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President Obama visited Cuba last month, and plenty of Americans want to know when they might be able to take a trip to the formerly off-limits island nation, too.
The U.S. government has been steadily easing travel restrictions to Cuba, but there will still be some complications if you’re thinking about making it your summer travel destination. The U.S. still requires visits to Cuba fit into one of 12 general categories. And while going strictly as a tourist for a beach vacation remains prohibited, individual and organized “people-to-people” trips that are education-based are permitted.
A recent survey by travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance found that 42 percent of all Americans say they’d someday like to go to Cuba, but the survey also found that 70 percent of Americans are unlikely to plan a trip there right now due to concerns about safety (44 percent), fears of visiting a communist-governed country (15 percent) and a lack of detailed information about the on-the-ground travel experience in Cuba (18 percent).
Still, travel experts and Americans who have already made the trip say now is a good time to go.
“Cuba for the average traveler is extremely doable,” said Joe Diaz, co-founder of AFAR Media. And there are cost-effective ways to make the trip.
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U.S. carriers are still waiting for approval — expected to come soon — to begin scheduled service to Havana and other cities in Cuba. But for now, airfare will likely be one of the most costly line items of your trip.
“If you can be flexible with your routing” and explore traveling via Panama City, Toronto, or Mexico City, “you can cut your expenses,” said Diaz.
“Hotels are experiencing low vacancy, so if you're willing to stay in a private home, known as a ‘casa particular,’ which I argue is the best way to stay while in Cuba, you'll be able to save some serious cash as well,” he said.
Lonely Planet has just posted a fresh and very helpful online primer for first-time visitors to Cuba offering tips on everything from how to get there, to securing a tourist card (tarjeta de turista), dealing with money, deciding what to pack and suggestions for getting around and what to be sure to see.
For those who aren’t comfortable planning a trip to Cuba on their own, organized trips are a good way to go, said Brendan Sainsbury, co-writer of Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Cuba.
“People–to-people trips have gotten much more open and available. You get to experience real Cuban culture, but the downside is that they can be expensive,” said Sainsbury. “They’re for a certain type of traveler, and most of these trips, such as the one National Geographic offers, are quite good and give you a good insight into Cuba.”
For independent travelers, Sainsbury says the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba has made a big difference as well.
“In the past, American travelers could have problems if things went wrong. But now the embassy can help with services and information while you’re there.”
Another option opening up to American travelers: cruises to Cuba.
CruiseCritic.com just updated its “Can Americans travel to Cuba on a cruise?” post, and senior editor Chris Gray Faust says the news this year is that cruise lines are beginning to receive permission to sail to Cuba from Miami.
“When [Carnival Corporation’s] Fathom sailing takes place on May 1, it will be the first American cruise line to sail to Cuba from the United States in over 50 years,” Faust said. “American passengers on the ship will still have to follow a people-to-people program in Cuba, but actually being able to cruise to the island from the U.S. is a huge breakthrough.”