Written by Molly Goldsmith (Classic Travel Intern, Spring 2015).
Cuba is not a particularly dangerous island nation. Despite this fact, nearly all travel, trade, and business from the United States has been restricted for over 60 years. Human rights organizations and advocacy groups have maintained that the embargo causes detrimental effects to the Cuban economy and the quality of life of Cuban citizens. Despite this fact, every U.S. president since Eisenhower has upheld the ban on trade and travel with Cuba.
Recently, however, President Obama has spoken out against the embargo against Cuba. He has drawn attention to the needs of the Cuban citizens and the benefits that people of both nations would receive by lifting this policy.
Since this historic announcement, there has been a flurry of media activity. The most prevalent question on the American consciousness is undoubtedly, “When do we get to winter in Varadero?”
Unfortunately, it might not be time to start packing. While the U.S. is taking enormous strides to end its embargo on Cuba, it has not yet trickled down to the American tourist. There are currently 12 categories of travel that will allow you to receive a visa to travel to Cuba.
“Travel-related transactions are permitted by general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to criteria and conditions in each general license: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.” – U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs
These changes to previously strict visa allowances represent a remarkable cultural shift that is sure to advance quickly to commercial reforms. Various sources and news developments are making it clear that steps are being taken to allow tourism in Cuba. Starting March 17th, travelers will be able to fly from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York to Cuba. The U.S. government is pushing for a quick restoration of normal relations. Reuters reports that officials are pushing to fix diplomatic relationships and establish a U.S. Embassy as early as April.
We are not, however, out of the woods yet. The State Department has not removed Cuba from their terror list. Cuba’s government has blocked U.S. congressional efforts to travel to the country before April 15th. There are heightened levels of political interest in Cuba as a result of President Obama’s call to action. Now the Cuban government is scrambling to show the world that they should not be restricted anymore.
What does this mean for you? Cuba is, unfortunately, going to remain a mystery to most American travelers for the time being. While it is clear that the U.S. is getting close to restoring this relationship, both governments are years away from approving the necessary legislation and structural changes to permit U.S. tourism.
If you do not want to wait and you are feeling adventurous, there are other options for Cuban travel. The most popular choice is an ambassador program called “People to People.” This organization provides global cultural education tours to U.S. citizens. Students, adults, athletes, and future leaders can learn about dozens of foreign cultures including Australia, China, and, of course, Cuba. These programs are operated by licensed touring companies that work under an educational exchange visa – a perfectly legal way for Americans to travel to Cuba. The nature of this visa does not allow for unscheduled leisure time – don’t expect hours to wander around Cuban markets or lie on the beach – but it does provide a unique opportunity to learn about a world that has been hidden for over 60 years.
Globus Journeys offers a People to People trip that offers three unique itineraries that provide rich cultural experiences and the opportunity for travelers to connect with local Cuban citizens. Another popular trip – operated by Tauck Tours – is called “Cuba: Connecting with People and Culture.” This option offers participants a chance to dive into Cuban history, music, education, architecture, and more. The price of these tours covers lodging and meals, so you can be free to explore and learn.
Cuba is a vibrant country that should be on every American’s travel bucket list. These and other tours provide the experience of a lifetime. Call Classic Travel today at 517-349-6200 to book your trip. You won’t want to miss this unique opportunity to visit an unbelievable country.