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¡Vamos a Cuba! It's Still Possible to Join a Cuba Expedition in 2020

By Huntley Penniman

Cuba's Gardens of the Queen is home to the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean. © Noel Lopez

There is a lot of confusion about Cuba travel for U.S. citizens these days after new travel restrictions for “People to People” educational trips came into effect in June 2019. The good news is that trips booked before June 5, 2019 still have a green light to run, which means that you can still sign up to join one of our 2020 Cuba expeditions while space lasts. Yes, you read that correctly; we still have two Cuba expeditions to choose from, and they are our last Cuba departures for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, we have a handful of spaces available that are open to U.S. citizens through a "People to People" license given by the U.S. State Department to our partners. So pack your bags, and let’s go experience Cuba!

Our 2020 trips to Cuba have something to satisfy every explorer. You can choose between Cuba: Sea Turtles, Coral Reefs, and Culture in July, or dive into our final Cuba: Snorkeling Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina) in April. These dates are the last that we are able to offer for now, so don't miss out on these unique adventures.

Cuba: Sea Turtles, Coral Reefs, and Culture | July 2020

Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. © Brian J. Hutchinson

Classic cars line the streets of Havana. © Brian J. Hutchinson

On our Cuba: Sea Turtles, Coral Reefs, and Culture trip, we will travel from city to reef. We will explore vibrant Havana, learn from local experts about the restoration of Old Havana, enjoy live music, and take in the history of the city. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with many beautifully restored plazas and churches. You'll have the chance to enjoy authentic Cuban cuisine at a variety of restaurants and to sip mojitos in the courtyard during our stay at the legendary Hotel Nacional.

The beautiful Viñales Valley is a stop on our Cuba expedition in July. © Brian J Hutchinson

After stepping into the culture, food, and history of Havana, we will travel to the bucolic Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Cuba's premiere tobacco growing region. Steep limestone rock formations dot the scenic valley, and travelers can enjoy local food, learning about the geography of the valley and the tobacco grown there, and wandering around the charming town of Viñales. Here we also have a chance to see a variety of Cuba's endemic birds, including the beautiful Cuban Trogon, Cuba's national bird. After Viñales, we continue to Guanahacabibes National Park at the country's remote westernmost point, where we will enjoy snorkeling or diving, birding, and spend two nights patrolling the beach for nesting sea turtle.

The Cuban Tody is one of Cuba's many endemic birds. © Patricia Sellars

We'll dedicate two nights to patrolling for nesting sea turtles. © Sergio Romero Torras

There are many unique and endemic birds found in the park, including the Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Oriole, Cuban Black Hawk, Cuban Trogon and Cuban Pygmy Owl, and we have a good chance to see many of these in a single morning. We will also have several opportunities to experience the park’s beautiful coral reefs via a boat-based snorkel excursion within the park. With any luck, we will get to see green, and possibly loggerhead, turtles nesting as researchers collect data on the beach at night. Cuban turtle biologist Dr. Julia Azanza Ricardo will join us and share information about the park's sea turtle research program, and your Oceanic Society naturalist will share information about global sea turtle research and conservation. Returning to Havana, we will have time to visit the former home of author Ernest Hemingway just outside of Havana (Finca Vigia), and to enjoy local music and food, concluding with a multi-course meal at a paladar, a Cuban family-owned restaurant.

The Guanahacabibes Peninsula offers spectacular sunsets. © Brian J. Hutchinson

Cuba: Snorkeling Gardens of the Queen | April 18-25 2020

Gardens of the Queen is home to the Caribbean's healthiest coral reefs. © Noel Lopez

Our Cuba: Snorkeling Gardens of the Queen expedition offers a rare opportunity to splash into the best snorkeling in Cuba and the most pristine reefs in the Caribbean. Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina) is an impeccably protected marine reserve. It encompasses a chain of 250 coral and mangrove islands, and is the largest no-take marine reserve in the Caribbean. Established in 1996, the Gardens of the Queen is Cuba's first marine reserve and is located sixty miles off the southeastern coast of Cuba. Our home base for this trip is the 100-ft M/V Oceans for Youth, designed for sustainable exploration and research. You'll have the chance to snorkel among seagrass beds, mangroves, and coral reefs where you are likely to encounter Caribbean reef sharks, Goliath groupers, rainbow parrotfish, long-spined sea urchins, and recovering endangered species like elkhorn coral and hawksbill sea turtles.

The door to Cuba travel is almost closed (for now at least), with only a few spots left on our 2020 expeditions. Explore our Cuba trips today, and don’t miss out on this opportunity to experience lively culture, breathtaking landscapes, and marine ecosystems teeming with life in the Caribbean’s most stunning reefs!

Author

Huntley Penniman is an Oceanic Society social media specialist and communications strategist. From diving to conservation and environmental communications, her passion lies in learning more about the wildlife that lives under the surface of the ocean. Huntley holds a B.S. in Biology from Boston College and a Master’s in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

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