How Americans Can Travel To Cuba Right Now
Photo by David Cogswell
The announcement that the U.S. and Cuba are now going forward with their agreement to start commercial flights has travelers from the U.S. excited about the prospect of visiting the once-forbidden Caribbean island.
Unfortunately, it appears at this point that travel restrictions for Americans will still be in place when the first commercial flight from the United States lands on Cuban soil. The Obama Administration has taken steps to make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, but standard tourism (visiting the island specifically for leisure) is still forbidden.
Americans can’t visit resorts in Cuba, but they can visit
Because of the remaining sanctions, Americans still can’t enjoy resort vacations in Cuban like Varadero alongside their Canadian and British peers. However, the changes to the travel laws made by the Obama Administration means that Americans can legally travel to Cuba without having to deal with an excessive amount of red tape. Citizens who feel that their trip fits under one of the 12 officially accepted reasons to visit Cuba do not have to apply for formal approval from the State Department before their trip.
A number of travel companies and organizations can help Americans who want to visit Cuba RIGHT NOW by taking them on a trip that will be deemed legal under current travel regulations. So even though mainstream travel has not been given the green light by Washington and the first commercial flight is still a few months away, Americans don’t have to wait to visit Cuba.
The most straightforward way to plan a trip to Cuba is to find a travel company that specializes in so-called people-to-people tours. These tours, offered by specialty firms like Insight Cuba, focus on cultural, historic, artistic or religious themes. These journeys are almost always designed to be “educational” in nature since “education” is one of the 12 acceptable reasons for Americans to visit Cuba.
The advantage of going with a company like this is that the trip is legal, and you will probably not run into any issues if you are asked to prove that your trip to Cuba fit into one of the acceptable categories. The drawback is that such tours can be relatively pricey. Insight’s upcoming offerings include a five-day, four-night tour of Havana for $3,395 and a $3,795 jazz-themed tour that lasts for six days.
Can you do it yourself?
It is possible to do it by yourself by getting a visa through the Cuban Embassy in Washington, catching a charter flight (about $400 round trip from Florida) and booking into a casa particular, which is a Cuban bed-and-breakfast-style guesthouse. This is probably the easiest part of the trip because Cuba is now served by none other than Airbnb. Casas particulares prices range from dirt cheap to very reasonable (in other words, from about $20 to $120 per night).
The most difficult part of an unguided trip will be finding activities that will allow you to prove that your trip meets the U.S. government's guidelines. You will have to organize activities that will make it possible to prove the purpose of your trip. The greatest advantage of booking a specialty tour is that this kind of planning is not necessary.
Different guided tour options
There are a lot of different options for package tours, so even though they may end up being more expensive than a solo trip, you may be able to find one that is not prohibitively pricey and that focuses on subjects that you are actually interested in. High-end adventure tour providers like Abercrombie and Kent offer Cuba trips that can top the $10,000 mark, but vacations of similar lengths offered by Apple Vacations, Mayflower Tours, Friendly Planet Travel and the aforementioned Insight Cuba all run in the $3,000 to $4,000 range for a week-long trip.
So yes, it is possible to go to Cuba right now regardless of what happens with commercial flights and congressional debates about sanctions. However, you will either have to invest the time to plan a trip and schedule the required activities or you will have to spend a little bit more and take a guided tour that will handle all the details for you.
Cheap package vacations to Varadero or a quick weekend getaway to Havana will someday be a reality for Americans, but for now, those who want to be among the first U.S. citizens to set foot on the island in five decades will have to put in the work or pony up for a package tour.
More by Josh Lew
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