People think it’s suddenly easy for Americans to visit Cuba — but
they’re totally wrong
MAY 1, 2015, 6:20 PM 58
After President Obama announced eased travel restrictions to Cuba late
last year, Americans itching to check out the closed-off Caribbean
Companies, too, have been eager to jump in on Cuban tourism: Airbnb has
unveiled more than 1,000 listings on the island, Cheapair.com has
started selling direct flights to Cuba, and big American chain hotels
are already eyeing properties on the island.
But the truth is that it’s still very difficult for Americans to visit
Danilo Bonilla, the program director for Cuba and North America for
travel company Mountain Travel Sobek, emphasized that despite the eased
restrictions, there are still major obstacles for Americans who want to
travel to Cuba.
“People think the announcement on December 17th changed things, but the
reality is that communication is more open, but very few things have
actually changed,” Bonilla said.
Americans are not allowed to simply vacation in Cuba. The only way to
legally visit is to fall under one of 12 tourist licenses, including
family visits, religious activities, professional purposes, and
educational reasons, to name a few. That means that you can’t go to Cuba
to just lay on the beach.
Perhaps the biggest change for Americans who can legally visit the
island is that they’ll now be able to spend some money there. Newly
announced measures would allow visitors to be able to purchase “$400 of
general goods and up to $100 of alcohol and tobacco products that can
include cigars” while in Cuba. Previously, Americans were prohibited
from spending any money there. However, while Americans are now allowed
to pay for their expenses with credit or debit cards, very few
establishments actually accept credit cards.
There are other obstacles, too.
Internet access on the island is very limited, making it difficult to
plan a trip there and book hotel, restaurant, or tour reservations. And
while you can book a direct flight to Cuba from the US now, flights are
limited (as they’re all charter planes), and often expensive. Public
transportation within Cuba is limited and unreliable. And the majority
of the hotels are large, government-owned properties that are not
well-maintained, yet are overbooked and overpriced.
“The reality for American travelers is that Cuba is not an easy place to
visit,” Bonilla said. “Cuba doesn’t have the infrastructure to
accommodate Americans, the way Americans like to travel.”
However, all of this hasn’t stopped the influx of Americans who are
itching to visit the country.
Manny Kopstein, the founder and CEO of Cuba Travel Adventures Group, has
been traveling to Cuba for over 10 years, but said that recent trips
have been more difficult to coordinate as hotels, restaurants, and
flights are all increasingly full.
“The infrastructure in Cuba, particularly in Havana, is incapable today
of handling the tremendous demand,” Kopstein said. “As demand increases,
the infrastructure will be bursting at the seams and a lot
Both Kopstein and Bonilla said that the best way for Americans to visit
Cuba is with a legitimate tour company that has been operating in Cuba
for a long time.
“It’s not what you know, but who you know in Cuba,” Kopstein said. “The
larger tour companies will charge you a lot of money, but they have the
connections to the big hotels and restaurants that will get you in the
Bonilla also said that tour companies “have the contacts and can make it
easier to visit.”
All of that said, Bonilla emphasized that Americans who really want to
visit Cuba shouldn’t wait.
“Don’t wait too long because once it really opens up, Cuba could be very
different,” Bonilla said.
Source: How Americans can visit Cuba – Business Insider –