Cuban Spotlight: Cuba – One of the Most Intriguing Countries in the Caribbean

From tantalizing Cuban sandwiches to refreshing mojitos, this relaxed island is the largest in the Caribbean and offers a plethora of delicacies and history to explore. It has a fascinating colonial foundation while still maintaining a vibrant tropical vibe with its luxurious beaches and laid back island atmosphere. On the rise for international acclaim, Cuba is working to gain a place on the list of top travel destinations in both the Caribbean and the world.

Below is a list of the top 10 destinations complied with the help of My Travel Guide for tourists and corporate travelers alike in this beautiful Caribbean country:

  1. Havana: No trip to Cuba would be complete without a stop in the capital city of Havana. The splendor of this city comes from the charm of its colonial core and small town atmosphere, despite having 2 million people within its population. Although it is a growing metropolis, Havana is a city cautious about preserving its 1950’s heritage where retro cars and regal mansions still abound.
  2. Santiago de Cuba: The second largest city on the island, Santiago de Cuba is the site where the victory of the Cuban Revolution was proclaimed, making this town full of rich heritage one of the great historical and cultural hubs on the island.
  3. Veradero: Veradero is arguably the most popular destination for first time travelers to the island. It is often referred to as “Cuba’s Cancun”, where lavish resorts dot the bleached white sand and residents and visitors can enjoy an array of aqua activities.
  4. Holguin: Holguin is one of the few cities in Cuba that offers the best of both worlds in order to experience every dimension of Cuba’s unique geography. From Holguin, it is only a brief commute to either the beautiful beaches of Guardalavaca or to the dense backcountry to visit the La Mensura or Humboldt National Parks.
  5. Cienfuegos: There is no location like Cienfuegos in the Caribbean, as the entire town is designated a UNESCO Heritage Site.  Full of grand architecture and must see landmarks from the 18th and 19th centuries, Cienfuegos has been beautifully preserved for contemporary visitors to enjoy.
  6. Santa Clara: The city of Santa Clara is similar to Santiago de Cuba as it holds a vast amount of history to discover while on the island. The last and arguably most important battle in the Cuban Revolution (named for the city itself) took place within this site in 1958. Today, Santa Clara holds the mausoleum of Che Guevara, and a museum dedicated to his involvement in the Cuban Revolution.
  7. Cayo Coco: Cayo Coco is truly a vacationer’s dream. This secluded, small cay is located directly off the coast of the mainland and boasts the most lavish and exclusive resorts in Cuba. The most stunning and peaceful beaches in this nation are also found in Cayo Coco, making it an ideal locale for an incentive destination.
  8. Trinidad: Trinidad sits on the western coast of Cuba, and the entire town itself is a living museum. Tourists can enjoy a stroll down a cobblestone avenida to admire the colorful pastel houses or take a ride on the Baldwin Locomotive, a 20th century steam engine that takes passengers to the Valley of Sugar Mills.
  9. Pico Turquino: Pico Turquino is Cuba’s highest mountain, and the opportunity to trek to this peak should not be missed. It is a strenuous route, but the nature and history along its trails makes it well worth it.  Indulge in bird watching and let your imagination flourish as you discover abandoned wartime jungle headquarters.
  10. Cienaga de Zapata: The Zapata swamp is one of the most remarkable and untouched regions on the island. It is also at the top of the Caribbean’s largest wetlands, and is home to the endangered Cuban crocodile. Nature buffs will relish the chance to see some of the purest and unspoiled wilderness in Cuba.

While it once was a hotbed of revolution, Cuba is rapidly becoming a traveler’s dream.  From ardent conservation of historical landmarks and neighborhoods to its pristine white sand beaches and ocean resorts along the coast, Cuba is the epitome of a diamond in the rough. The reputation of this island oasis is drastically improving since the discord of the 20th century, becoming a land of immense opportunity for the incentive travel industry for many years to come.

By JNR Incorporated

Written by Andy Tallon

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JNR Incorporated is a results-based, globally recognized leader that specializes in creating custom travel, meeting, event, prepaid card and merchandise programs that motivate, engage and inspire the employees, customers and channel members of our clients. We have over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies of many diverse industries. Our programs are tailored to fit the specific needs of marketing, sales, management and human resource professionals. The unique solutions we apply are measurable and proven to increase performance, loyalty and revenues.

Photo: “cienfuegos yacht club” by Mikel Ortega is licensed under CC by 2.0

Cuban Spotlight: Is Havana the next hotspot for Incentive Travel programs?

Seasoned travel planners are constantly on the lookout for the latest and greatest travel hotspot for Incentive Travel destinations.  Recent years have shown that since many recipients of these programs are well travelled, the expectation has shifted from a predictable vacation itinerary to an experiential journey.  With President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. and Cuba will begin taking steps to normalize their relationship, travel to The Pearl of the Antilles is suddenly on everyone’s radar.

Fun in the sun incentives remain a top choice for companies looking to motivate and reward their partners, and although planners have their choice of exotic island locations to choose from, Havana is added to the short list of locations that are easy to get to and less than 100 miles from our own coast.

