What do you get when a U.S. tour operator specializing in people-to-people programs to Cuba collaborates with an acclaimed world-music company to launch music-powered travel experiences in Havana?
The answer: "A lot of fun and music and magic" -- that's how Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, described his partnership with Putumayo World Travel.
Putumayo was originally a handicraft and clothing line founded by CEO Dan Storper; Putumayo World Music followed in 1993. The name Putumayo comes from a river that flows along the border of Ecuador and Peru that Storper saw when he was exploring the region in 1974.
Cuba entered the picture in 2017, when Insight and Putumayo ran their first Cuba trip together, with Insight handling the tour operations and Putumayo the music component. Putumayo officially launched its travel division, Putumayo World Travel, last April in collaboration with Popper's InsightCuba.
"I had been a fan of Putumayo's music for years and listened to its CDs, which are upbeat compilations of world and American roots music," Popper said. "We thought it would be great to run music trips to Cuba."
That first trip was a sellout and led to the second trip last November. The third is set for March 11 to 16, 2020.
Of course, any potential traveler to Cuba might be confused and concerned by the speech in Miami last week by national security advisor John Bolton, who said the Treasury Department would implement regulatory changes to restrict nonfamily travel to Cuba.
But Popper said: "The Putumayo/InsightCuba trip next March is on. There is no reason to believe this trip or any of our trips won't run under any scenario. None of our trips is in jeopardy because of this announcement. All of our trips are [Office of Foreign Assets Control] compliant, and will remain so now and in the future.
"Until new regulations are issued, nothing has changed."
He added: "We've told any people interested in booking or that have booked their trips with us that for almost 20 years and over four U.S. presidents, InsightCuba has provided legal travel to Cuba for Americans and will continue to do so and in compliance with U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba."
Each trip is led by Putumayo's official musicologist and longtime music researcher Jacob Edgar, who travels the world to discover music and craft the compilations to bring the world's music and culture to people of all ages.
"We realized that it made sense to bring our fans on an actual journey to enable them to join us on our explorations," Edgar said.
He said Putumayo immerses travelers in Cuba using music as a gateway to experience and understand local history, art, food, language and society.
Popper explained that on the Cuba trips, Edgar looks for the ways in which music can bridge the divide that often keeps visitors from experiencing substantive interactions with locals.
"Edgar brings guests to venues frequented by locals, where they share rum, conversation and dance moves," he said. "The trips include intimate, inside access to rehearsal spaces, private homes, the recording studio used to record the "Buena Vista Social Club" as well as art studios meet-and-greets with artists and other off-the-beaten path locations."
"These are not passive trips," he said. "Our travelers are injected right into the music scene, and we do have fun."
As with all of InsightCuba's escorted people-to-people programs, group size does not exceed 24 and most trips run one week, priced at $4,995 for land arrangements.