Tighter rules on Cuba travel recently imposed by Trump’s administration mean that Cuba cruises have come to a halt immediately and people-to-people tour have been scrapped BUT American visitors can still stay in a casa particular and discover the island, so long as they can prove they make meaningful interaction with locals in the form of cultural exchanges, donations or voluntary work. Keep reading to find out more about what the new Cuba travel rules entail and how to enjoy a law-abiding Cuba trip if you’re a U.S. citizen.
If you’re an American keen on travelling to Cuba we haven’t great news for you as the latest moves by Trump’s administration to limit tourism to the island from the U.S. mean you won’t have the freedom to arrange your trip to Cuba in the same way you could during Obama’s Cuban bonanza years. BUT you can still stay in a casa particular (in fact this is highly encouraged as the Trump administration has published a long list of forbidden state-owned Cuba hotels) and book commercial flights to Cuba. In short, you can still travel to Cuba on your own and make your own travel arrangements, from reserving a room in a casa particular in Havana to booking your own US-Cuba flights, as long as you comply with a list of requirements. Alternatively, you can book a tour with a specialised Cuba tour opeator who will take care of all the planning in advance and give you a perfectly safe itinerary packed with meaningful activities (with an added dose of fun!).
So, what has changed?
The Obama era people-to-people tours are now history, as is the possibility of staying in a vast majority of government-run Cuba hotels (for the full black list click here) BUT American visitors to Cuba can still book a casa particular in Havana and elsewhere and they still enjoy the freedom of arranging travel to Cuba on their own by clicking the “Support to the Cuban people” category, an all-purpose category that includes things like direct contact with the locals (staying in a casa particular with a live-in host is one way to meet the requirements), supporting the civil society in Cuba (with donations or voluntary work) and interacting with residents in a meaningful way that promotes independence from Cuba’s ruling authorities and fosters entrepreneurship.
You can arrange your holiday to Cuba (well, just don’t call it holiday or vacation though, as leisure tourism is strictly off limits) independently or through a licensed travel agent, but the interactive element of your trip must be more active than ever and you must make sure to pack your schedule with activities that foster cultural enrichment that goes both ways and involves the locals in meaningful ways.
What can you do in Cuba? Where can you go?
The new travel category that still allows U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba independently (there are other categories still in place is full of grey areas and murkiness. So, what exactly counts as “support for the Cuban people?”. We’ve
already covered accommodation in a casa particular, but eating out at a paladar (privately-owned restaurants as opposed to state-run ones) also counts, as does shopping at private stores owned and run by locals or in any other way supporting Cuban entrepreneurs who have launched or are about to launch their businesses.
As to what you cannot do and the places you cannot go, the U.S. Treasury Department has published a full list of no-go zones in Cuba if you’re an American traveller. Technically, you’re not allowed to rent a bike to explore and briefly exchange with street vendors or beach. It’s fine for you to rent a bike in your downtime and explore a museum or two during your visit to Cuba, but if you go to the beach, make it a one-day affair and stay away from touristy things. And, relax, U.S. authorities aren’t there to watch what you do and don’t do in Cuba but acting with caution is advised, if you go to the beach don’t be too quick to post to your social media accounts.
Aside from avoiding doing any sort of business with black-listed Cuban entities (associated with the government’s military forces) or booking a tour of Viñales while you’re in Havana (don’t even think about Varadero, it’s always been forbidden for U.S. travellers since 1959)-. If you want to go beyond Havana and stay in a casa particular elsewhere in Cuba, it’s best to arrange your Cuba trip with a licensed tour operator and discuss your itinerary needs beforehand. It’s not that, as an American, you can’t go from Havana to Vinales or Santa Clara on your own during your time in Cuba, you can, but for it to not be seen as a purely touristic endeavour you have to have a plan in place, whether that’s interacting with local schools and making donations, visiting organic farms, spending time with the local community or helping NGOs with building works or community projects.
Staying in a casa particular is still the best way to get in touch with the real Cuba
Many licensed tour operators take the hard work of packing your Cuba itinerary with law-compliant activities so that is one way to go. Just forget about cigar factory tours (meeting local craftmakers who make humidors instead), visiting the Che Guevara memorial or visiting Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia house. They’ve all been scrapped from most U.S. tour operators’ Cuba schedules, although the activities they’ve been replaced with might be just as enriching or interesting.
And, above all, please ignore scaremongering sensationalist headlines like “travel to Cuba banned” or “Cuba off-limits”. Such headlines have been inundating American newspapers for weeks BUT, conversely, the good news is that actually, it’s still far easier to legally travel to Cuba for Americans than it was in 2014. And, yes, they’re still fully allowed to visit the island, just make sure to scrutinise their travel plans and include legally-allowed activities. Like we said earlier, booking a casa particular is the best way to start!