning, California

A deeply felt compliment to you and your staff. You did a wonderful job in organizing our group and activities. Our tour guide was the best. He couldn't have been more helpful in making our trip THE BEST! We went everywhere we could in such a short time. The restaurants were breathtaking. Great food in all of them including the wonderful buffet breakfasts at the hotel. The accommodations at the Hotel National were comfortable and clean – the surroundings glamorous. We had the greatest of times and would love to return sometime. Please give our tour guide an extra special thank you. All three of us travel a lot and he ranks up there with the best guide I've ever had.

Larry Daniels, Salinas, California

Visiting Cuba is not for the fainthearted but I think one cannot find a better place to meet upbeat and determined people trying to make a better life for their children in the face of daunting adversity. Music, dance and art are thriving in spite of a government that is failing to provide some of the essentials of life. I feel sadder but wiser as a result of this trip and am determined to do what I can to influence our government to lift the trade embargo with Cuba. I could not imagine a better guide than Liliana. She is dependable, fluent and articulate in English, smart and well informed and clearly concerned about our comfort and enjoyment of our Cuban experience. She and the driver, Alberto, are both simpatico. Highlights for me included the organic farm, Las Terrazas, a dance performance my wife and I attended on our own, a young and talkative cab driver we met, the desperate mother we helped by purchasing some diapers and milk for her sick child. Viva los Cubanos!

Patricia Scheans, Portland, Oregon

Everything went very well. Our guide was excellent! The Hotel Presidente was clean and nice in an antique way, and it was close to the Jazz Festival venues, so we could walk, which was great. Combining the jazz festival with the cultural tour was brilliant. The arts and music focus really brought out the culture. Some days were a little too busy. The Art Museum needed more time just let people roam at their own pace. The day trip to Las Terrazas was extra great, as was the visit to Fúster's house. I struggled at first with having enough information about flights, but Graciella helped with this. All of our paperwork was available in a timely manner. Coming back, we were asked by customs about having been in Cuba, but we told him our purpose and that we had our license, and we were fine. We were lucky and had great seats for all the shows, which were fantastic.

Stephen Wagner and Simon Beachley, North Palm Beach, Florida

The US embargo is so stupid – get over it! Cuban architecture is incredible, but unfortunately, it's crumbling. From what we saw, Cuba’s a beautiful country. Loved Las Terrazas. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was terrific. Built in 1930, designed to look like the Breakers in Palm Beach, which it does (we live here). Had some great meals at four paladares: La Guarida, Doña Eutemia, Decameron, and Café Laurent, other meals so-so, some decent, some ugh. Tour Guide, Linnet Brown, was outstanding. We had a wonderful time. Thank you for organizing this wonder trip.

Nita Bryant-Azmar and Amir Azmar, Los Angeles, California

We liked the trip so well that we are planning to send about 15 others on the trip next year with your organization. Our tour guide was very informative, helpful and she worked well with the group.

William Fay and Jacqueline Carrera, Skillman, New Jersey

We had an amazing trip, thank you for helping to arrange it. The most important feedback I can offer is that our tour guide, Grency, was fabulous. She did a superb job at educating us, making it fun, and managing a very diverse group of travelers. It was the trip of a lifetime. Havana is like an old European city transported to the Caribbean, with its classic architecture, large, cobblestone squares, art, history, and culture. We can't wait to return one day. We were also able to establish the first contact in four decades with Jackie's Cuban cousins in Havana. We brought back many wonderful photos.

Harriet and William Yelon, Columbia, Missouri

Just to be able to go was amazing! Thank you. Lillian our tour guide was absolutely the best ever. She answered questions above and beyond the call of duty and always took a count of the participants, made sure we got to where we were going and would highly recommend her for any tour. I loved Cuba. The people are very warm, friendly and want to assist you in anyway. I enjoyed everything we visited on the tour, as it was our first time. It gave us a good perspective on what's happening now in Cuba. The lunches provided at the different venues were excellent and the service as well. The bus driver Alberto was also excellent. As a sociologist I have always been interested in Cuba and couldn't wait for it to open up with travel as it did. My excitement overrides little problems of the tour. I would have stayed longer if I didn't have to get back to Columbia for relatives coming. The memories are important to me. We brought a bag of essentials for a particular person and she got received that. How wonderful to be able to do something for someone with so little. I left everything behind that I had in clothes to Lillian for her family, tipped with enthusiasm and was sorry I couldn't have done more. I am hoping, like everyone else that the embargo is completely lifted but can also see the problems it presents for Cuba. What an opportunity and thank you for providing that. Happy New Year to you.

