The Cuban experience comes naturally to Max Nelson, owner and co-founder of Hastacuba; partly because he’s been to the mysterious land over 5 times this past year alone, and partly because traveling is ingrained in his being. Max’s passport bears stamps from over 30 countries, so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about hopping ponds.
Thankfully for Hastacuba adventurers, all trips begin and end with Max’s love for the country and desire to make Cuba happen for everyone. We asked Max a few questions to help you get to know the man behind the scenes of your next once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
Where are you from?
I was born on the border of Arizona and Mexico in a city called Nogales. My Mexican family all still live there. I moved to Half Moon Bay when I was three months old; this is my home.
What is your role within Hastacuba? How do you help bring interested parties to the wonderful country of Cuba?
I am the owner and Co-founder of Hastacuba. I started the company with my Cuban partner Andres, and together we coordinate local immersion programs that allow travelers to have a more authentic travel experience by connecting them with local guides who share their insights into Cuban life.
What made you decide to join/create Hastacuba?
I have a background in entrepreneurship and have spent a lot of time around small businesses with my family. I have always known I wanted to start a business that worked with Latin America, and after a visit to Cuba I saw an incredible opportunity where I could use my extensive travel knowledge and offer services to clients. Cuba has been recently reintroduced to American tourism, which means there is a ton of space to grow.
What is your favorite activity in Cuba?
I really enjoy visiting the Viñales Valley. It has such a lush landscape and is just beautiful to explore.
Favorite Cuban drink? Dish?
The mojito is always a classic; so refreshing and just what you need after a long day in the sun. A very typical dish is Ropa Vieja; this is a shredded beef or lamb stew that is served with a side of white rice and black beans (also known as Moros & Christianos…. Christians & Moors). This dish is a definite comfort food, but with me being Mexican I bring a homemade hot sauce with me on every visit!
What piece of advice would you give a first-timer before their trip to Cuba?
Be patient and slow down. Let Cuba happen for you. Do not try to force things.
How do you assist travelers during their stay in Cuba?
The biggest help I give is insight. It is so easy to explore Cuba without ever having an understanding of how the country works. By asking a lot of questions to your local guide, you are able to gain a better sense of the culture and the people.
What are three of your must-haves while traveling?
My passport wallet that has traveled with me to 30+ countries, Spotify playlists downloaded for offline streaming, and a toothbrush (it’s the first thing I do when I land).
Favorite music? Current obsession?
I have a nice Hastacuba playlist that is a great inspiration. I listen to Podcasts pretty religiously - any time I am in my car I usually go straight to a podcast.
Best memory of your Cuban experiences?
I have a very vivid memory of riding around in a pink convertible on my first trip with Hastacuba. I was sitting up front looking back at two clients chatting with Lidyz, one of our guides. We were all drinking pina coladas out of fresh pineapples, listening to Lidyz share her experiences with the eager clients; it was then I had the “ah ha” moment, and realized this is my life.
Need some more travel advice from Max? Whether or not you’re ready to book your dream Cuban vacation, you can reach Max by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gracias y hasta luego!