The U.S. Government recently announced changes to Cuba travel regulations that make it easier, and likely cheaper, for Americans to travel to Cuba. The announcement was made just ahead of President Obama’s ongoing geoundbreaking trip to Cuba.
What it means for you is that, with some planning and research, you can travel legally on your own, and have an extraordinary experience.
For many potential travelers, the most significant change permits Americans to travel to Cuba individually, and engage in related transactions, for “people to people” exchanges, rather than being require to travel under the auspices of a group sponsoring these exchanges. The U.S. announcement March 15 defined authorized “people to people” travel as “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people…and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”
Tourist travel per se for Americans remains prohibited by U.S. law. But individuals now have much greater latitude to travel to Cuba, provided they keep documentation of a full time schedule of visitor activities that entail contact with Cuban people.
Sound like a little bit of a word game? The bottom line is the U.S. Administration wants to encourage travel to Cuba as part of the process of normalizing ties between the two neighbors. It believes people to people contact is an important way to help overcome half a century of estrangement. But Administration hands are tied by the embargo and related provisions that were codified in law in the mid 1990s. Despite repeated polls showing strong majority support in the U.S. for lifting the embargo, it is unlikely that Congress will act soon to do so.
So the Obama administration is using its regulatory authorities to facilitate travel by Americans under the existing twelve legal categories of travel to Cuba. Travel from the U.S. has grown enormously since the normalization process was begun in December 2014.
There can still be huge benefits, especially on short trips, to traveling with one of the top organizations that do group or bespoke itineraries. These include access, quality content, and greater likelihood of reservations for charter flights (such as CTS and ABC), premium hotels and restaurants. But the travel industry in Cuba is evolving rapidly. Regular commercial passenger flights between the U.S. and Cuba could start as early as this summer. Ground costs are jumping, but economical non-hotel lodging options are increasing (eg AirBnB, and casas particulares).
This is a great time to experience a remarkable culture at an exceptional moment in its evolution. And it’s a chance for you to be part of a historic process of rapprochement between countries who share so much yet have seemed so distant for a half century. If you contemplate travel, be sure to read the relevant U.S.-issued guidance and FAQs to stay in compliance with regulations.
-William McIlhenny, Co-Publisher of HavanaInsider.com