Confused about traveling to Cuba? We can understand why due to the new travel regulations and recent news. Hundreds of thousands of American tourists have visited Cuba in the last 3 years and it is still a beautiful and intriguing country to explore.
For nearly 50 years, Americans were prohibited from traveling to Cuba. The island just 90 miles from Miami is the only country in the world that the United States has banned its citizens from visiting, so when travel restrictions were relaxed between 2009 and 2015 Cuba saw an influx of curious American travelers. But that trend has slowed down in 2018 because many Americans are asking "can I go to Cuba safely and legally?"
The quick and honest answer is a loud and resounding YES. American citizens can legally visit the previously forbidden Caribbean island both alone and in a group. It's worth noting that a visit solely for tourism isn't, and never has been, legal.
All you must do to travel to Cuba in 2018 is design an itinerary that falls into one of twelve specified categories like "Support for the Cuban People" and "Humanitarian Projects." There are a number of regulations you need to follow plus you must keep all your receipts and records for five years... but it is all legal.
There's a plethora of information out there for solo travelers (and some additional rules), but for the sake of this post we'll talk solely about group travel. When traveling with a tour group (which is both legal and supportive of the Cuban people), all you have to do is book your flight and get your travel visa. It is the job of the tour company to monitor new and changing policies and create compliant itineraries so you as the traveler get an authentic Cuban experience without the concerns of legality.
Take our trip, Parks and People of Cuba, for example. We work with a local company that focuses on sharing their experiences with the people and national parks of Cuba. Under the category of Support for the Cuban people, our paid visits to Cuba's forests, mountains, oceans and cities allow us to authentically dive in to Cuban culture and support the local economy. It's not just tourism because we go beyond Havana into the countryside where we combine visits to national parks and nature reserves with visits with naturalist guides, farmers, historians, national park officials, artists, and small business entrepreneurs. With the help of our local partners, we are experience the living history and culture of Cuba.
So why has travel slowed down in the last year?
A travel advisory issued by the State Department is a common concern, but it was issued in September due to the alleged sonic attacks on U.S. embassy staff. No private citizens have been affected and the only real impact on travelers is that the U.S embassy in Havana is operating with limited staff because all non-essential personnel were sent back to the U.S. The investigation into the sonic attacks is still ongoing and no travelers have been targeted or affected.
The effects of Hurricane Irma are also a worry for travelers but the island recovered rapidly. Havana has been back to normal since early October 2017 and our guide from our early 2018 trip to Cuba noted that there was no visible damage.
People are still unsure about what to expect when they reach Cuba. They've seen the pictures of old cars, men playing music in the street, women laughing and smoking cigars. This is all true. The Cuban people have a love of life and infectious smiles! The country is still under communist rule, but things are changing with loosening the restrictions on licensing and property ownership. All of this makes Cuba and spectacularly interesting and beautiful place to visit.
It's quite different than what American travelers are used to, and that's exactly why we should go now.