Beverly McLaughlin, Durham, North Carolina

Truly heart-warming experience. My time in Havana, Cuba was much more wonderful and complex than I could have imagined, far exceeding any attempt at verbal description! However, in a simple attempt to share a few words, I would say that the people were friendly and courteous, the food, especially seafood, was fresh and tasty, and I was "awe struck" with the old architectural structures and new developments. The music and art scenes in Havana were exceptional, about which I was consistently delighted! The Hotel Nacional, where we stayed for our nine-day tour, was clean, comfortable, historic and beautiful, and is where I will surely return for my next visit, with friends in tow! I really can't say enough about how satisfied I was with my experience with Cuba Explorer. Both stateside and while in Cuba, information given was generally thorough and accurate. Our guide was very approachable and did all she could to create a caring, helpful and welcoming atmosphere. Our group, collectively, was fabulous! Thank you Havana, and thank you Cuba Explorer Tours. I am grateful! An exception is the following: I would be definitive that tourists who return to the US via Cancun make at least an overnight stay in Cancun versus attempting at all to make a connecting flight on the same day.

Adrianna Greene, New York, New York

Cuban senior citizens welcome choir made my heart swell. Cuba called me back. I was there 12 years ago, mainly because of the people and the culture. The people are welcoming gentle and caring. For example, ladies called out to us as we were crossing the street at the wrong time. I had no problems. I would love a direct flight from JFK to La Habana. Feliz año nuevo, gracias por todo!

Ann Stuart, Durham, North Carolina

Everywhere music. I loved Cuba. Cubans are unfailingly polite and kind. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. I also loved the Spanish Classical architecture of the old buildings along with the tropical setting – just gorgeous! Our guide Grency was excellent, very charming and knowledgeable. I was disappointed that we were not able to visit Hemingway's old home but I understand it was closed for a movie project.

Nolan Col, Gainesville, Florida

The Jazz Festival was a delicious experience. Got in last night after spending a couple of days in the Yucatan. A few first blush impressions of Cuba: Vibrant enchanting communities. Racially harmonious culture. Pronounced poverty. Crumbling infrastructure. Music seeming to emanate from every quarter. Openhearted generous people. Indomitable proud spirit. Viva Cuba! Overall, our trip was a delicious experience. Cuba Explorer is first rate. Liliana is an articulate, knowledgeable and resourceful guide. Both she and Alberto are warm, caring, genuine people. It was a pleasure to spend time in the company of such consummate professionals. On a minor note, the laundry service in the Hotel Nacional was too good. Regardless of what I wrote on the bags or told staff every item came back washed and ironed!

Leslie Nelson, Tucson, Arizona

I loved Havana and loved tour, but a day of rest required! The buildings were just beautiful, particularly the old ones. I found the people very helpful and nice always. We liked our guide; she was always very considerate and very "up" all the time. My only suggestion is on a nine-day tour there should be one complete day with nothing planned. That would allow people to go back to favorite places, lounge by the pool, sleep in or do whatever they wanted. Other than that I loved the tour. If I were ten years younger or so, would plan to go back.

Sandra Pettway, New York, New York

I want to express my sincere gratefulness on the hospitality of the people of Cuba. I have high praises for the tour guide Ariannet. She is superb, very knowledgeable and made everything so easy for us. Your country is beautiful! I came home both excited and contented at the same time. I hope to return soon.

