I spent 10 days on a bespoke holiday based loosely on the 7-day solo salsa package.
Yasel (who was also the tour guide) managed to squeeze in salsa, bongo, and Cuban guitar lessons, as well as one day of scuba diving in Playa Larga, to fit my exact requirements. Yasel is a young guy, who speaks impeccable English, and is very knowledgeable about the history of Cuba, and the ins and outs of Havana. He is also very friendly and fun, and extremely helpful.
All of the teachers were fantastic, not just great musicians, but all graduates of either the conservatory or the dance academy, meaning they had the pedagogical skills required to teach their trade.
Jose the Bongo teacher is a world class session and live musician, who collaborated with the likes of Paco de Lucia, and who was so passionate and friendly that the lessons invariably spilt over the allotted time by a substantial amount, as we jammed and talked.
Silvio the Guitar teacher once brought me by sidecar motorcycle to one of his gigs at the house of a family celebrating an Afro-Cuban ritual. This was not part of the plan but was a unique chance to see a real part of Cuba, in a way a tourist normally doesn’t. The family was extremely welcoming and excited about opening their home and discussing their traditions and beliefs with me.
Last but not least was Ania, the Salsa teacher. She is Just awesome! I started virtually from zero, and after 7 days of lessons I feel I can hold my own in a club in London (… I am certainly not the best on the dance floor, but also definitely not the worst, which is a small miracle �)
She is patient, fun, and very very professional when it comes to teaching, but fun and exciting during a night out. I managed to dance a few tunes in a Havana nightclub and see one of the best Salsa bands in Cuba live.
I had never travelled on my own before, so I was a bit concerned about trying, but it was a magic experience. Firstly, because Havana is just full of great people, who in spite of the hardships they endure are friendly and helpful, in a way which does not, for the most part, feel like they want something from you like. As an example, I lost my iPhone in a collective taxi once (one of the ones locals take to get around Havana). I had written it off, but Yasel called my number, and the driver answered and brought me my phone, in spite of the fact that it was probably worth several months of income for him. Also, Havana is a very safe place, there is a lot of police and cameras, and the police is very serious about protecting tourists and preserving the industry … it certainly feels safer than London (which is where I live).
Secondly, the magic was due to the way the guys at Vamos Cuba organized the trip. The people they selected to teach me, their profound knowledge of Cuba, and the helpfulness of everyone involved.
Vamos Cuba is a boutique firm, made up of Cubans and Cuban residents, who know Cuba and only work on Cuba. There is no way that a large corporate tour operator could have offered such an experience, selected the people I interacted with so carefully, or modify the experience in real time to fit my needs.
I swear I am not affiliated with them but let me tell you: if you are going to Cuba on your own or with a small group don’t look elsewhere, JUST CALL THEM!
You can find Daniele’s review on our Facebook page here