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Tourism still booms in Cuba but Trump’s tougher stance hurting private entrepreneurs



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HAVANA (AP) — On a sweltering early summer afternoon in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump told a cheering Cuban-American crowd that he was rolling back some of Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba in order to starve the island’s military-run economy of U.S. tourism dollars and ratchet up pressure for regime change.

That doesn’t appear to be happening. Travel to Cuba is booming from dozens of countries, including the U.S. And the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business, according to Cuban state figures, experts and private business people themselves.

The government figures show that 2017 was a record year for tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy. The number of American travelers rose to 619,000, more than six times the pre-Obama level. But amid the boom — an 18 percent increase over 2016 — owners of private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are reporting a sharp drop-off.

“There was an explosion of tourists in the months after President Obama’s detente announcement. They were everywhere!” said Rodolfo Morales, a retired government worker who rents two rooms in his home for about $30 a night. “Since then, it’s fallen off.”

The ultimate destination of American tourism spending in Cuba seems an obscure data point, but it’s highly relevant to a decades-old goal of American foreign policy — encouraging change in Cuba’s single-party, centrally planned system. For more than 50 years, Washington sought to strangle nearly all trade with the island in hopes of spurring economic collapse. Obama changed that policy to one of promoting engagement as a way of strengthening a Cuban private sector that could grow into a middle class empowered to demand reform.

Cuba’s tourism boom began shortly after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that their countries would re-establish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. U.S. cruise ships began docking in the Bay of Havana and U.S. airlines started regular flights to cities across the island. Overall tourism last year was up 56 percent over Cuba’s roughly 3 million visitors in 2014.

While the U.S. prohibits tourism to Cuba, Americans can travel here for specially designated purposes like religious activity or the vaguely defined category of “people-to-people” cultural interaction.

Obama allowed individuals to participate in “people-to-people” activities outside official tour groups. Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by designing their own Cuban vacations without fear of government penalties. Since Cuba largely steers tour groups to government-run facilities, Americans traveling on their own became a vital market for the island’s private entrepreneurs, hotly desired for their free spending, heavy tipping and a desire to see a “real” Cuba beyond all-inclusive beach resorts and quick stops on tour buses. The surge helped travel-related businesses maintain their role as by far the most successful players in Cuba’s small but growing private sector.

Trump’s new policy re-imposed the required for “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

As a result, many private business people are seeing so many fewer Americans that it feels like their numbers are dropping, even though the statistics say otherwise.

“Tourism has grown in Cuba, with the exception of American tourism,” said Nelson Lopez, a private tour guide. “But I’m sure that sometime soon they’ll be back.”

While Trump’s new rules didn’t take effect until November, their announcement in June led to an almost immediate slackening in business from individual Americans, many Cuban entrepreneurs say. The situation was worsened by Hurricane Irma striking Cuba’s northern coast in September and by a Cuban government freeze on new licenses for businesses including restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts. Cuban officials say the freeze was needed to control tax evasion, purchase of stolen state goods and other illegality in the private sector, but it’s had the effect of further restricting private-sector activity in the wake of Trump’s policy change.

Cuban state tourism officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s policy changes did not touch flights or cruise ships. Jose Luis Perello, a tourism expert at the University of Havana, said more than 541,000 cruise ship passengers visited Cuba in 2017, compared with 184,000 the previous year. Even as entrepreneurs see fewer American clients, many of those cruise passengers are coming from the United States, he said.

Yunaika Estanque, who runs a three-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking the Bay of Havana, says she has been able to weather a sharp drop in American guests because a British tour agency still sends her clients, but things still aren’t good.

“Without a doubt our best year was 2016, before the Trump presidency,” she said. “I’ve been talking with other bed-and-breakfast owners and they’re in bad shape.”

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The wonderfully odd Pink Rocks of Colorado’s Paint Mines



In Eastern Colorado, just on the outer edge of the great plains is Calhan’s Paint Mines, a geological oddity that’s completely out of place filled with pink rocks, hoodoos, and 9,000 years of human history.

Sun, wind, and erosion has turned the once clay fields of this Eastern Colorado site, into a geological spectacle. What surely was a place for early human civilization to collect clay and natural paints is now a wonderful “distraction-attraction.”

Follow along as I, your PULP360 host, Ashley Lowe, travel to the weird geological oddity known as Paint Mines in Eastern Colorado.

Where to go:

Google Maps

For more info:


Colorado Encyclopedia

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Breckenridge: Not Just Another Ski Town



For most people, the name Breckenridge evokes the concept of a “ski town,” an area that was made up and commercialized to trap the unsuspecting out-of-town tourist or ski obsessed Coloradan into coming to enjoy the slopes during the winter. And while Breckenridge does boast an impressive ski resort of over 2,000 acres that first opened in the 1960s (and which Vail Resorts purchased in 1996), its history is richer and much more complicated than a fancy tourism trap would make it out to be. And there is so much more to do in Breckenridge than just ski.

While this may shock those whose sole purpose is skiing nonstop during the winter, Breckenridge is a historical town that has a number of other wonderful qualities and interesting things to check out. So for anyone who has a desire to venture into the mountains during the winter but doesn’t want to spend money on skiing—or dedicate their entire trip to the activity—there are also a lot of other things to do and explore in the historical mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado.

Breckenridge: Historical Exploration

If you’re a history buff or interested in exploring one of the oldest settled in Colorado, Breckenridge truly is an area to explore. Breckenridge was actually a mining town founded during the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859—a decade or more sooner than places like Colorado Springs or Pueblo and nearer the time of the settling of Denver in 1858. As one of the oldest towns in Colorado, it has a lot of fascinating history surrounding the area. There are numerous ghost towns and old mining shafts in the region.

Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and The Summit Historical Society are both amazing resources for navigating the entire area through the eyes of a historian. Breckenridge Heritage Alliance includes museums like the home of Barney L. Ford—a runaway slave who lived in Breckenridge and became a civil rights leader—and the Edwin Carter Museum, who was a naturalist that observed the harmful effects of mining on the environment. The Summit Historical Society has museums like the Dillon Schoolhouse Museum, an old school that has been kept in prime condition.

The Heritage Alliance also offers quite a few walking tours that range from downtown historical homes to paranormal activity hunts, and the Iowa Hill Gold Mine Hike is one of their historical hikes that is open year round. It’s always good to start at the Welcome Center in downtown Breckenridge to get up-to-date information and brochures on seasonal tours. For more history, see our Breckenridge History section.

Breckenridge: Arts & Culture

Breckenridge also has a vibrant arts & culture scene that continues to expand and grow. In 2014, Breckenridge Arts District was opened in downtown Breckenridge. The district features art studios, performance venues, art exhibits, art classes and workshops, and other fun events like yoga for people of all ages.

There is a scattering of art galleries in Breckenridge that feature local artists, including Breckenridge Gallery, which has been in business for over 30 years; Arts Alive Gallery, a co-op of local artists; and Blue River Art Gallery, which is one of the newer galleries to open in Breckenridge and is the brainchild of renowned local landscape artist Jerry Georgeff.

Breckenridge Backstage Theater was established in the 1970s and is the oldest year-round theater company to form on the Western slope. With huge local support, this theater has seen awards like the prestigious Colorado Theatre Guild Outstanding Regional Theatre Award in 2010, and in 2016, it opened up a newly expanded theater with a bar and lobby space.

Breckenridge: Food & Restaurants

If food and drink are your passion, then this little mountain town isn’t something to snub. Breckenridge, in fact, boasts the most awarded distillery to date in all of Colorado: Breckenridge Distillery. Founded in 2007, the distillery has won top awards in spirit competitions all over the country. Breckenridge Brewery is a successful craft brewery that rapidly expanded outside of Breckenridge after its conception in 1990 with several locations, and they were the first Colorado craft brewery to be bought out by Anheuser-Busch InBev. If supporting a die-hard local craft brewery is important to anyone, then Broken Compass Brewery, opened in 2014, is a solid locally crafted brew choice.

One notable bar to check out is The Absinth Bar. Absinth was a controversial drink in the Prohibition Era known as the “green fairy,” thought to bring on hallucinations and madness (it doesn’t), and this is truly a unique experience for anyone curious about trying it with authentic absinth fountains, glasses, and sugar cubes. Après Handcrafted Libations makes amazing craft cocktails, and the Rocky Mountain Underground is a spot where all the locals go and comes highly recommended; they have a rotating menu of craft beers and craft cocktails, so things are new every few months.

When walking down Main Street, Crepes a la Cart is an affordable little crepe place that is a huge favorite with locals and visitors alike. Piante Pizzeria is a great stop for pizza lovers, offering mouth wateringly delicious New York-inspired wood oven pizzas that are all plant-based. Cashews for cheese—who would’ve thought that could be so delicious?

Relish and The Hearthstone Restaurant are two higher end restaurants in town that are highly praised by people that splurge there, and Hearthstone has a great happy hour for those patrons who might not want to splurge on a fancy dinner. Both places have exceptional service. Breckenridge Distillery also opened a high-end restaurant called Breckenridge Distillery Restaurant at their main location in the beginning of 2017 and brought in a nationally recognized chef, Daniel O’Brien—who was once on Top Chef—making their mark on cuisine in the region.

While there are a plethora of other things that could be highlighted about the area, this is just a taste of everything Breckenridge can offer besides skiing. So the next time someone suggests Breckenridge—find a new adventure outside of the typical ski day for the winter.

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Wintry Things To Do in Breckenridge Colorado (That Aren’t Skiing)



While it’s clear that Breckenridge isn’t just a ski town, it’s still a popular spot for anyone heading into the mountains during the winter. If you need some other ideas when heading to Breckenridge, here are festivals and activities to consider in this historical, mountain town this winter.

Ullr Fest

This festival is one of the first festivals that Breckenridge ever formed 55 years ago. Since a lot of the ski instructors were Norwegian at the beginning of the ski slopes in Breckenridge in the 1950s, the festival was born out of Norse myth—Ullr (pronounced “Ew-Lur”) was the Norse God of Snow—and the celebration of snow. The festival includes a parade, bonfire, and the World’s Longest Shot Ski. 2018’s Ullr Festival will be held January 10th-13th.

International Snow Sculpture Championships
Teams come from all around the world to compete in this snow sculpting competition held annually in Breckenridge for the last 28 years. There will be a spectacular Ice Village located in the area around the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Artists begin sculpting on January 22nd and will be finished with their sculpture on the 26th. Children can participate in a Junior Snow Sculpture Class on the 27th, and sculptures will be up until the 29th.

For more info:

Snowmobile Tours & Dog Sledding
Snowmobiling remains a very popular thing to do in the snow, providing people a fun, exciting way to explore Colorado’s beautiful backcountry. For something just as adventurous but more rustic and historical, then dogsledding might be your choice. Both activities are rare ways to explore Colorado during the winter that don’t require skis or strenuous physical activity.

Hut Trips
If you want an experience that pushes you physically and gets you into the outdoors away from the crowded mountain town areas, then a hut trip might be the perfect adventure to try. Simply rent a bed or entire hut that is run by the 10th Mountain Division in the backcountry of Summit County—and then hike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski to the hut, usually a few miles away.

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