Michael and Sara Frank, West Bloomfield, Michigan

We saw the real, original Cuba and we were right up closed to Chucho Valdés! Had a great trip. Cuba is a wonderful country with warm, friendly people. The architecture was amazing, and it was good to see it before it is "modernized" after lifting the embargo. Music everywhere. People happy getting by and trying to do the best they can. People grateful for contact with tourists from Americans. The hotel was an amazing historical site. Although there were newer, and perhaps glitzier hotels, the ability to stay in the historic Hotel Nacional was wonderful. The hotel, like a lot of Cuba, was a "faded rose" – still a rose, but with some of the bloom removed due to its age and due to the embargo and maybe government regulations. Our guide, Grency, and all the ancillary guides were great, patient, and made us feel comfortable and welcome. The group of people we travelled with was very compatible. We got along better than any other trip I have ever been on, as we all had no false expectations. The art museum deserved a whole day, and it would have been wonderful just to get a walking tour of all the artist sites and graffiti. We picked up a little here and there, but art was everywhere, and it made us happy just to see it and hear the music. The private restaurants we ate at were wonderful. The state restaurants we ate at with the tour were passable, with the exception of El Patio, as mentioned before. There was a bit too much rum on the trip (I could never say no when a glass was shoved in my face, even at 9 AM). I wish that the Jazz Fest was more forthcoming with a schedule sooner than the day before so we could all make plans. I wish that Jazz Fest had a program with descriptions of the types of music that each group played, what instruments, a short biography of the artists, etc. And I was particularly disappointed in that there was no "traditional" big band Cuban music (such as Buena Vista Social Club, or Celia Cruz, etc.). Some of the other tours had opportunities to see them at different venues during the week, but the Jazz Fest concerts that we had the opportunity to see were more straight ahead jazz.

Delois Wickliff, Los Angeles, California

The Havana Jazz Festival was wonderful. I’m returned and still trying to get my bearings. Let me just say that I had a wonderful visit and met so many new friends on the tour. Cubans were friendly and curious about Americans. Cubans are physically beautiful and stylish too. Havana with all its ruins is still an elegant place and the architecture just awesome. The tour itself was educational and fun. Our tour guide, Grency Rodriguez, spoke good English and was knowledgeable and exercised patience with such a large group which was no small feat. Our bus driver, Carlos, was most courteous and a good, safe driver. The music was topnotch and this goes for the musicians I encountered in the restaurants too. My highlights included visiting the different squares; lunch on the Santa Maria Beach, the organic farm, and the Havana Jazz Festival. Not to forget the Hotel Nacional de Cuba was beautiful, helpful staff, and a lovely room, and within walking distance to some good small restaurants. Many thanks to you and your co-workers in providing all the details to make our travel flow so smoothly.

Daniele Spellman, Berkeley, California

Very good first introduction to Cuba via the Havana Jazz Festival. Thanks. The whole experience was terrific and I congratulate your agency on having put together an excellent program. The accommodations at the Nacional were better than I'd expected; one small problem, the shower was pretty useless but that didn't stop us from enjoying our stay. Our guide, Linnet Brown, was excellent, personable and informative; she took very good care of everyone in the group. The program was diverse enough to give a good feel of some of the issues facing Cuba today, although a bit too much packed on and too many visits on certain days. The jazz festival on the whole was excellent. The trip was a very good first introduction to Cuba. We loved Havana and its people and hope to learn more in the future. Thank you.

Ralph DePalma, Key West, Florida

Never met people with so little yet so happy. I cannot describe with any justice the wonderful Cuban people that we met on our trip. The Cuban people were the best part of the entire journey. I felt more comfortable with them on the streets of Havana than I have ever felt in Miami or New York. We walked the streets at night and felt completely comfortable and safe. We met a lady in Nassau on the way to Cuba that best described the Cuban people. She said she had never met people with so little yet so happy. I agree. With regards to the touring and logistics I am amazed that Liliana was able to move so many people around on schedule from place to place with so much efficiency. She was absolutely a treasure. Happy New Year.

