AMERICANS TRAVELING TO CUBA As an aid to our U. S. customers wishing to travel to Cuba, here are some excerpts from the Cuba Handbook authored by Christopher P. Baker. These items indicate the United States position with regard to American citizens traveling to Cuba, including some of the travel options available to you. Contrary to popular belief, US law does not prohibit US citizens from visiting Cuba. However, tourism is effectively banned by the Trading With the Enemy Act, which prohibits US citizens from spending money there.
The Cubans have no restrictions on US tourists. On the contrary; they welcome US visitors with open arms. The Cubans are savvythey won't stamp your passport. As many as 60,000 US citizens visited Cuba in 1995; only about 20% did so legally, while the rest slipped in through third countries.
The regulations change frequently. For the latest provisions, contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), US Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. 20200, tel. (202) 622-2520. Request the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. The Treasury Department maintains an online home site describing the various categories at www.cntraveler.com/code/cuba.html.
The following regulations applied to US citizens and residents at press time (the text is reprinted verbatim from a US State Department bulletin issued in March 1996):
The US Department of the Treasury's Cuban Assets Control Regulations . . . require that persons subject to US jurisdiction traveling to and within Cuba need a Department of the Treasury license in order to buy goods (a meal at a hotel, for example) or services (an airline ticket, tour package, or hotel room).
The following categories of travelers are permitted to spend money for Cuban travel without the need to obtain special permission from the US Treasury Department:
Special licenses may be issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control on a case by case basis authorizing travel transactions by persons in connection with the following travel categories:
Humanitarian Travel. Persons traveling to Cuba (1) to visit close relatives in cases involving extreme hardship, such as terminal illness or severe medical emergency, (2) persons traveling to Cuba to accompany licensed humanitarian donations (other than gift parcels), or (3) persons traveling in connection with activities of recognized human rights organizations investigating specific human rights violations.
Travel in connection with professional research or similar activities, for clearly defined educational or religious activities, or for purposes related to the exportation, importation, or transmission of informational materials, including provision of telecommunications services.
Except as specifically licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, payments in connection with any other travel to Cuba are prohibited, whether travelers go directly or via a third country such as Mexico, Canada, or another Caribbean island.
"Fully hosted" travel to Cuba is not restricted, provided that the travel is not aboard a direct flight between the United States and Cuba. A fully hosted traveler may pay for transportation only if aboard a non-Cuban carrier. Travelers whose expenses are covered by a person not subject to US jurisdiction may not bring back any Cuban origin goods, except for informational materials.
What You May Buy: Money may be spent only for purchases of items directly related to travel such as hotel accommodations, meals, and goods personally used by the traveler in Cuba at a rate not to exceed $100 per day or for the purchase of $100 worth of Cuban merchandise to be brought into the United States as accompanied baggage. Purchases of services related to travel, such as nonemergency medical services, are prohibited . . . The purchase of publications and other informational material is not restricted in any way.A Range of Options
Many ordinary US citizens and residents can also qualify for official travel status as "researchers." The law states that "Specific licenses for transactions related to travel to, from, and within Cuba may be issued for persons engaging in professional research and similar activities" (my emphasis). Several organizations are licensed to offer educational trips and can assist you to meet qualification requirements.
In addition, "Specific licenses will be issued to persons for travel to Cuba for clearly defined educational activities . . . attendance at a meeting or conference . . . activities related to study for an undergraduate or graduate degree sponsored by a college or university located in the United States."
Prior to October 1995, when the process became even more politicized as to who would be granted licenses, freelance journalists could travel to Cuba without asking Uncle Sam's permission. Now they, too, need a license, thereby allowing the US government to veto the entry of particular journalists.
If you want to go it alone and try the "journalist" or "researcher" angle, write to the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of the Treasury, 1331 G Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20220, tel. (202) 376-0922. The Treasury Department requires a written statement of why your proposed trip falls within the rules for permissible travel. If your story is convincing, you should get approval in two or three months.
You may also travel legally by booking a prepaid, all-inclusive package with companies such as Wings of the World.
A far simpler alternative, the route chosen by the vast majority of US visitors to Cubais to forget the legal restrictions and simply go!Will You Be Fined?
Trading with Cuba is good for up to a US$250,000 fine and 10 years in prison, but arresting people for merely vacationing in Cuba is not high on the US government's list of priorities. To my knowledge, no one has been prosecuted merely for going to Cuba and spending money there as a tourist.
