The New York Times gets experts to explain how easy is to travel to Cuba

Posted: 27-Sep-16 12:19

Banned from visiting Cuba for more than a half-century, Americans are finally now allowed to travel to the island nation via commercial airline. That has some travellers questioning just how easy it is to make the trip. Travel industry experts weigh-in with their own advice, explaining the necessary rules and giving some insight into booking a Cuban holiday.

The New York Times gets experts to explain how easy is to travel to Cuba

While many American travellers now have the ability to travel to Cuba, not everyone is up-to-date on all of the rules and regulations that come with visiting the nation. Writer Elaine Glusac recently polled some travel industry experts for their advice on how easy it is to visit Cuba, as published by The New York Times.

Understanding the rules

First, Glusac reminds that American travellers must fall within one of the 12 accepted travel categories. Visitors from the United States cannot simply go to Cuba for tourism or to hang out on a beach. Instead, Americans must be going under the heading of things such as a people-to-people exchange. In this case travellers must have a range of educational activities in place that allow for interaction with locals.

Other approved categories include religious activities, journalistic work, government business, or going to visit family. Travellers used to need a license but now only need to check-off that they meet the qualifications in an online form while booking a tour, cruise or air travel. One tour group leader describes it as “self-policing” that’s “based on trust”.

Making a plan

Coming up with a plan may be difficult on your own as U.S. government rules require those who aren’t going as part of a tour for a people-to-people visit to have records that show approved activities, which for some means either keeping a diary or hanging on to receipts. For this reason it may be easier to have an online agency or tour operator put together an itinerary for you.

The cruise line Fathom, part of the Carnival Corporation, launches every other week in route to Cuba, giving passengers the option of organized tours that meet people-to-people regulations, or time to do what they want. Fathom President Tara Russell maintains while they offer suggestions, visitors will still need to keep track of what they do if they choose this option, saying in part:

  “It’s important on your own to record the days, times, duration, types of activities and expenses”

However, Russell does not believe any past Fathom passengers have been asked to provide such documentation by the U.S. government. Still, others maintain the burden is on the traveller not the travel company to keep track of what they do and for how long while in Cuba.

Necessary documents

When it comes to the documents needed to travel to Cuba, the experts quoted in the article maintain travellers need to have health insurance covering Cuba, which in most situations means purchasing local insurance, plus a tourist visa. You can often get these from transportation providers.

While charter flight passengers can often take care of the visa at the airport it may mean getting there four hours in advance. Commercial airlines suggest three hours ahead. It’s mentioned that JetBlue passengers can purchase a visa for $50 with a major credit card, boarding pass and valid passport. Insurance is included in the fare and good for 30 days, as part of a $25 surcharge. A representative from JetBlue suggests having your boarding pass with you should you need to visit a Cuban hospital and need more proof that you flew on JetBlue.

Silver Airways and American Airways also include health insurance in the overall airfare, with Silver charging another $75 for a visa. American, on the other hand, works with Cuba Travel Services to provide a visa for $85. The tour operator gets in touch with all American Airlines passengers before their flight to work out any last minute requests for arranging rental cars, hotels and to answer questions.

Fathom charges $75 for a visa, but the health insurance is part of the fare, starting at just under $1,900 per person for a weeklong cruise.

Ground travel

Once in Cuba the experts seem to agree that taxis are a great way to get around Havana. Some do mention that renting a car may be difficult, as the road signs are sometimes not in place and you can’t use GPS in Cuba. Also, cell phones need the Internet, a problem for travellers because it’s not widely available in the country outside of Wi-Fi in some resorts and public hot spots. As well, there are also mentions of carriages and horse carts that sometimes share the roads in Cuba.

For all of these reasons those in the travel industry recommend hiring a driver. Two mentioned in the article include Cuba Travel Network, at the cost of $90 per day and CarRental-Cuba for $75 per day, plus the car cost. Doing so allows you to enjoy touring Cuba while someone more knowledgeable about the island’s cities and how to get to certain locations does the driving for you.

Local accommodations

Finally, the experts discuss the various options in lodging in Cuba. Private homes, or rather casas particulares, are widely available for rent, with thousands searchable via Airbnb, which offers up nearly all of the country’s rooms for rent. There are also hostels and hotel rooms, with Airbnb projecting a recent rate average in Havana of $54 per night.

While the Cuban government does control all hotels, U.S.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently came aboard to manage the Four Points by Sheraton Havana, an upscale property renovated and now showing rates starting at $196 per night. The same company also plans to remodel and manage the luxury Hotel Inglaterra by the end of 2016.

The author rightly points out that while many customers may pay online in advance with an American-issued credit card they cannot charge the cost of lodging while in Cuba. This is because the majority of U.S. credit cards cannot be used in the country, making carrying cash an essential for visiting Cuba.

Ease of Travel

If you’re still wondering how easy it is to visit Cuba the answer is that booking a trip is easier than it’s been for decades for American travellers. Commercial airlines have opened up direct service to the country and cruise ships are sailing to the island. As well, visitors may travel via private jet or charter plane, making Cuba one of the most attractive new destinations for American travellers. Visitors are taking notice, too, as record numbers of travellers have descended on the island in recent months, eager to experience the country and culture of Cuba. 


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