Cuba's Healthiest Vacations
Looking for a way to get to Cuba? These fitness retreats offer easy access.
Just before President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in March—the first such trip for a sitting US president since 1928—the Department of Treasury announced it was relaxing Cuban travel restrictions for US citizens. The move is expected to spur even more Americans to visit the country just 90 miles south of Miami, and JetBlue is set to be the first commercial airline to fly into the country later this month. But the keyword here is relaxing restrictions; they haven’t removed them entirely. Officially, Americans now are allowed to travel to Cuba without booking the trip through a tour group. However, straight tourism isn’t permitted, and visitors are required to have a full itinerary of educational activities that foster engagement with the people of Cuba on their trip. (Read the full guidelines here.)
Yoga and wellness retreats are on the cutting edge of Cuban health and fitness tourism, bridging the gap between recreation and education. Although there’s luxury to be had on these retreats, many organizers advise travelers new to Cuba to have an easygoing attitude and to try to be flexible. Wi-Fi and water pressure in the country can be spotty, for example; outside of Havana, English speakers can be scarce; and you’ll need to bring an electrical adapter and cash because your ATM card probably won’t work. Ditto for your phone. You’ll also need a Cuban visa and Cuban medical insurance, which are included in some retreat packages (make sure to ask about both when you book).
But pack a sense of adventure and an up-for-anything attitude, and you’ll get to practice yoga with top-notch instructors, swim in tropical waters and witness the blossoming nightlife and art scenes in Cuba before it becomes too Americanized. Here, the best yoga and other healthy vacations worth booking in Cuba:
Intrepid Travel: Cycle Cuba
For adventure travelers looking for a more physically challenging experience, Cycle Cuba is a demanding tour that offers unusual access to parts of the island inaccessible by bus. You’ll bike the streets of Havana, on dusty roads past farms and tobacco plantations in Viñales, along coastal paths and through the Bay of Pigs. In addition to the biking, you can swim in Playa Larga’s clear blue waters, explore Che Guevara’s former headquarters at the Cueva de los Portales and relax in the healing thermal pools in San Diego de los Baños. On guided walking tours, guests learn about Che Guevara’s role in the Cuban Revolution and master the art of cigar rolling on a visit to a local tobacco farmer. Guests (maximum of 12 per tour) stay at the Hotel Nacional in Havana during the seven-night trip.
Pure Yoga: Cuba Yoga Journey
Participants also stay at the Hotel Nacional for this four-day, three-night retreat. The trip includes two family-style Cuban meals in the restaurant of Hotel Nacional, which boasts views of the Havana sea wall and the old Spanish fortress, and daily yoga instruction. In addition, guests enjoy expert-led cultural and educational tours exploring Old Havana and learning about socioeconomic issues such as housing and restoration programs. You’ll also have the opportunity to relax on Playas del Estes and take a ferry to Regla, a borough at the bottom of Havana Bay, and check out a women-owned dance company serving local youth and tour Plaza Vieja, with a Cuban English-speaking guide. The last retreat took place in spring 2016, and registration for the next one (happening early 2017) is open now.
Mhai Yoga: 7 Nights in Havana Yoga Retreat
Canadian company Mhai Yoga began offering yoga retreats in Cuba in 2011, working with Cuba’s most well-known yogi, Eduardo Pimentel, founder of the Cuba Yoga Alliance. From November to May (with a break in January), Mhai runs five- to seven-day trips to Playas del Este, 15 minutes east of Old Havana. Guests (24 in all) stay in a set of beachfront villas, beginning the day with a sunrise meditation then gathering in the main villa for organic, vegetarian meals created with food from local farms. Participants practice yoga (mostly Iyengar) twice a day in sessions ranging from 60 minutes to more than two hours, depending on the instructor. The retreat also includes a one-on-one session with Pimentel.
Cuba Wellness Adventures: 6 Days Salsa and Yoga Retreat
Yoga and dance have a strong connection to each other, which you'll see firsthand at this Cuban dance festival and yoga retreat. You’ll stay at Melia Cohiba in the Veldado district of Havana, which offers easy access to a pool and fitness center. In addition to daily yoga, guests can take dance classes with instructors from the National School for the Arts as well as other experts in salsa and Afro-Cuban dance. Organizers also host trips to Jardin Botanico Nacional, a botanical garden in the heart of Santo Domingo, as well as guided walking tours through Old Havana.
Miami Yoga: Cuba: yoga, culture + community
Trips organized with Miami Yoga are six days and five nights, starting out with a stay at Hotel Presidente in Havana but traveling on to Vinales, in the western province Pinar del Rio. Greet the morning with rooftop yoga instruction, tour organic farms, practice paddleboard yoga in the Tarrera River and visit Hemmingway’s old pad, Finca Vigia. Also on the itinerary: sunset meditations, salsa lessons, entertainment at Club Tropicana and dinner at La Bodeguito del Medio, said to be the home of the mojito.