Opening doors to Cuba

Opening doors to Cuba

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Alumni Association tours take travelers to a rarely visited country.

Beyonce and Jay-Z’s recent controversial trip to Cuba highlighted the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s strict rules for Americans wishing to visit this isolated country. Fortunately, the University of Iowa Alumni Association’s travel program offers federally approved tours to the island nation.

Recently, Iowa Voyagers has taken UI alumni and friends to Cuba through a special academic license issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury that allows American travelers to experience the country’s culture, literature, and art through an itinerary specifically designed to encourage meaningful people-to-people interactions. Two recent tours took place this past December and January, while another trip is planned for this fall.

A historic building in Cuba.
Iowa Voyagers enjoyed historic sites like this magnificent building on their recent trip. Photo by Adriana Méndez Rodenas

For the eight-day January tour, Adriana Méndez Rodenas, a UI Latin American and Caribbean literature professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who was born in Cuba, served as an expert faculty representative.

On the trip, Iowa Voyagers travelers explored many sites important to Cuba’s heritage, including the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Old Havana, and participated in lectures about life on the island. They also visited a botanical garden; a cigar factory; the University of Havana; the Museum of Fine Arts; the homes of 19th century poet and independence leader JoséMarti and 20th century avant-garde writer JoséLezama Lima; and museums dedicated to Cuba’s colonial, republic, and revolutionary history.

“Culturally, Cuba has always been at the forefront of Latin-America and the Caribbean,” says Méndez Rodenas. “For its size, it has rich literature, culture, and history.”

Cuban artwork
Travelers with the UI Alumni Association's Iowa Voyagers discovered Cuba's cultural heritage this past January. Photo by Adriana Méndez Rodenas.

Travelers also experienced authentic Cuban cuisine and conversed with area musicians, dancers, artists, economists, religious leaders, healthcare workers, and senior citizens.

“I was surprised by how beautiful the country is and by the candor of the people,” says traveler Sharon Kotok. “With Iowa Voyagers, we had so many more opportunities to learn from local experts than if we had traveled on our own.”

Affected by the 1960 U.S. embargo as well as its 53-year socialist system, Cuba still has a 1950s ambiance that travelers experienced as they went through Havana’s historic quarter. Despite the fact that the Cuban government regulates all the country’s tourism, visitors still see glimpses of the realities of life under communist rule, such as food rationing cards and a controlled media.

“It’s crucial to have these exchanges,” says Méndez Rodenas. “They will create more understanding and awareness between two peoples divided by political circumstances, but whose ties stem back to the past. These trips may not solve the crucial issues facing the people of Cuba today, but they will help generate greater knowledge about the country and its racial and cultural diversity.”

Iowa Voyagers’ next trip to Cuba takes place October 25 - November 1. For more information about the Cuba trip and the many other tours available, call 800-469-2586, visit, or email


Diane Baker, UI Alumni Association, 319-335-3293


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