Home to Havana

Carley and José Rojas Avila, Founders

Rochester, New York
Carley and José in front of an art mural. Carley and José holding US and Cuban flags.
Pursuing a passion for travel

Living in Ecuador, Carley Rojas Avila, a native of Rochester New York, met her husband José who is from Cuba. The two shared a love for traveling and Latin America. The pair were even considering splitting their time between the U.S. and Cuba before the COVID-19 pandemic and a new baby caused them to reevaluate their plans.

Still inspired by a life abroad, they decided to make a website instead. “We realized that a lot of travelers didn’t have enough information to make their trips to Cuba a reality or had a lot of misconceptions about traveling there,” Carley recalls. So she began working on their site, Home to Havana to provide quality content about traveling to Cuba.

“Starting Home to Havana during the most intense part of the COVID-19 lockdowns - it was a crazy time to start a travel website,” she says.

But the two were driven by their passion for the country. “The streets of Cuba seem to hug you when you visit,” says José. “I’m so happy to be able to share that with Home to Havana and show a vision of Cuba many people don’t see.”

They began learning technical and production skills on the go. Carley took charge of the writing, while José, who taught himself how to code, took care of the backend design and development.

“We wanted to put out the best, most informative content on Cuba possible,” she explains. “But it was hard to do that in a way that could help support us and make money.”

Supporting free travel content with ads

Despite the challenges they faced in monetizing their website, keeping content free to access was important to the Rojas Avilas. “We always want to be able to offer the best information for free, and having an ad-supported business model is huge in providing that,” says Carley.

“We really had to push the bounds of our mission to be able to grow the sites to a size that made it profitable to offer content for free,” Carley recalls. “When we started serving ads on the website, we instantly were able to diversify and increase our income from the site, which helped us reinvest back in the website and expand to Explorers Away.”

The Rojas Avilas then partnered with Google Certified Publishing Partner AdThrive, and continued to focus on growth. They are now pushing 100,000 page views per month.

“It’s been awesome having the support of AdThrive. That’s been able to free up time for us to focus back on our original mission,” Carley says.

The Rojas Avilas have now started to diversify their income, incorporating affiliate marketing and sponsored posts, but the revenue from ads still make up about 50% of their income. And the pair use Google tools like Analytics and Search Console to inform their business decisions. “I could spend entire days just looking at Google Analytics and Search Console. They are so helpful in so many business decisions that I can’t imagine working without them,” Carley says.

“We always want to be able to offer the best information for free, and having an ad-supported business model is huge in providing that.”
Growing a mission-driven endeavor to promote the benefits of travel

Correcting misconceptions and increasing empathy amongst travelers keeps Carley and José motivated. “When many people think about Cuba, the first thing that comes to mind is its government and policies. But as a travel destination, the people make it so special,” says José.

Carley agrees that it’s the people and new experiences that can build bridges and empathy. “After spending so much time abroad and seeing the changes in myself,” she explains. “I think being opened up to new worlds and new experiences is something that can benefit everyone.”

Carley and José in Ecuador.
Sharing the most up-to-date information on travel to Cuba

With legislation and policy related to Cuba continuing to evolve in the U.S., one of Home to Havana’s most popular posts aims to answer a complicated question: Can Americans travel to Cuba?

“It’s a huge question on so many travelers’ minds,” Carley says. “It’s always a gateway to the rest of the website - when people discover that travel to Cuba is possible and easier than expected it opens up a new world of possibilities.”

The Rojas Avilas also make it a point to keep their travel content, especially as it relates to Cuba, up to date on their website. “We’re working a lot on continuing to develop and grow the website right now offering easily accessible information to travelers searching for the best and most up-to-date information on Cuba travel,” says José. “In the future, we’d love to grow the business in a way that we can connect travelers directly with local Cuban businesses. It would really bring the purpose of Home to Havana full circle by helping small business owners in Cuba.”

Carley and José plan to add more travel destinations, especially as travel restrictions have been lifted since they first started creating content.

As for her inspiration, Carley cites connecting with other website owners and bloggers as motivation to continue pressing forward with expanding their web presence.

“It’s so cool to be able to see what people are doing, see how they’re growing their websites and things they’ve been able to do - I picture them as my co-workers even though we’re not working on the same project,” she says. “It’s nice to be in that environment where you can get inspiration.”

About the Publisher

José and Carley Rojas Avila are writers and creators with a serious heart for travel. José is from Havana, Cuba, and Carley is from upstate New York, though they met when they were both living as expats Quito, Ecuador. They share travel tips, destinations guides, and itineraries on their websites, Home to Havana and Explorers Away.
José and Carley Rojas Avila