The 8th Excelencias Gourmet Seminar Now Underway in Havana

The eighth edition of the International Excelencias Gourmet Seminar kicked off Monday morning at the El Laguito protocol halls in Havana, an event organized by the Excelencias Group since 2011 and this time around zeroing in on tapas and cocktails. 

The Excelencias Group’s president and editor-in-chief, Jose Carlos de Santiago, delivered the keynote speech that officially opened the 2018 edition of this seminar that year after year has been increasingly catching the attention of Cuban and international gastronomy professionals. 

Mr. Jose Carlos de Santiago, who’s also the ambassador of the Iberian-American Gastronomy Academy to Latin America and the Caribbean, underscored the importance of tapas in Spanish cuisine and its close ties with drinks and cocktails. 

In the same breath, he highlighted the significance of a seminar that this year will be dedicated to cocktails, especially on the heels of the Iberian-American Gastronomy Academy’s decision to grant Havana the title of “Iberian-American Capital of Cocktails” in a ceremony held last month at the celebrated Tropicana Cabaret in Havana. An eye-catching lineup of international chefs, mixologists and experts is attending this year’s seminar, including Spanish bartender Frank Lola, Cuban sommelier Rene Garcia, Spanish chef Nacho Chicharro, Habanosommelier Juan Jesus Machin from Cuba, and Michelin-star Spanish chef Palmira Soler.  

The list also includes a newcomer from the UK: barista Dale Harris, winner of the 2017 World Barista Championship, and a repeater: Japanese sushi chef Hiroyuki Terada, holder of the World Guinness Record for most carrot slices in 30 seconds. The three-day event will stretch out through Wednesday with a turnout of over 300 delegates and guests from Cuba and around the world.

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Key Santa María, Host of FITCuba 2018

The 38th International Tourism Fair of Cuba (FITCuba 2018) will have at the beginning of May a very particular scenario claimed today by travelers worldwide for their vacations: Key Santa Maria.

Located in Cuba's north-central coastline, it is one of the most attractive proposals of Cuban tourism, understandably in fashion, due to its beauties and infrastructure.

FITCuba will take place there from May 2 thru 6, dedicated to the Sun and Beach modality and to the United Kingdom as guest of honor.

The beauty of Cuban landscapes have the aggregate value of a variety including getting to know gastronomic traditions, for example, life of rural families and of fishermen, getting to know what this country is all about.

Key Santa Maria is at present one of the most outstanding resorts, with many repeating visitors, above all European, confirmed by the fact that in 2012, this place was venue to FITCuba and now repeats to host the main event of this sector in the country.

The natural surroundings, an adequate infrastructure and cuisine that puts the accent on creole recipes, but complying with health values as world standards, characterize this point of the Caribbean nation.

If it is fashion we are speaking of, tourism is also part of it. Places that have much to show, enjoy and promotes coming back as is the case of Key Santa Maria, proposal of a recently justified fame.

This is paradise, with a cared-for environment and a hotel and service structure to surprise the most demanding, with a perfect combination of landscape and commodities, including nautical activities of high standards.

Islets of white sands and crystal-clear waters are characteristics that accompany other surrounding keys such as Ensenachos and Las Brujas.

To get there, the ideal way is through a stone road above the waters, known by Cubans as pedraplen, 48 kilometers long that goes from the town of Caibarien to Santa Maria key in the north central province of Villa Clara.

It is a road highlighted by the Iberoamerican Prize Bridge of Alcantara due to the respect to the environment and its length from the Bay of Buenavista, Natural Reserve of the Biosphere, to the keys.

Enjoyment includes diving, snorkeling, tours in yachts and other excursions, as authorities of the sector offer visitors more than 30 recreational options.

At present, near-by keys, with Santa Maria at the Forefront, the keys have two thousand 113 rooms in five hotels, with an architecture according with the environment.

Especially Key Santa Maria extends four kilometers long and two wide, making it the most important geographic group, with an área 18 square kilometers.

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Cuban Authorities Worried about Tourists' Visits to Viñales

The constant demand from travelers from all over the world to visit the western Cuba, particularly the Viñales Valley, has raised authorities'' concern about the need to improve the region''s protection.

