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Travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens is a hot topic these days, with many Americans interested in visiting before the country opens up completely to foreign influence. At the same time, there are still a lot of real and perceived challenges to travel being reported in the media.
While it is true that the average American can not travel to Cuba for a beach holiday, we believe that a country with such a rich history deserves more than lounging on a beach with a mojito or two. It’s true that most businesses do not take credit cards and that Internet connectivity is next to nonexistent, except in upscale hotels. But the idea that the average American would be unable to disconnect from the Internet long enough to enjoy a foreign travel destination, or that carrying cash instead of credit cards makes travel impossible, is insulting to anyone with a bit of wanderlust. Here are five reasons you should consider traveling to Cuba now.
The diplomatic thaw is real
In December 2014, President Obama started the ball rolling with the announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would restore the long-broken diplomatic relations. Then in January, trade and travel restrictions were loosened, if not completely lifted. U.S. citizens could now travel to Cuba if they qualify under one of twelve approved reasons for travel. CheapAir was one of the first to begin selling tickets online to qualified travelers, and nonstop flights from various U.S. gateways followed in May. The president announced that embassies would soon be operational on the ground in both countries. This may seem like a symbolic gesture, but if you’re traveling in Cuba and need assistance from the U.S. government, it’s nice to have an embassy in place, just in case you find yourself in Cuba with a lost passport.
Accommodation options are better than you think
Forget what you’ve heard about overburdened Havana hotels that are already at capacity. If you want to stay at one of the state-sponsored hotels catering to the business traveler, it’s true that there are not a lot of available rooms. But here’s the thing. Those hotels are just as expensive as a 5-star in the U.S. but often have unreliable and subpar service standards. Our preference is to stay at one of the more charming casas particulares. Casas particulares are on par with our idea of bed and breakfasts, and most of them even serve breakfast to guests. Some are in beautiful, colonial apartments, and you’ll have interactions with the local families who many times still live on the property. In the past, your best bet was getting to Havana and then doing the hard work to find a casa particular on your own. Now that Airbnb is in the game with more than 1,000 rentals in Havana, you’ll be booking your affordable rooms with ease. And think outside your comfort zone. It may be years before the Hilton or the Four Seasons come to Havana. By that time, the city will be a very different place. Putting money back into the local economy is the way to go.
You’ll receive reasonable first-class travel prices
The fares for first-class seats to Havana out of Miami are much more reasonable than you might expect. A recent fare search for flights in October show a first-class Miami to Havana ticket for $607, just $136 more than the Economy fare of $471. Sweet!
Cohibas are no longer contraband
It’s true! For many years now, the only way you could get your hands on an authentic Cuban cigar in the U.S. was through less than above-board channels. With the new relationship, travelers to Cuba are now permitted to return with up to $400 worth of Cuban goods. This includes up to $100 in Cuban cigars and alcohol combined. The $400 limit does not include artwork, music or informational materials that are allowed in unlimited quantities. Good news for cultural connoisseurs!
It’s still kind of forbidden
Wait, wait! Here’s what we mean. It’s true that you can’t just go to Cuba for a beach vacation/pure tourism. But you can go to this tiny island if you have a genuine interest and plan for engaging with the Cuban people and learning about their culture. In the current limbo between an open tourist market and a closed single-party state lies an opportunity to foster some genuine cross-cultural communication before sweeping changes are underway. So while U.S. citizens talk of seeing a Cuba that is frozen in time before it modernizes, it’s also an even better time to normalize relations between Cubans and Americans. And what better reason is there to travel to another country?
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