Friendly Planet, the latest entrant in the people-to-people cultural programs to Cuba, already has sold out many departures on its two programs, is adding more departures and has a third itinerary under development.
“I knew there was interest in Cuba, but I did not think it would be this strong,” said Friendly Planet President Peggy Goldman. “We’ve had a phenomenal response, with many bookings coming from our repeat customers from all over the U.S.”
The five-day Discover Havana program offers 17 departures, which run from Jan. 18 through Dec. 5.
Nine departures already are sold out; the price starts at $2,399 per person, double, including roundtrip air from Miami to Havana. The starting rate drops to $2,099 if booked by Jan. 25.
All eight departures through May are sold out on the eight-day Colors of Cuba itinerary. Goldman said there is space on the Sept. 23 departure, priced from $3,199 ($2,799 if booked by Jan. 25).
While Friendly Planet’s itineraries are similar in content to those offered on other people-to-people programs, there are some “unique aspects,” according to Goldman.
“We travel on an ancient steam train through some of the villages near Trinidad in central Cuba,” Goldman said. “The train stops in these villages so our participants can meet and interact with the locals.”
Another stop is made in the mountainous community of Las Terrazas in western Pinar del Rio province, where the tour group has the opportunity to talk with local residents about the sustainable tourism development efforts that are under way in the region.
“The Cuban people are hungry for contact with Americans, and vice versa,” Goldman said. “We will add as many departures as we can get space for, based on the amount of available hotel inventory. The dearth of accommodations does keep a lid on the number of departures.”
Friendly Planet operated some humanitarian programs to Cuba in 2010, “but the people-to-people programs are new for us, and already we have seen great interest and demand,” Goldman said.