An article published in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde stated that the dazzling cultural and historic values of a unique site in the world are under threat.

Viñales, due to its one-of-the-kind characteristics, has become a favorite destination for natural entertainment, mainly for foreign holidaymakers, a situation that can become a potential danger to the preservation of its landscape exclusiveness and native wealth.

The article added that Viñales is an emblematic territory in Cuba and the world.

It is a particually pleasant scenario where the valley and its town, declared a National Monument in 1978, Protected Area in 1998, Humankind's Cultural Landscape in 1999 and designated a National Park in 2001, are designed to be in total harmony.

Juventud Rebelde recalled that although this declaration was a tribute and pride for the country, as it was the first area in Latin America to get that condition, the risks that a paradisiacal site like this would attract international attention were never ignored.

Tourist arrivals in the Viñales Valley have increased, to the point that statistics from the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) show that more than 700,000 tourists visited that destination in 2016 and 600,000 did so in 2017.

The town was prepared to receive more holidaymakers every season, and it currently offers about 2,300 rooms for rent, 130 private restaurants known as 'paladares', and 5,000 self-employed workers in four hotels.

These statistics were provided by the president of the People's Power Municipal Assembly, José Antonio Valle, who is convinced that protecting is a top priority.

From the moment that the site was registered by United Nations Educational, Scienfici and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some recommendations were made to protect the site.

The vice-president of the National Heritage Council, Nilson Acosta, highlighted recently the need to take into account the possible effects of tourism.

Acosta explained that since 2000, the country has proposed to expand the accommodation capacity of the existing facilities instead of constructing new buildings.

However, the expansion of self-employment, and the fact that Pinar del Rio has no tourist resorts as such, compared to Matanzas (where Varadero Beach is located) or Holguin's northern Holguin region, has raised general interest for Viñales, he said.

Hence, people from outside the territory began to create facilities linked to tourism, such as gastronomic services and accommodation.

For her part, the director of the Technical Office of Monuments at the Provincial Center of Cultural Heritage, Nidia Cabrera, said that housing grew more than the population.

These statistics have made authorities to take appropriate measures to regulate the actions in the area, because in order to remain beautiful, harmonious and unique, Viñales should be protected, the article concludes.

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Cuban Services at Vietnam Tourism Fair

The International Tourism Fair of Vietnam has opened its doors here today as a platform in which neighboring nations and Cuba are participating, to promotes not only its traditional attractions but also the cultural product.

More than 650 travel agencies and national tourist promotion centers and 25 other countries and territories were invited to participate in this event.

The representatives exhibit their offers in 450 stands, corresponding to the plans of the Vietnamese government to promote the so-called hospitality industry and turn it into an economic pillar.

The promotion of the Caribbean nation's proposals, including health tourism, is handled by the Cuban embassy's commercial office, in a stand with abundant information on its destinations and the invitation of 'Start here your trip to Cuba'.

A key moment of the Cuban contribution to this event will be the presentation on Saturday, April 8th, of the cultural product, with music and typical dances.

The program includes a gastronomic festival with dishes not only from the hosts but also from other nations of the region and the opening tomorrow of a center for research,conservation and development of the Vietnamese cuisine, among other activities.

Deputy Culture, Sport and Tourism Minister, Huynh Vinh Ai, reiterated the importance the government has given to the development of this industry, after citing as an example the enactment of laws to encourage the growth of the tourist services.

Under the motto 'Hanoi-Vietnam's Tourism Destination' and dedicated to the United States, from where this nation intends to attract more travelers, this annual four-day fair coincides with a good moment of the sector in this country, appreciable in more than 10 million visitors last year.

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Habana Libre Hotel Celebrates 59 Years

Havana, Mar 20 (Prensa Latina) One of Cuba's most emblematic hotels, Habana Libre, former Habana Hilton, celebrated its 59th anniversary this weekend with the premise of maintaining high quality services, the facility's management said today.

Tryp Habana Libre, part of Gran Caribe Hotel Group, is located in one of Havana's central places, La Rampa, the capital's most frequented artery, not only by Cubans but also foreigners.

Executives of the facility highlighted its cultural importance and rich history that includes hundreds of events since the opening in 1958.