Mary Ellen Gibson, San Luis Obispo, California

The Havana Jazz Festival trip was seriously priceless: a wonderful trip, marvelous time, and educational experience. Thank you for an exceptional experience! I am well aware that it is very difficult to deal with multiple personalities on a trip like this one. Plus, we are not normally people who travel with a tour, preferring to make our own way. I am in awe of the skill and professionalism of our guide, Lily. She was charming throughout. Our driver was very kind, helpful and careful. The tour was very educational and interesting as we visited various significant locations in Havana. I was unable to attend all the music venues, but the ones I attended were outstanding.

David and Deborah Shapiro, Los Angeles, California

We just returned from the most incredible vacation imaginable in Cuba! It exceeded all our expectations. Having traveled to approximately 150 countries, I can honestly state that our trip to Cuba is in the top five. I am already planning (literally) my next trip to this endlessly fascinating destination – a magical place with vibrant music, wonderful food and accommodations and among the nicest, warmest, kindest individuals we have ever had the pleasure and privilege to meet. We make this recommendation without hesitation or qualification. If you can't have fun in Cuba, you can't have fun!

Winfred 'Maxx' Myrick, Silver Spring, Maryland

I enjoyed my first trip to Cuba, thanks for your assistance before and during. The people of Cuba are a proud people with an abundance of dignity and grace. I thought the tour, our guide Grency, and driver Carlos were great and very informative and helpful. I think the activities were well paced and gave us a general look at the city of Havana and it's people. The restrictions to travel from the US and access to currency from US banks were problematic and confusing, especially after seeing the hypocrisy of all the American companies doing business in Cuba with the so-called embargo in place. Not sure what good it does or whom it helps, it certainly isn't fooling anyone. I would suggest to future travelers from the United States to bring enough money to convert into CUC, because you cannot use a credit or debit card tied to a US bank in Cuba.

Phillip Sanchez and Judy Catanzaro, Moreno Valley and Covina, California

Our impressions of Cuba was positive. It is a beautiful island nation with plush green forests and beautiful beach areas. The people are friendly and outgoing. It was like going back in time where you see colonial architecture with peeling paint and the classic old cars of the 1950s that are still running! We found the trip to be interesting, educational and enjoyable. If you like to dance, the rhythm sounds of salsa, rumba and cha cha chá will be there to greet you, with a smile

Linda Gerber, Tucson, Arizona

The Jazz festival was the frosting on the cake. The people of Cuba were polite and helpful as well as very entertaining. They were people doing everyday jobs and services. We were surprised how clean the streets were. Havana is an ongoing project, showing signs of old and new progress. This was our first tour and we thought conducted professionally. Our guide showed patience and knowledge of the city, people and culture along with a great personality. Our bus driver was fantastic, always on time, very polite and helpful to people when entering and exiting the bus. He always greeted you with a smile and warm welcome and on top of it all was a safe driver. All and all an enjoyable experience and we would recommend your company to our friends.

Dorothy Dare, Evanston, Illinois

I am just back from our trip. I will remember this holiday as a wonderful experience. Thanks to your help we had a marvelous time. I really appreciate all you did to make our trip a success. Of course, there are always surprises, especially when one visits a country that has such variety and such a fascinating history. I am eager to see what Cuba will be like a few years from now. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and I was sorry that there weren't more Americans enjoying the cities we visited.

Susan Palmer, Musician, San Diego, California

The jazz festival was over the top! We had a fantastic time and really enjoyed our time in Cuba. Most people think its illegal for US citizens to go to Cuba, so that was an eye opener. I loved all the music, art, and most of the excursions. The best were the Fúster neighborhood, Las Terrazas, Regla and Santería dancing, and the organic farm. Of course, the jazz festival, which is why I went. I thought the cannon shooting was a little disappointing, but enjoyed the company anyway. Had lots of options to go off on our own. Teaching us to dance like Cubans was pretty hysterical. I would recommend your tour to anyone and really liked our guide Linnet Brown. She was informative and positive and competent. I am enjoying all the CDs I bought. Good luck to you and thank you very much.

