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Cuba Travel Demystified

For decades, Cuba has held a certain mystique for the curious American traveler. Although citizens of other countries could visit, Cuba was previously off limits for Americans. As a result, the country has occupied a special space in the traveler’s imagination, with images of charismatic revolutionaries and flavorful foods, as well as vibrant nights of dancing and music.

In 2015, the United States president, Barack Obama, announced that the country would partially lift its travel ban for American citizens traveling to Cuba. Though there were some caveats – the main being that travel to Cuba in the form of tourism is still strictly prohibited – this lift in the travel ban has definitely opened the door for Americans to consider Cuba travel. With the doors to Cuba slowly opening up, travelers are rightfully confused as to what is allowed and what is not allowed with regards to travel to Cuba. As a means to demystify Cuba travel, here are a few key points to keep in mind when planning travel to Cuba.

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Who can travel to Cuba?
In previous years, American travelers were not allowed into Cuba. And those who were had to face a barrage of restrictions and authorizations to legally travel to the country. Even business transactions with Cuba were considered illegal, and would warrant hefty fines or jail time if caught. These days, most Americans can legally travel to Cuba, as long as they fall into one of the few allowable types of travel.

What kind of travel is allowed?
For Americans, tourism to Cuba is still not allowed. However, there are other types of travel to Cuba that are allowed, including educational activities, professional research, public art performances, religious activities, and even humanitarian projects. Recently, companies have sprung up offering people-to-people trips to Cuba, connecting travelers directly with Cubans as a means to bring about educational and cultural exchange. The main idea behind this travel restriction is that travel to Cuba must have a component in which the traveler is helping the people of Cuba or the trip is educational for the traveler.

How do travelers get there?
From the United States, flights to Cuba are relatively short. A flight from Miami to Havana takes less than an hour. Besides Miami, travelers can get flights to Cuba from cities such Tampa, Orlando, or New York, through various airlines such as American Airlines and JetBlue. However, although flights are offered, actual seats must be purchased through a third party vendor, as the United States and Cuba has yet to sign an aviation agreement.

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Is it safe to travel there?
Cuba is a relative stable country to visit. Unlike in past years, demonstrations against the United States are now few and far between. Demonstrations against local opposition groups, however, can get violent, so it is best to avoid those if in the area. Travel to Cuba is much like travel to any developing country. As there are pockets of poor people, it’s best not to flash too much money around or too many expensive gadgets.

Will there be internet?
As Cuba has remained relatively untouched by tourists, the infrastructure in the country has been relatively weak. Only a few good hotels exist, and many businesses still do not accept foreign credit cards. In terms of internet access, only some hotels, as well as government “hot spots” can offer travelers that luxury.

With the new partial lift on the travel ban, Cuba travel is now becoming a reality for many Americans. Although not all types of travel are allowed, those that have an educational or altruistic purpose are, and tour companies are popping up to take advantage of this travel loophole.

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For more ideas about travel to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean, download the LeafCanoe app.

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