Politics, culture and sport personalities, chose the hotel, among them the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, who stayed for three months, after his arrival at the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, on January 8, 1959, they remembered.

The hotel's halls have been for many years the venue of the international renowned Capablanca in Memoriam Chess Tournament, as well as congresses of writers, health, movement for peace, among other events.

The director of the hotel, Luis Basterra, showed today satisfaction with the work done to renovate and improve the facility thanks to appropriate investments.

He added that the level of occupation is favorable, and the main markets for them is Europe, especially Spain.

The 25-story building is close to the University of Havana, other hotels, various ministries and labor centers, the Malecón (waterfront) and many restaurants and nightclubs, while offering a nonpareil view of the city.

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Cuba to Participate in Tourism Fair in Lisbon

A Cuban delegation will attend the 28th edition of the BTL 2017 International Tourism Fair, from March 15 to 19 in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital.

A communiqué from the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) added Tuesday that the island delegation will be represented by Cuba's ambassador to Portugal, Johana Tablada, and specialists from the sector.

The Portuguese market continues with great importance for the Cuban tourism and last year reached a growth of 74.6 percent in its emission towards the destination Cuba.

Mintur prioritizes to achieve a greater positioning of the Island in Portugal, as well as to diversify those products and modalities to market, such as diving, nautical, nature, tours, circuits, heritage cities, events and incentives, cultural tourism and health.

The communiqué states that among other objectives at that fair, the interest in strengthening ties with Portuguese tour operators is of great importance for the tourist operation from that market to Cuba.

During the fair, the Cuban team will conduct negotiations for next year, and will update the new facilities and service openings, as well as information about new lines of business that can work with Mintur.

Participants will also be convened to attend the largest event in the tourism sector, the 37th Edition of the International Tourism Fair FITCUBA, scheduled for May 3-6 in the eastern Cuban city of Holguin.

That event will be dedicated to the circuits and Germany will be the guest country.

At the weekend, the general public that participates in the Portuguese fair will be able to have information about the main Cuban destinations such as Havana, Varadero, Trinidad, Los Cayos del Norte de Villa Clara, Coco and Guillermo, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.

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Norwegian Cruise Line Extends Sailings to Cuba Through December 2017

Norwegian Cruise Line announced today that it will extend its offering of weekly roundtrip cruises from Miami to Cuba aboard Norwegian Sky, the largest vessel sailing to Cuba, through December 2017. Together with the five previously announced cruises in May 2017, these 25 additional cruises, which start in June 2017, all feature an overnight stay in Cuba's historical and culturally-rich capital of Havana.

"We are thrilled to be the first cruise line able to offer weekly sailings from Miami to Cuba through the fall of 2017, all with overnights in the beautiful city of Havana," said Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer for Norwegian Cruise Line. "We have seen great demand from our guests for sailings to Cuba and we look forward to providing more opportunities for them to experience this incredibly culture-rich destination on a weekly basis."

Norwegian Sky will sail four-day roundtrip cruises from Miami each Monday, featuring an overnight in the capital of Havana as well as a call on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian's private island in the Bahamas. The ship will dock right in the heart of Havana, offering guests the opportunity to visit historical sites such as Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; view incredible art and listen to the vibrant local music scene; and visit with Cuba's warm and friendly residents through people-to-people exchanges. Norwegian will offer a selection of 15 half and full-day OFAC-compliant shore excursions, where guests aboard Norwegian Sky will have the opportunity to have a farm to table dining experience, explore the flora and fauna of Soroa, see modern Havana in an American classic car and much more.

Norwegian Sky's sailings to Cuba will also feature a call to Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian's private island destination in the Bahamas that was recently enhanced to offer guests exciting new ways to enjoy the island, with additional features to be added through summer 2017. Great Stirrup Cay is a private island paradise, with white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, watersports galore and lushly landscaped beachside cabanas available for daily rental for those who wish to have a more exclusive island experience.

Along with the freedom and flexibility that only Norwegian Cruise Line can provide, guests sailing on Norwegian Sky will also enjoy unlimited complimentary beverages as a part of the ship's all-inclusive program.