Doris Wallace, New York, New York

Havana is sadly beautiful and the people were warm and friendly. I heard expressions of joy and resignation. Our tour guide, Lynette was wonderful. She has a terrific sense of humor and enormous energy. The jazz festival was, of course, terrific. Since our group shared this mutual enthusiasm, we got along great. Especially loved our visits to Regal, to Las Terrazas and to the organic farm. The artists we met were very gifted. My sister and I stayed longer and loved Trinidad. And when we went back to Havana we spent some interesting time in the cemetery (worth an inclusion in the tour). Thank you so much for your efforts. I am happy to recommend you.

Tomás Digaldo, Connecticut

I really enjoyed the trip. I'm not the kind of traveler that typically joins groups but for the purpose of seeing the Jazz Festival, I thought it was great. All in all I was very satisfied with the trip. Please keep my contact info as I would like to return to Cuba in the future to see more of the country outside of Havana. Thanks again for your help and happy New Year!

Bill Fairchild, Longmont, Colorado

My friend Greg Rodriguez and I went on the Cuba Explorer Havana Jazz Festival program and it was a great experience from start to finish – even better than I expected. The jazz component of the tour was for me not nearly so interesting as touring Havana, hearing great Afrocuban music everywhere we went and even out in the countryside. Music was everywhere in the restaurants, bars, and on the streets and I heard many of my favorites from the mambo and cha cha chá days of the 1950s and '60s. Cubans I met were very friendly and outgoing and were willing to speak Spanish with me even though their English was good. Our guide Alden was very knowledgeable for someone so young and explained many things about Cuba to me. He learned his excellent English mainly from watching television. I wish my ESL students would do the same. Upon return to the US, immigration officials in Denver Greg Rodriguez and I to produce our licenses. They read mine carefully and were not unfriendly. I got through quickly but Greg was having a long conversation with his official and I thought there might be some problem. It turned out, though she was Hispanic and had always wanted to visit Cuba! I hope that indicates the embargo will soon be over. Thanks again for arranging this great trip.

Hilda and Jerry Artesona, Union, New Jersey

Merry Christmas to the wonderful people at Cuba Explorer. Wanted to let you know our trip was fantastic so much more than we expected. Everything was handled so expertly. We met wonderful delightful people who we made friends with and plan to visit. We had so much fun and were so educationally stimulated. The Jazz Festival was classical jazz, which we did not realize but the music in the streets and in the restaurants made up for it. We enjoyed the music at the venues very much we just were expecting more Latin Jazz. In no way were we disappointed. I felt very proud of being a Cuban American. Alden the guide was fabulous an amazing young man, the bus driver Forster was super fun and so knowledgeable. Hopefully you can send a note of how happy we were with Alden especially. Thank you for your attention to detail in every step of the way. We hope to take our mom as soon as we can. I have recommended your agency to all of our family and friends as the perfect way to experience Cuba. For us it was also great to meet family and find the places our families have talked so much about. I have pictures of the porch my grandparents lived in and found it to be a wonder that the old tiles are still intact. The Cuban people were inquisitive, open, friendly and welcoming. While it may be deteriorating, the architecture is fascinating and beautiful. One can see in the old building the grandeur that was Cuba. I can only hope someday all Americans can experience that beautiful island and that the Cubans are smart enough not to let it become just another tourist stop. It is truly unique in every. I can go on and on, everything about the trip was wonderful. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime. PS Did you know that the Havana Jazz Festival is listed as one of the things to do before you die in a book called 1000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. Well its so true, as newly retired we are so glad we did this. May you enjoy a healthy happy New Year.

Jane Godfrey, Takoma Park, Maryland

The guides were excellent. The busses were great. Hotel Nacional is a gem. The whole week was well thought out and we got to see many sites that otherwise we wouldn't have known about. Dinners were great too. Only downer was the art college we were to visit was closed for the Christmas holidays. Sigh. We went to the beach instead and had a great time.

Steve and Judy Schlager, Cleveland, South Carolina

We just returned from our trip and we wanted to tell you what a good experience it was. We enjoyed seeing the beautiful architecture and meeting the Cuban people who were friendly and helpful. Our guide Frank and the bus driver Diego were excellent. Frank made sure that everyone got where they needed to be and Diego was extremely helpful getting the old people (like us) on and off the bus. The Hotel Nacional was an amazing structure. I would've liked to seen it 50 years ago. The maids were extremely helpful especially when I wasn't feeling well after the first cigar. No problem with US immigrations coming back. They asked if we had any rum or cigars and when we said no. They let us through without searching our bags. I will certainly recommend visiting Cuba with you to anyone who asks.

