I’ve always been jealous that my European and Canadian friends got to visit Cuba. Many people take their holidays in Cuba and find the best places to visit. I always thought it a shame that Americans could not visit Cuba, even though it was so close to Florida. The idea of seeing a country that hasn’t changed that much in decades always interested me. Together with rich historical sites and some of the best scuba diving sites in the world, Cuba is irresistible.
I added some extensive information below that is worth reading regarding getting the proper license to visit Cuba. I also found an article published in the Washington Post helpful.
Ok, let’s assume that you’ve made it to Cuba. What’s next? Now it is time to explore this beautiful country. I’ve read that car’s are easy to rent and it is really easy to get around the country from Havana. This seems the most popular way to comb the island for its natural beauty and wonderful experiences. I’ve read about a package offered to people where you can rent a car and receive hotel vouchers for the national hotels for as little as $15 per day, car and hotel included for two people. Many people see Cuba this way and it sounds like a dream.
La Habana Vieja
We plan to start our Cuba visit in Havana so it makes the most sense to see the city before we go anywhere else. There is also Old Havana “La Habana Vieja” that must not be missed on any visit. havana was founded by the Spanish in 1519 and there is an abundance of architecture from five centuries to see! Old Havana and her fortifications have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982. Cobblestone walkways and 1950 era American vehicles are abundant. Wonderful food is everywhere.
The Varadero region is known as a tourist area and has many private resorts, hotels, beaches and even a golf course. many of the hotels are all-inclusive but there are so many amazing sites in the region that can’t be seen from a resort.
The marlin fishing in this area is amazing. Cuban rum and cigars should be on anyone’s list and I understand many people love to try their first Cuban mojito!
The Valley de los Ingenios and Trinidad has been a UNESCO site since 1988. The site has amazing views and lush gourds with calm breezes booing in from the ocean. Apparently, Trinidad is the picture of what Cuba used to look like and the sugarcane is abundant.
Cuba has a lot of large rivers that cut trough the country because of the lack of over-development. The Miramar river cuts through the island and many villages can be seen as you float down the river, in contrast to the beach towns that you’ve probably already visited by now.
Castillo del Morro
This Spanish fortress was built in 1589 and it guards the entrance to Havana Bay. Havana was a main Caribbean port for the Spanish empire and this fortress protected the valuables headed back to Spain. The fort is directly south of the city of Havana.
I was so happy to see that the United States relaxed requirements for people wishing to travel to Cuba. The change in policy seems to make a lot of sense to Americans and they are now starting to visit the beautiful island. I found a page on the State Department website. Please take a look at some of my research.
On December 17th, 2014 the United States and Cuba announced the revival of diplomatic relations. As a result travel restrictions are now less severe.
Certain travel restrictions still apply – most importantly travel there is only allowed for the following reasons:
- family visits, 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/other competitions, and exhibitions
- support of the Cuban people
- humanitarian projects
- activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- exportation, importation, or transmission or information materials
- certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines
Note that “tourist travel” is still prohibited.
Arrangements can be made through any service provider complying with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations regarding Cuban travel.
With a license
Try calling Cuba Travel Services, with offices in Miami, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, for additional information. They operate direct flights between the United States and Cuba and can assist licensed travelers with all their travel accommodations. +1 800 963 2822. Insight Cuba is another leading provider of authorized Cuba travel for Americans. They can be reached at + 1 800 450 2822. Another one is Island Travel and Tours, they can be reached at + 1 786 953 5906.
All US citizens are obliged by the US to have a license even if they go through a third country.
Licenses allowing persons from the US to spend money in Cuba are granted to certain classes of people for particular purposes.
A general license requires paperwork verifying that you qualify under the exception and may apply to the following:
- Persons visiting close family in Cuba who are not Cuban nationals
- Professional journalists on assignment in Cuba
- Full-time professionals conducting academic research or attending professional conferences
- Persons on official government business
- Persons engaging in religious activities
- Persons visiting close family who are Cuban nationals
A specific license requires paperwork and Treasury Department approval on case-by-case basis. You may be approved for a specific license if you fall into a certain class of persons. Note that a specific license may be granted to an institution (eg university, church) under whose auspices an individual may then travel without applying separately to the State department, or a specific license may be applied for and granted to an individual.
Some of the classes of persons who may be granted a specific license are:
- Full-time graduate students conducting academic research to be counted toward a graduate degree
- Undergraduate or graduate students participating in a study abroad program of at least 10 weeks in length
- Professors/teachers employed at a US institution travelling to Cuba to teach
- Freelance journalists
- Persons engaging in humanitarian projects
- Persons engaging in non-profit cultural exhibitions
You can travel to Cuba for purposes of tourism. However, even US citizens whose primary interest is tourism can get authorization to travel under the auspices of a program whose activities are sufficiently religious, educational, cultural, or otherwise exempt to qualify for a license.
Under the Obama administration, the US government has restarted the “people-to-people” program, intended to bring US citizens in closer contact with Cuban citizens through programs involving cultural exchange. You can sign up with a program that offers extensive programming such as orphanage visits, musical concerts, and visits to museums without having to have special status as a working journalist or scholar. A New York Times article has additional information.
It is even possible for an individual with a credible background in, say, freelance journalism or academics, to craft a “mission” for their visit which successfully gets them a permit. Further details and forms are available from the US State Department.
Without a license
While in the past Cuba did not stamp US passports, allowing US travelers to visit Cuba without detection from their government, Cuba recently started stamping US passports as a matter of policy. This seems to have been an issue more in 2014 than recently and if you use Global Entry, your stamps will not be scrutinized on re-entry to the US.
Be forewarned that, while rare, you may face steep fines upon re-entering the US if you are caught. In the past, many US citizens traveled without a license, doing so by way of other countries (many of which have routine flights to and from Cuba) to escape detection. Such countries include the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico. The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Panama, and Jamaica, now have US Customs Pre-Clearance facilities at many of their airports, however that is if you are flying back into the United States.
Entering Cuba by private boat
There are no regular ferries or boats to Cuba from foreign ports, although some cruise liners do visit. Yachters are expected to anchor at the public marinas. Also, most ports are closed and tourists are not permitted to walk around them. Private vessels may enter at Marina Hemingway in Havana or Marina Acua in Varadero. Entry requires a passport and visa. I’ve read a number of cursing forums that mention the entry procedures for arriving in Cuba by private boat. Apparently, the process takes awhile but it is well worth it. Boats are allowed docking for a small fee and the facilities have controlled access. They sound very safe, compared to much of the Caribbean. I’ve heard that the facilities allow for a parking spot for a rental car during your stay and have all amenities that you might expect from a marina.