Cuba's tourism boom is fueling an increase in traffic on the 40
airlines that service Cuba. Charters account for about 90% of arrivals. Leading
international carriers have regular scheduled service from Europe, Canada, and Central and
South America, and more are being added. If you want flexibility, choose your airline
carefullysome are notoriously accommodating, others not. The US government bans
flights between the US and Cuba, and all flights to and from Cuba are forbidden from using
NOTE from ForCuba.com: To take full advantage of our holiday specials, we recommend that people from all US points can go to Cuba via Toronto and Montreal at reasonable rates. We can also book flights from Clagary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Halifax into Varadero.Practicalities
Ensure that you make your reservation as early as possible
(several months in advance would be ideal), especially during peak season, as flights are
often oversold. Always reconfirm your reservation within 72 hours of your departure
(reservations are frequently canceled if not reconfirmed, especially during Dec.-Jan.
holidays), and arrive at the airport with at least two hours to spare. Avoid reservations
that leave little time for connections - baggage transfers and Customs and immigration
procedures may take more time than planned.
Note: ForCuba.com can handle all your booking arrangements for Cuba. Also, since Mr. Baker's book went to press many improvements have been made to the booking process. There are now occassional last minute reservation scenario's available.Cubana de Aviación
Cuba's national airline is Cubana de Aviación, which celebrated
its 70th anniversary. Cubana's do not currently operate flights in or
out of the US. After the US embargo was imposed, the airline's vintage Bristol
Britannia planes were replaced by Soviet-made aircraft, including 32-passenger Yak-40s,
120-passenger Yak-42s, 156-passenger TU-154s, and 168-passenger IL-62s with
the same seat spacing arrangements found on western jets. Cubana
recently added several 44-passenger Fokker-27s, plus two 309-passenger DC-10s.
In 2000, the airline introduced European made Airbus A320 service on the
Toronto - Havana & Toronto - Varadero routes. The airline also
offers First Class (Clase Tropical) service on these flights at a
small premium over the coach fare.
At press time, Cubana offered regular scheduled service between
Cuba and Barcelona, Berlin, Bogotá, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Cancún, Caracas, Fort de
France, Frankfurt, Guayaquíl, Kingston, Las Palmas, Lima, Lisbon, London, Madrid,
Mendoza, Mexico City, Montréal, Moscow, Panama City, Paris, Puerto Pitre, Rio de Janeiro,
Rome, San José (Costa Rica), Santiago de Chile, Santiago de Compostela (Spain), Sao
Paulo, and Toronto. Additional services are slated. Cubana offers charter flights between
Cuba and Buenos Aires, Cologne, Gran Cayman, Guadalajara, Lisbon, Madrid, Mexico City,
Montego Bay, Montevideo, Nassau, Paris, Quito, Santiago de Chile, Santo Domingo, Toronto,
Cubana's attitude toward scheduled departures is
cavalierflight times change frequently. But its safety record is good. Ensure that
you check in on time on your day of departure; the airline is notorious for disposing of
seats of passengers who arrive after the scheduled check-in time. Overhead bins are
smaller than in US- and European-made planes. Often, you'll find people smoking on
Several airlines fly direct to Cuba from Europe (or with a
refueling stop at Gander, in Canada, en route). American Airlines, British Airways,
Continental, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic fly from London to Miami, where you can
connect with an airline to the Bahamas, and from there to Cuba (see "From the
Caribbean," below). Note, however, that if flying aboard a US carrier, you will have
to make your reservation for the Bahamas-Cuba leg separately.
In the 1960s, Latin American airlines suspended scheduled flights
to Cuba under US pressure. Today, the rush is on, and flightsmany of which are
booked solidserve Cuba from a dozen destinations. Reservations cannot be booked
through US travel agencies and tour operators.
From the Bahamas: Cubana offers charter flights to Havana
from Nassau on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Departure times change frequently.
BY CRUISE SHIP
The US embargo has restricted the cruise industry's access to Cuba. No US company can operate cruises to Cuba, and because foreign-owned vessels cannot dock in the US within six months of visiting Cuba or carrying Cuban passengers or goods, even foreign companies have shunned Cubauntil recently.