Tayani Suma, Atlanta, Georgia

I really enjoyed my trip and you and your team did a wonderful job of planning excursions that seemed to be of interest and well received by the majority of the folks on our bus. I was especially impressed with the services provided by our tour guide Alden. He went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we were happy, and was also great at balancing executive decisions with group choices when needed. You've done a great job and I will recommend you to friends and family. I hope to travel again on one of your tours next year.

Marta Karell, Chestnut Ridge, New York

Despite a rough start to our Jazz Fest Tour, we had a wonderful time! You made every effort to make it up to us and took full responsibility. Anyway, the jazz festival was marvelous. We loved the people at the Hotel Plaza. Our tour guide, Ludwig was very nice and very knowledgeable. And Cuba was enchanting. I wish it were easier for Americans to travel there. I know I will return sometime. Thanks for your help.

Christie Grace, Musician, North Vancouver, British Columbia

Extraordinary experience: Cascading joy, passion, and tenderness! On our recent debut visit to Havana over the past two weeks during Valentines, my 14-year-old daughter, husband and I had the rare opportunity to attend the 2009 Havana Jazz Festival – "Jazz Plaza 2009." There were many musicians I fell in love with including Roberto Fonseca – but that is for another blog. What I want to share now – was the unforgettable opening night concert that featured the spectacular Chucho Valdes and the premiere of his new band Akokan Ire. It was a sellout shortly after tickets went on sale – but we had been reserved tickets as part of the Havana International Jazz Festival tour ably organized by Cuba Explorer so our enthusiastic jazz tour group from, Vancouver, Ottawa and Bermuda had great center stage left seats.

Trudi Beth Unger, Photographer, Mill Valley, California

To my fellow tour participants and Cuba Explorer: Happy New Year! Hope that all of your holidays were wonderful and that this New Year brings you peace, good health, love of friends/family, and most of all, that you have everything your heart desires. Favorite places were Baracoa, Camaguey, and of course, Havana. The music at the Casa de Trova in Santiago de Cuba was incredible, and the folkloric dance group, Catumba, was New York, Broadway, outstanding. Loved Baracoa. So peaceful, community oriented, and in such a beautiful, beautiful setting. Trinidad is a lovely Colonial town and well known for their cobblestone streets. Returning was simple, as it turned out. I had a research license for photography, so I put together a journal outlining every day; everything I had did with Cuban photographers, educators, etc. I bring back any "knick knack" touristy items that are banned in the US Arriving in Houston, I went to the immigrations window, and the officer asked, "What did you buy?" I said some etchings. Then he said, "Hope that your trip was good," and waved me on.

Dawn and Eric Gordon, Cleveland, Ohio

We are back from our Cuba experience and a little fatter! Thank you Cuba Explorer. Our experience was outstanding. Our only complaint is that we ate far too much of great food and probably gained ten pounds! Our tour guide, Tatiana, was perfect. Happy New Year to you!

Judith Stern, North Brunswick, New Jersey

Greetings. It was a swell tour. Happy travels and Happy New Year.

Elizabeth Sayre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Happy New Year! I just got home yesterday as I stayed two more weeks and went to Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Camagüey, and Santiago. I wanted to let you know that we were very happy with the tour, and that our guide Arturo was excellent. My heartfelt thanks for making our tour successful.

Vera 'Mike' Michelson, Albany, New York

I had a wonderful, memorable time. I made many new friends. It's really amazing that when you leave Cuba you feel like you leave a piece of yourself there. Everyone was very generous with their time, very informative and helpful.

