Chad Olin is the CEO & Founder of CUBA CANDELA. Chad spent his first career working in investment banking and private equity in New York City, before following his true passion of building a travel company that connects people across cultures through authentic and immersive experiences. As Chad tells it: “Our passion and vision is to share off the beaten path experiences and change the world through personal connections and cultural immersion. We design our experiences to encourage guests to be present and live in the moment. There is a very strong connection to wellness and mindfulness in all that we do.”

Havana, Cuba
Passionate about creating rich and meaningful cultural connections, CUBA CANDELA designs authentic and immersive experiences, that will encourage travelers to let go and dive into the unknown.

How do the experiences you offer at CUBA CANDELA give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Cuba?

We love Cuba. The people, the energy… it’s truly magical. That love permeates everything we do at CUBA CANDELA and our journeys embody that passion. Our travelers get to see the real Cuba, the authentic experience, from a local’s perspective. We take them off the beaten path, behind the tourist façade, away from the tour buses, into locals’ homes. Throughout their trip, travelers interact with members of the community and see how the real people of Cuba are and how they live. They get to hear their stories and genuinely connect. When our guests leave Cuba, they walk away with a real, from-the-heart understanding of this once closed island nation. It is not what most people expect and has been a life changing experience for many.

How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?

US travel to Cuba has increased by over 250% since we began operations, making it more challenging for self-guided travelers to experience authentic Cuba. We continuously discover and rediscover fresh and cutting edge experiences to ensure our guests feel that they are getting insider access to the real Cuban experience. Our network has significantly expanded to include an incredible selection of private homes, luxury accommodations and unmatched unique experiences. We offer personally curated, private journeys throughout the island and can handle any and all requests travelers throw at us.

Cuban kids jumping off a pier.
CUBA CANDELA take guests behind the tourist façade to show them the beauty, the magic, and the warmth of Cuba.

What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

Moments of cultural vibrancy are all around you in Cuba. Capturing these moments is so much more than just giving access to a place most tourists cannot go, which we do. But importantly, we consider the context and flow behind every client moment to ensure maximum impact, which is derived from being present and living in the moment. We design our experiences to bring guests into this state of presence. There is a very strong connection to wellness and mindfulness in all that we do.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider traveling with CUBA CANDELA?

It is legal and safe to travel to Cuba! Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world, with some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet. Most Cubans don’t have the array of material possessions or access to things that we do in the States; but they will give you the shirt off their back and try to feed you everything they have in the fridge, literally, they will offer you everything. Life in Cuba is ALL about living in the moment, and enjoying life as much as you can, no matter the circumstance. It’s really extraordinary how Cubans in this way live more freely than we do in the States. Cuba is the human experience stripped raw, free of material constraints, with an abundance of salsa dancing, rum and tropical beaches, but more importantly the things that really matter in life: interpersonal relationships and communities.

Havana, Cuba
Journeys include: accommodation (with breakfast), private car, local host, custom itinerary, curated experiences, reservations at Cuba’s best restaurants, legal expertise, and a Cuba travel handbook.

What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of their time in Cuba?

One thing to bring and one thing not to bring. First, we suggest bringing things to give away. Chocolates are hard to come by in Cuba. A simple token of gratitude can help bridge cultural gaps and language barriers. Bringing something like a bag of Hershey’s kisses or gummy bears can go a long way. Share with your housekeeper to show your appreciation, and for sure the kids will love you! School supplies and sporting equipment are another great thing to donate. What to leave behind? Expectations of connecting to the internet. Cuba is about being present. Embrace digital detox, and you’ll feel more connected interpersonally.

Tell us about the legal challenges of offering trips to Cuba, what do travelers need to know?

It is legal to travel to Cuba! However, tourism is prohibited, and the legal language surrounding the self-licensing can be confusing for travelers. Under the new administration, enforcement of Obama-era regulations has changed. More clients are seeking our assistance to navigate this uncertainty. Informed by our expert legal team, we ensure that clients’ travel complies 100% with US regulations. Our travelers don’t need to worry about the legal headaches.

Live street performance in Havana, Cuba.
Experiences offered include: boxing lessons, horseback riding, private cigar rolling demonstration, salsa lessons with locals, and live street performances like the one pictured here.

What is one travel trend that really excites you?

Adventurous, authentic, immersive and interactive journeys are valued over leisure and traditional luxury, and life-changing experiences are valued over material possessions. More people want to experience new destinations from a local’s perspective. This is very exciting to us because we wholeheartedly believe in the transformative power of human connections and that travelers with these values are making the world a better place.

What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?

Allow yourself to be in the moment. Truly. If you are able to disconnect from your everyday mindset—that ongoing to do list we all have, the slew of emails, all the responsibilities—and be present, you can tap into an often-elusive feeling of awakening and inspiration. You just may leave Cuba with a renewed sense of gratitude, a deeper connection to and understanding of your fellow humans, and a totally new perspective on life, the world, and our relationship with it. Also, come to Cuba because the lack of internet will jump-start your immersion!

A sailboat near the fishing village of Cojimar.
Cuba is made up of 4,000 islands, located smack dab in the middle of the Caribbean, with some of the world’s best beaches.

What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?

Staying true to our core values. We started out with a vision: share off the beaten path experiences and change the world through personal connections and cultural immersion. That vision has resonated deeply with our clients, fueling our growth through word of mouth referrals. It has also allowed us to attract an exceptional and passionate team thrilled to give travelers a truly heartfelt and unmatched experience, unlike the big tour companies.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

Being open and able to truly listen. I believe every person we encounter has something to teach us. Setting egos aside and listening allows us not just to learn and grow, but also make the best business decisions incorporating feedback from all levels of our team.

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.

We received this unsolicited email from a couple celebrating a big wedding anniversary at 11:15pm the night of their celebration: “Thank you so much for the attention to detail and surprises for our anniversary. Today was a pretty epic day. Hard to express our happiness with today in an email. Simply put it was amazing. The beautiful roses & card, the rum and cigars and cava at dinner was over the top. Thank you so very much for making an already memorable trip even more special. And btw… [your staff] are all rock stars.”

Cuban countryside
Cuba’s spectacular natural beauty comes not only from having some of the world’s most beautiful white sand beaches, but also its soaring mountains, rolling green hills, cascading waterfalls, vast farmlands, and swamps teeming with wildlife.

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TravelDew is a community based platform for leaders in experiential travel from around the world. Through our interviews we honor the variety of this industry while simultaneously creating the opportunity to learn from one anther.