With tourism to the island minimal since the 1959 Cuban Revolution and the U.S. imposed travel restrictions that followed, there are a limited number of high-end resorts and hotels for new travellers to consider.  This may work to Cuba’s advantage though, making the island even more of an exclusive destination and driving the desire to bask on the pristine beaches immensely.  The small, secluded island of Cayo Coco is already regarded as one of the best places to snorkel in the vicinity and presumably, this and a number of other resort towns in Cuba, will be met with the challenge of quickly accommodating an influx of visitors.

Cuba offers a variety of landscapes and biodiversity on the archipelago.  Although the beach towns are an obvious draw for tourists, the romantic history, rich heritage and apparent time warp of the cities are equally as enthralling.  Along with the capital city of Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad hold some of the most eye-catching glimpses of Cuban history on the island.  Cobblestone streets, colorful houses and perfectly preserved sugar mills from the turn of the century make it as though Cuba went to sleep and never woke up.  Cuba’s bounty of natural attractions, paired with some of the most ardent conservation practices in the world, make it one of the best ecotourism destinations in the Caribbean.  From the beaches of Varadero, the UNESCO Heritage Site of Cienfuegos, breathtaking waterfalls in Holguin and the lush vegetation and brilliant white sand of Guardalavaca, Cuba is sure to see tourists flock to the island that previously were unable to do so.

Although travelling to Cuba for general tourism is not yet approved by our Congress, professionals in the industry are gearing up so that when the market does fully open, they can be among the first to offer the stunning Cuban culture to their clients.  We immediately saw Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airway and American Airlines publically show interest in adding regular flights to Havana.  Both MasterCard and American Express have stated that once the Obama administration lifts the ban on U.S. banks doing business there, they will happily begin accepting credit and debit card transactions from the country.   Conveniences allowing travelers to now take $10,000 with them when they travel make it easier for Incentive trips to become a viable option.

We will watch closely as this continues to unfold.  As tales of the revolution diminish in the minds of younger generations and the overwhelming charm of the Cuban culture banquets through the hearts and minds of avid travelers, the country will no doubt become the generous host that it is known to be by only a limited few today.

By JNR Incorporated

Written by Barbara Williamson

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JNR Incorporated is a results-based, globally recognized leader that specializes in creating custom travel, meeting, event, prepaid card and merchandise programs that motivate, engage and inspire the employees, customers and channel members of our clients. We have over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies of many diverse industries. Our programs are tailored to fit the specific needs of marketing, sales, management and human resource professionals. The unique solutions we apply are measurable and proven to increase performance, loyalty and revenues.

Photo: “View from our balcony” by Still Burning is licensed under CC By 2.0

Cuban Spotlight: Cuban Flan

Cuban food is truly fusion cuisine with influences from Spain, Portugal, France, Africa, the Caribbean, China and of course, Native American Taino food. Garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaves are used along with a sauce known as sofrito that gives the Cuban food its distinct flavor.

Dinner often consists of rice and beans with meat. For dessert it is typical to see a flan or caramel-flavored custard.

Today we are sharing a traditional Cuban Flan Recipe.

Cuban Flan

Total Time:     1 hr 20 min

Prep:     20 min

Cook:    1 hr

Level:    Moderate

 

Ingredients

1 ½ cups white sugar

¼ cup water

6 medium eggs (separated)

2 cups milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 rind of a lemon

¼ tsp salt

1 cinnamon stick

Pastry brush

Baking dish filled with water to create a bain-marie

Flan mold (9” diameter)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the water and the sugar together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow the sugar to start melting and bring the mixture to a simmer. Wet the pastry brush and use it to wash any of the sugar from the sides of the saucepan. When the sugar mixture starts to thicken and turn brown, remove it from the heat and add a few ice cubes.

Coat the flan mold with the sugar mixture to cover the sides and bottom. Set remaining mixture aside.

In a saucepan, slowly bring the milk to a boil and add lemon rind, cinnamon stick and salt. When the mixture starts to boil, remove it from the heat and allow to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks, egg whites, vanilla extract and remaining sugar mixture.

Pour this mixture into the milk mixture and then strain into the flan mold.

Place the flan mold inside the baking dish so that the water reaches half way up the mold.

Bake in the middle rack of the oven for an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let the flan cool and then place a serving dish flat against the top of the mold and turn upside down in a fast motion.

Serve and Enjoy.

 

By JNR Incorporated

 

Written by Stephanie Thomas

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JNR Incorporated is a results-based, globally recognized leader that specializes in creating custom travel, meeting, event, prepaid card and merchandise programs that motivate, engage and inspire the employees, customers and channel members of our clients. We have over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies of many diverse industries. Our programs are tailored to fit the specific needs of marketing, sales, management and human resource professionals. The unique solutions we apply are measurable and proven to increase performance, loyalty and revenues.

Photo: “Miami – West Flager: Versailles Restaurant – Fland Cubano” by Wally Gobetz is licensed under CC By 2.0