The Italian company Costa Crociere initiated cruises to Cuba in October 1995 by forming a separate companyCosta Cruceros, Costa Crociere, Via D'Annunzio, 2-16121 Genova, Italy, and repositioning its Ocean Pearl, a 500-passenger vessel which it renamed Costa Playa. The vessel departs from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic every Tuesday at 8 p.m. and stops at Montego Bay, Jamaica, Santiago de Cuba, Havana, and Nipe, in Cuba. The cruises are operated in association with the French cruise company Paquet. You can also take the eight-day cruise package starting from and returning to Havana (departures every Friday). Prices are all-inclusive (even tips are included), which means that US citizens can legally take the cruise, so long as they don't spend money in Cuba or tip the ship's Cuban staff. Shore excursions are additional. Air-sea packages are offered from Madrid each Tuesday, year-round.
Likewise, in November 1996, Cuba launched the Meliá Don Juan, with 203 staterooms and nine deluxe suites. The vessel is operated under a management contract by Spain's Meliá Hoteles, in Cuba, tel. 53-5-667013, fax 55-5-667162; in Italy, tel. 016-701-1692, fax 039-605-8063; in Germany, tel. 01-302301, fax, 02131-63467; in the UK, tel. 800-282720, fax 171-916-3431. It departs Cienfuegos each Friday for a three-day cruise to Cayo Largo and Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands), and each Monday for a four-day cruise to Cayman Brac (Cayman Islands), Santiago de Cuba, and Montego Bay (Jamaica). You can take the weeklong cruise, and even board the vessel in Grand Cayman on Saturday or in Montego Bay on Thursday.
Contact ForCuba.com for additional information on cruises that include Cuba as part of their itineraries.
Joining an organized tour offers certain advantages over traveling independently, such as the learning passed along by a knowledgeable guide. Tours are also good bets for those with limited time: you'll proceed to the most interesting places without the unforeseen delays and distractions that can be the bane of independent travel. Everything is usually taken care of from your arrival to your departure, including transportation and accommodations. The petty bureaucratic hassles and language problems you may otherwise not wish to face are eliminated, too. And several companies buy hotel rooms and airline seats in bulk, then pass the savings on to you.
Most organized tours to Cuba focus on the cultural and historical experience, although a growing number focus on special-interest travel. Check the tour inclusions carefully to identify any hidden costs such as airport taxes, tips, service charges, extra meals, and entertainment. Most tours are priced according to quality of accommodation, from deluxe to budget.
Most US organizations that offer trips to Cuba are not accredited tour and travel operators and do not offer consumer-protection programs. However, all operators in Canada and the United Kingdom offering tours to Cuba must by law guarantee full repayment in the case of default. Consider trip cancellation insurance. Paying for your tour by credit card is a good idea; in the event of a serious complaint you can challenge the charge.
Within Cuba, there are several state-run tour agencies that offer organized excursions and tours to all the major sites and attractions. Most are up to Western levels of efficiency and service. English-speaking guides, private transportation, meals, and accommodations are standard inclusions. This gives you the added flexibility of making your own tour arrangements once you've arrived in Cuba and gained a better sense of your options and desires.US Citizens Traveling to Cuba
Fortunately, US citizens can legally travel to Cuba on certain organized tours. Organizations that arrange trips to Cuba are required to obtain special government authorized licenses.
Most programs are "study" tours that provide a deep immersion in particular aspects of Cuban life and issues. While the focus of most tours is educational, there's usually plenty of time for relaxation. By joining such groups you'll enjoy the advantage of coming to understand a little more of Cuba, perhaps, than would the average tourist. Participants usually have to demonstrate serious interest in the subject of study; in reality, this often proves a formality, especially in the realm of "arts," where the State Dept. accepts that it is difficult for artists to make a living as professionals.Conventional Tours from Other Countries
(Contact ForCuba.com or e-mail us about regular Tour possiblities to Cuba. See the information on charter airlines in this section for companies offering tour packages from Canada, Mexico, and other destinations.)Ecotours
Cuba has clichéd beaches, but it also has bush. Ecotourism has
come late to the Caribbean, and not least to Cuba, which depends heavily on resort-based,
sun-seeking tourists. Despite its vast acreage in national parks and the diversity of its
landscapes, Cuba's ecotourism potential remains virtually untapped. Cuba has very few
naturalist guides. And so-called "eco-lodges" are mostly merely lodges set in
wilderness areas. But a beginning has been made, such as at the stunning Moka Eco-Hotel
in Pinar del Río province. Ecotourism is beginning to rise in Cuba due to the
Heritage and Culture Tours
Every moment in Cuba is a fascinating study in cultural anthropology. Nonetheless, you can make a more serious study of things on numerous organized tours. Contact ForCuba.com about the availablility of Heritage or Cultural Tours to Cuba.