Having traveled the world and taking millions of LGBTQ people with him, Al Ferguson is ready for Cuba. One half of the founding duo of AlandChuck.Travel, he's always been at the forefront of queer travel trends.
In December of 2015, he introduced the world's first gay cruise to Cuba. In December of 2016, he announced that they'll be joining the Havana Inn and the Trinidad Inn for a gay Cuban vacation. Four nights in Havana and three in Trinidad, the tour includes meals, sightseeing, and cocktail parties for visitors to mix with locals.
We caught up with Al to get some tips for visiting Cuba and find out what's next for gay travel.
Why did you choose Cuba for Al & Chuck's next destination?
Cuba is unique in the world. I have covered the planet - 164 countries. With the exception of my first visit to China in 1990, long before China became what it has become in travel), Cuba is that kind of travel experience today, especially for Gay America. Locked in a time machine, stepping into Cuba is what life was like in 1959, so little change. Revolution, communism, Castro, Cuban/American relations, Cold War, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis that almost ended the world, all flows through Cuba. And now, we as gay America have the opportunity to see and experience that, all before it changes.
What's the gay scene like down there?
VIbrant. In some respects, more interesting than many parts of the USA. Mariela Castro (Raul’s daughter) leads a government organization called Cinesex. Its mission is to educate Cuban society that there is nothing wrong with being gay, bisexual, trans, or straight. Cinesex and the government organize and own the gay bars. They organize the Havana Pride event. 23rd Avenue in the Vidado of Havana is similar to New York's Hells Kitchen, West Hollywood, or Wilton Manors. Clubs, restaurants, gay flags, drag queens, hustlers, all with a Cuban vibe. And, I could make a very good argument that man for man, Cubans on the street are the most beautiful in the world.
What are some of your favorite local spots in Cuba?
Malecon in Havana. It is the heartbeat of the nightlife of Cuba: Gay bars, shows, dining, shopping, University of Havana, the US Embassy, and the famous National Hotel. It must be seen and experienced, especially at 3am. Old Havana is amazing for what it was. Crumbling buildings where you see the effects of the embargo and the scarce economy the embargo has created. Trinidad is amazing for the history. Think St. Augustine and New Orleans' French Quarter combined. This is the oldest city in the Caribbean and a UNESCO World Heritage city. Cienfuegos is the artistic heart of Cuba. So many Gay Americans come away talking about the art, the creativity, and the artists of Cuba. So much of that is based here in Cienfuegos.
What's your favorite souvenir from Cuba?
Cuban men (LAUGHS) Cigars are amazing. If you don’t buy from the government stores and go to the factories, you can get top of line Cohiba’s for two dollats. On the street in NYC, they're $25. The rum is amazing. Havana Club was the factory of Barcardi after they left when the revolution occurred, escaping to Puerto Rico. The art, you are going to go into shops, and paintings are literally going to take your breath away. And for now, the value is also amazing.
What would you tell a first time visitor?
Cherish everything that will go wrong. If you are willing to step into the time machine, you have to go, not expecting it to be Mykonos, Ibiza, South Beach, etc. You are going to have many problems. Many situations will arise. But good travelers will smile and say, “Thank god I am getting to see and experience this.” Soon, they will perfect American’s coming. I don’t know about you, but I am not very interesting in Paradise Island, Bahamas. Cuba is not that. But you better hurry.
Where else are you excited to travel this year?
I know it’s hard to imagine with all the headlines of politics USA, but ALandCHUCK.travel is bringing the first gay cruise group ever to Russia with RuPaul stars and Drag Stars At Sea. This Baltic cruise from Hamburg does Scandinavia and St. Petersburg. Nothing like it has ever been done in Russia. An added bonus is a post tour to Munich’s Oktoberfest Celebration where we go to Gay Days. An entire beer tent with 5,000 gay men and women in Lederhosen. It makes me smile just thinking about it. I am also looking forward to the first RuPaul stars Cruise to Australia combined with Sydney’s famous Gay Mardi Gras.