Cuba: New Rules Open Up This Caribbean Hot Spot

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Why 2016 is the year to go

While Cuba is so close (90 miles off the coast of Key West, Fla.), for decades it was so far away for American travelers. As the U.S. government has loosened travel restrictions, the Caribbean’s largest island is quickly becoming a new must-see locale for U.S. citizens. It’s already one of the most popular Caribbean destinations for Canadian and European travelers.

Tourism has surged 15% since last year according to a July 2015 report from Bloomberg Business, who attributes much of the rise to American tourists trying to beat the crowds. Travel companies (which still need a government-issued people-to-people license) are seeing this demand and offering Cuba vacation package deals that are $500-$1500 less than a year ago. Use these deals to travel sooner rather than later to experience the country’s authenticity from the cobbled streets of Havana to the sandy beaches of Varadero.

Cuba Deals: Vacations

Read: How to Travel to Cuba by Plane, Vacation or Cruise

Cuba is known for

After years of seclusion, the curiosity factor is high in the birthplace of the Cuba Libre. Visitors can expect to travel back in time as they venture through some of the Cuba’s nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most in the Caribbean.

No vacation is complete without a visit to Old Havana, where the Cuban culture might be most infectious. Classic cars and colorful buildings, dating back as many as five centuries ago, line the streets. At night the air is filled with spicy scents from outdoor restaurants and live music from lively nightclubs and spontaneous salsa dancing might even catch a tourist off guard.

Santiago De Cuba
Santiago De Cuba

One insider tip

Don’t forget about the beaches. While Americans still can’t just plan a vacation to sit on the beach, the temptation exists. A favorite among travelers is Varadero, the most well-developed stretch of beach in Cuba, which boasts nearly 13 miles of uninterrupted white sand along the Atlantic Ocean. Down south on the Caribbean Sea, the powdery sands of Playa Sirena await; visitors from Havana can opt for a day trip to the scenic Cayo Largo. Did you catch that? Cuba offers a unique experience where visitors can swim in two bodies of water on one vacation.

Varadero
Varadero

Best time to visit

Ditch the cold winter back home in favor of sunshine and 70-degree temperatures in Cuba. Like the rest of the Caribbean, hurricane season runs June-November, and it can be rainy May-October. Summer can be a popular time to visit; the annual Carnival in Santiago is in late July.

 Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos

Try this

Almost as mythical as the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot are the highly coveted embargoed goods of Cuba — Cuban cigars and Havana Club rum. Packages may include special tours such as cigar rolling demonstrations at tobacco plantations or learning the history of and sampling rums at The Havana Club Museum. And don’t forget to bring home some souvenirs. Under the new rules, Americans can bring back up to $400 in goods for personal use, but no more than $100 in total of alcohol or tobacco products.

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La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba, the birthplace of Mojito | Photo Credit: T photography / Shutterstock.com

Travel info

Passport needed: Yes

Money used: Cuban pesos and Cuban convertible pesos are the local currencies. If possible, bring cash in the form of euros or Canadian dollars to change over to Cuban currency. Credit cards aren’t widely used, and changing U.S. currency incurs an additional 10% penalty.

Visa needed: To follow U.S. State Department rules, trips that fall into one of the 12 categories (ranging from education to research to humanitarian efforts) no longer require a specific license and can be booked. But all travelers still require a tourist visa and medical insurance. Often, the visa cost is covered by the charter airfare or the tour operator. Categories as follows:

  • Visiting family
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and some intergovernmental organizations
  • Reporting trips by journalists
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions

Plugs: A variety of electrical currents and plugs are used in Cuba. The most common is 110-volt standard with the U.S., but some hotels may find 220-volt European outlets.

Internet availability: Internet is not widely available due to tight government restrictions. We suggest checking with your hotel before traveling to see if they are equipped for Internet access and the cost. Another option are Internet cafes in town.

Visit the website of Cuba’s tourism board for more information.

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