Gillian and John Steel, Vancouver, British Columbia

John and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for setting up such a wonderful tour. I had no idea that we would be so immersed in the culture of Cuba. We enjoyed every aspect of it especially visiting the music school and seeing the young people with their enthusiasm for education. Our guide was fabulous. On the day we visited Viñales Valley, she scheduled a stop at a small school for us to be able to leave our gifts to the children. It was very meaningful. We were shown the work of the children and we were able to ask questions about their education. Some of the men in our group played football with a few of the kids and I couldn't help but think what a lovely scene it was that day, with people from different worlds and ages coming together surrounded by mountains and greenery. It was definitely an eye opener to be exposed all that Havana has to offer. We explored as much as we could in our spare time and we got to see The National Ballet of Cuba perform Giselle.

Ian and Lis Angus, Toronto, Ontario

We had a wonderful time in Cuba and are determined to go back soon. We thoroughly enjoyed the Jazz Festival events and concerts. This tour ranked amongst our best vacations ever. One of the events that we enjoyed a great deal was the talk with architect Miguel Coyula on urban planning in Havana. He was eloquent and we appreciated his insights on the challenges to be met. In our free time we also took advantage of the International Book Fair, which was remarkable! Thanks again for your excellent services. We've no hesitation at all recommending your programs. Reserve future spaces for us!

Barbara Fudge, Vancouver, British Columbia

Just a quick note to tell you what a fabulous trip we had! You and the gang in Havana did an unbelievable job of putting together an itinerary that was truly over the top in culture, richness, variety and fun… with access to some amazing speakers too. Our guides, Mildred and Tatiana, were exceptional. I will write more in the coming weeks.

Jan and Ellen de Man, Vancouver, British Columbia

We have returned from your beautiful country with the most amazing memories forever. Our trip was absolutely fantastic. All the hard work our guides Mildred and Tatiana put in for us was more then we could have hoped for and, not to forget our bus driver Orlando, very accommodating all of them. The weather, the food and the music all the best. So a very big thank you to all who made this trip possible and unforgettable. I will tell all my friends to participate in 2009.

Joann Campbell, Hamilton, Bermuda

I am back in my office after a wonderful trip to Cuba! My group thoroughly enjoyed this tour and is still talking about all the wonderful sights they visited and friendly people they met. Our tour guide was excellent. Our entire group fell in love with her and enjoyed every minute we shared during the days and nights on the program. Our bus driver was also a very nice individual that got to know all us and have a good time as well. On behalf of our group and myself we would like to say well done!

Philip Theriault, Halifax, Nova Scotia

I fell in love with Yolanda while in Havana. Let me back up a bit before I explain that statement. My original reason for going to Havana was to volunteer as an ESL teacher, but I found out that the dates of the Havana International Jazz Festival had been changed from December to the week prior to my volunteering. I decided that this was an opportunity that I needed to take advantage of, so I arranged with Cuba Explorer Tours to travel to Havana a week earlier than the rest of the volunteer ESL teachers.

Vanda Simpson, Teacher, Round Rock, Texas

I enjoyed the trip so much. I think it was a great introduction to Cuba. I plan to return in a few years for your Havana International Jazz Festival Tour. Our guide Mildred and bus driver Leo were fantastic! Something I felt a little bit frustrate about gift giving. I think our list should be more specific, for instance, there is a need for USB memory sticks at Escuela Angela Landa. Also, it would be helpful to include items such as candy for little children. Do you know of any American organizations that have humanitarian efforts in Cuba? Anyway, I was thrilled to see Buena Vista Social Club and Eliades Ochoa in concert. I even got pictures and autographs! I will definitely recommend your organization to my friends – I have already done so. Feel free to use my comments, and my contact information for future tourists who want to talk with past participants. Thanks for everything.

Antonietta Crevasse and Stephen Goldstein, Washington, DC

We are a well-traveled couple and found the Jazz Festival tour an amazing experience. Although the country is stuck in time, there is beauty in the people, architecture and overall culture. Much of the Cuban art is passionate and complex. As first timer Cuba travelers, we were happy to see so much. Our visit to the organic farm was a highlight. Although we traveled over three hours to Viñales Valley, it was well worth it. The beauty of the countryside and the Mural de la Prehistoria gave us another positive perspective on Cuba. Perhaps most important, our tour guide Alden and driver Julio could not have been better. We will highly recommend a visit to all our friends.