Norwegian Sky's four-day cruises to Cuba will open for sale on February 21. For additional information or to book a cruise to Cuba on Norwegian, as well as documentation requirements, Frequently Asked Questions and more, please visit

Norwegian Cruise Line is the innovator in cruise travel with a 50-year history of breaking the boundaries of traditional cruising. Most notably, Norwegian revolutionized the cruise industry by offering guests the freedom and flexibility to design their ideal cruise vacation on their schedule. Today, Norwegian invites guests to "Feel Free" to explore the world on one of 14 purpose-built ships, providing guests the opportunity to enjoy a relaxed, resort style cruise vacation on some of the newest and most contemporary ships at sea.

Recently, the line was named "Europe's Leading Cruise Line" for the ninth consecutive year, as well as "Caribbean's Leading Cruise Line" for the third time and "World's Leading Large Ship Cruise Line" for the fifth straight year by the World Travel Awards.

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Cuba is looming on cruise passengers' horizons now that sailing there is becoming easier

Is this the year you pack your bags and set sail for Cuba?

Perhaps. By spring, traveling by cruise ship to Cuba will become more common than it has been for the last five decades.

Pearl Seas Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International are set to begin sailing regularly to the island nation from the U.S., and more lines may soon join the flotilla.

Former President Obama further eased restrictions on travel to Cuba last year, making it less difficult for U.S. citizens to visit the island, which had been a largely forbidden fruit for American travelers.

Land tours are thriving, and Alaska Airlines has recently added nonstop service to Havana, Cuba’s capital, from Los Angeles. You also can take an 80-minute JetBlue hop from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Havana for less than $100. Previously air travel was by charter.

Cruise ships joined the rush to Cuban shores last year, when Carnival Corp.'s Fathom brand became the first U.S. line to legally land in Cuba in more than 40 years, offering weeklong sailings on the ship Adonia.

Fathom will continue to sail to Cuba through May, a spokesman said, adding that Carnival has asked Cuba for permission for other Carnival brands, which include Princess, Holland-America, P&O and Seabourn, to begin sailing in June.

Meanwhile, Pearl Seas Cruises launched its first Cuba sailing this month, offering a high-end, 10-day voyage that visited Havana and four other Cuban cities.

Sailings are scheduled through April. Prices start at $7,810 per person, double occupancy.

With other cruise lines offering trips for much less, will Pearl Seas be able to compete?

"We cost a bit more," said Charles Robertson, chief executive of American and Pearl Seas cruise lines, "but our ship is smaller, newer and more intimate. It has larger staterooms and bigger verandas.

The ship carries only about 200 passengers, he said. “That means we'll be able to do things bigger ships can't,” he said.

Norwegian's Sky, which holds more than 2,000 passengers, will begin Cuba visits May 1. The ship will arrive in Havana on Tuesday mornings and depart Wednesday evenings on four-day voyages that will include a visit to Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island. Prices start at $699 per person, double occupancy.

Royal Caribbean International, has scheduled Empress of the Seas, which just underwent a $50-million renovation, to visit Havana during a five-night sailing that departs April 19 from Miami. Rates begin at $1,025 per person, double occupancy.

The 1,062-passenger ship will reposition to Tampa, Fla., offering two itineraries with calls to Havana on April 30 (seven-night sailing) and May 20 (five-night sailing).

Regardless of the cruise line or tour company, visiting Cuba still has legal requirements: American travel must include educational, "people to people" elements. Your cruise ship will handle the paperwork and probably offer excursions that focus more on the cultural aspects of the country, rather than time sitting on a beach. To read more about travel, see the Treasury Department’s rules.

You can take a sightseeing tour of a UNESCO World Heritage site; discover the colonial architecture of old Havana; visit Cojímar, one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite retreats; or hop into a vintage American car and take a step back into the 1950s.

Jayne Beezley, an Amarillo, Texas, resident who visited in September on a Fathom cruise, enjoyed her experience.

"The people are wonderful, very open and hospitable,” she said. “And the old cars were amazing. We loved the cars."

Jayne and her husband, Michael, owners of a gold '69 Chevelle, gave shirts and hats with their car's logo and illustration to car-fancying Cubans.

"It was our version of a people-to-people experience."

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