How some of the first American travellers are experiencing Cuba

Posted: 07-May-16 11:26

While most Americans have never visited Cuba, much less a Cuban beach, for a select few it's proving to be the trip of a lifetime. A frequent travel writer and editor uses his recent travels to Cuba to paint the picture of what it was like to be among the first U.S. citizens to step foot on Cuban sand and swim in Cuban waters.

How some of the first American travellers are experiencing Cuba

As one of the first Americans to visit Cuba by cruise ship, a U.S.-based travel writer discovered it was much harder to leave the once virtually forbidden destination than he ever imagined. David Cogswell is an editor for Travel Pulse, most often writing about tours and travel packages to the Middle East or Africa. Recently, though, he shared his own personal experience and photos of his travels to Cuba.

On board a Celestyal Cruise ship to Cuba, Cogswell recently joined fellow American travellers marking one of the first U.S. originated cruises to go to the island. In preparing to leave Havana, specifically, Cogswell writes,

“It was hard to leave such a place. Havana, I suspect, has broken many hearts.”

Cogswell says many passengers were visibly longing for a city they had just been introduced to, yet there was an exciting destination ahead. They would soon become among the first Americans to legally visit a Cuban beach.

While 16 months ago the U.S. began easing up on travel restrictions, allowing Americans to visit Cuba as long as they satisfied certain conditions such as the sharing of cultures, Cogswell writes that interpreting the rules has remained ambiguous at best. The author credits perhaps the timing of the trip and the fact that it was arranged by Central Holidays that he and the other travellers had no trouble falling into an approved “people to people” trip.

Cogswell points out, however, the obscurity over where Americans are allowed to visit may be more confusing than ever. Specifically, he writes, “going to the beach” appears to no longer be strictly forbidden for Americans, but rather falls into the category of “ok”. He backs this up with a Facebook chat he had with U.S. State Department officials. He writes he was told travelling to a beach is now okay for Americans as long as they fulfil the necessary “people to people” activities.

With the new interpretation of guidelines in effect, Cogswell and his fellow passengers went snorkelling at Maria la Gorda, along the western coast of Cuba. In describing it as mostly a diving camp, he writes that there was not much to visit beyond a couple of restaurants, a dive centre, a shop, a hotel and a beach. While it wouldn’t have stood out for land travellers, he says it felt natural for a cruise ship.

According to Cogswell some passengers went scuba diving and the rest joined him in snorkelling. Motorboats transported them from the ship to a rocky beach where they caught up with a dive boat. He writes the water was extremely clear, and you could see a huge variety of fish, including trumpet fish, balloon fish and lobsters, with visibility to the bottom of the sea.

After about an hour and a half, he says, they emerged from the water and he dined on local chicken, rice and beans. It was at this point where he discusses the captivating cross-cultural interaction that took place between Americans and locals in a region Americans are seldom seen.

While Cogswell writes that some locals seemed sceptical of the new onslaught of tourists to Maria la Gorda, the majority were friendly and welcoming. He goes on to say it was exciting to be part of a “change” for the future of Cuba and the United States, and to watch it happening in front of his own eyes.


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