“Our trip to Cuba with Edible Excursions was truly amazing. While we expected this to be a food-forward tour (and it was), what stood out to us was the intimacy of the cultural experiences that were provided as well as the cultural lens that was offered for understanding those experiences,” writes George Lum from San Luis Obispo, who joined us with his wife. "Carol Steele and [local guide] Leo Leiva Gonzalez, were a wonderful team and delivered engrossing information from complimentary viewpoints. From lunching in a private home then dancing to live music generated by musicians who are the “heart of rumba,” to listening to an all women acapella choral group in downtown Havana, while overlooking the Hotel Nacional from an artist's loft, this tour exceeded our expectations.”
Carol’s custom tours are booking up fast for 2020 but she has reserved time in April for Edible Excursions guests who would like to travel to the island for a seven to 10-day adventure, taking in the culture and cuisine and sights and sounds at two to three locations, including the charming cities of Havana and Trinidad.
First, let’s address some misconceptions about traveling to Cuba right now. It’s true that beginning in June this year the current administration banned United States cruise ships from traveling to Cuban ports. And educational and cultural trips that were formerly sanctioned under what’s known as the “people to people” guidelines—which enabled many U.S. citizens to visit the country in the recent past—are no longer permitted, under revised federal rules. But it is still perfectly legal for Americans to visit the country via what is referred to as “support for the Cuban people.”
Under the “support for the Cuban people” guidelines, individual U.S. travelers can go to Cuba, as long as they document an itinerary filled with meetings and visits with local business owners, artists, and other independent Cubans. Travelers must also plan on participating in local activities, staying in private homes, and eating in private, independently-operated restaurants.
Those parameters just happen to dovetail perfectly with how Carol curates her Cuban excursions anyway. The musician-turned-guide who has been visiting the island for decades has made it a mission to cultivate the best independent, private accommodations, restaurants, and artist visits for her guests.
Also on her itinerary: meetings with on-the-ground guides, historians, architects, farmers, chefs, Yoruba priests, and Santeria practitioners who share their local knowledge with guests. For those interested in music—whether Cuban salsa, rumba, son, or Afro-Cuban jazz—Carol is dialed in.
She won’t blow her own horn, so we’ll do it for her: As a professional percussionist, Carol’s resume reads like a Who’s Who of popular music. She has performed or recorded with Peter Gabriel, Steve Winwood, Joan Baez, Tears for Fears, Bette Midler, and many other well-known artists, including Cuban musical greats such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, one of Cuba’s iconic folklore groups, and Lazaro Ros and Amelia Pedroso, two of Cuba’s most beloved folkloric singers. She’s also a student of Cuban religions of African origin and enjoys sharing her knowledge of the history of these spiritual practices, their presence in music and art, and how deeply entwined these practices are in the fabric of everyday Cuban life.
The itinerary might include Havana’s first paladar, the elegant La Guarida, where the critically-acclaimed 1993 Cuban movie Strawberry and Chocolate was filmed. We might also visit antique-filled Sol Ananda in Trinidad, on the southern coast of Cuba, known for its cobblestone streets and neo-baroque main square. Sol Ananda is a lovingly restored home, whose owner is credited with both the building makeover and acclaimed menu.
Edible Excursions founder Lisa Rogovin, who has traveled the globe and was a guest on the May tour, wants her clients to know that, contrary to popular opinion, there is excellent food and drinks to be had in Cuba.
Lisa has food memories of eating octopus carpaccio in Havana, and enjoying the farm-to-table restaurant Mediterraneo Havana, with its housemade cheeses and salumi. She also enjoyed a visit to the restaurant’s organic farm. And she was introduced to the delights of one of the island’s signature cocktails, a canchánchara (overproof Cuban rum, local honey, lime juice and sparkling water) which she imbibed at every opportunity, in the name of finding the best version of this tropical beverage.
“This was a transformative trip for me,” says Lisa. “I waited far too long to visit a country I’ve been curious about for decades. It didn’t disappoint: If you embrace culture, cuisine, education, history, art, dance and can adapt to a region’s pace—which is unquestionably different from the U.S.—then give yourself the gift of exploring Cuba. Our schedule was filled with interesting activities and access to local professionals who are experts in their field.”
Like other guests, she was also moved by the close contact the group had with local performance artists, access made possible through Carol’s connections in the arts community. For instance, in Havana, Carol brought guests into the home of a friend and artist who shared his work and creative process, as did his wife, who is a well-known sculptor, and their son, a photographer, and his partner, a Cuban journalist. Also in Havana, the group was treated to a closed-doors rehearsal held inside one of the city’s two synagogues for an internationally recognized contemporary dance company, Malpaso. In Matanzas, guests were delighted to participate in a private dance lesson, where they practiced their new moves with the island’s rumba royalty.
For Lisa, it was important to learn first-hand about the country and its people and support the culture by bringing some of it back home. She tucked some fragrant local honey in her suitcase, along with a painting by Trinidad fisherman-turned-artist Yuniesky Fernández, who finds inspiration for his creative work in the sea.
Next year, Carol plans to integrate a community outreach component to her trips by supporting arts programs for children. Stay tuned on that score. And she’s keen to keep sharing what she loves about the island nation, which has seen a dramatic drop in tourism following the U.S. travel ban.
Carol has been visiting Cuba for 30 years, and introducing the island to fellow travelers for the past 20 years. Her enthusiasm for her “spiritual home” is contagious, as is her love of its culture, history, and cuisine. We are thrilled to be able to offer this unique travel opportunity to our guests again. Viva la Cuba!
To learn more about Carol’s Cuban tours, see a sample itinerary, or to book your own adventure, contact her directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.