By Cat Zuniga
White-sand beaches and rolling mountains, wildlife-rich rainforests and tumbling waterfalls, cigars and rum, all wrapped up in defiantly revolutionary politics: The island of Cuba can rightfully claim to be one of the most singular destinations on the planet.
The Caribbean’s largest and most populous island, Cuba has been frozen in time since the 1960 socialist revolution and the subsequent U.S. trade embargo. Vintage American cars still roar through the dilapidated streets of its cities, while horses and carts clatter through the countryside.
The country lies about 90 miles south of the United States. The Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas are just northeast, Mexico is west, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica are south, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic are southeast.
The name “Cuba” comes from the Taíno language. The exact meaning of the name is unclear, but it can be translated either as “where fertile land is abundant” (cubao) or ‘”great place” (coabana).
Havana, the island’s capital and largest city, serves up a mix of destruction and debauchery. The city‘s beautifully restored colonial buildings rub shoulders with the run-down tenements of regular Cubans. Despite the stark contrasts, Havana’s salsa rhythms, dancing and potent cocktails make this city a unique and enthralling urban experience.
Cuba’s other cities are experiences in themselves, and offer charming snapshots of the gorgeous country, and insights into its culture and history.
Cuba is exotic and close to home … and Americans have been banned from visiting for the last 55 years. Fortunately, that last part is quickly changing. After being restricted for so long, the time has come to freely revisit Cuba. As the country slowly re-opens its doors to the U.S., demand for travel to Cuba has risen significantly. Cuba has gone from being no destination to being the hottest destination in the Americas.
President Obama expanded legal Cuba travel opportunities in December 2014. In January 2015, the Office of Foreign Assets Control issued regulations allowing nearly every American to visit Cuba without applying for a license.
However, it’s important to note that legal Cuba travel still has some rules. As outlined by www.legalcubatravel.com, they include:
- Purely touristic travel, such as relaxation stays at all-inclusive beach resorts, is prohibited.
- There’s no limit on the amount of money you can spend in Cuba. Travelers can use U.S. credit and debit cards, but you need to contact your bank for the details regarding these transactions. They may be legal, but they may not be functioning quite yet.
- Travelers are allowed to return to the U.S. with up to $400 of Cuban goods for personal use, including up to $100 of alcohol or tobacco products. Cuban artwork and informational materials are exempt from this limit.
On the other hand, the following types of travel are allowed, with no paperwork — just buy your ticket and go:
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Religious activities
- Humanitarian projects
- Journalistic activities (including blogging)
- Family visits to close relatives
- Activities by private foundations, or research or educational institutes
- Any type of support for the Cuban people
The main restriction that applies to your travel is that U.S. visitors are required to provide a full itinerary of activities related to the travel categories I just listed.
Though traveling to Cuba can be challenging, we strongly encourage using a travel specialist to make your arrangements. There are many resources that travel specialists have to plan your trip accurately, smoothly, and (most important of all) legally, without running into any bumps. And while a Cuba trip takes more planning than other Caribbean excursions, the country’s affable climate, captivating history, beautiful beaches, singing salsa rhythms, and ubiquitous mojitos more than make up for any inconvenience in planning!
Also, we always encourage travel protection for your vacation, no matter where you’re headed — but especially Cuba. It’s smart to protect yourself, and your money, and those you are traveling with, anytime you’re on foreign soil. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection has all the resources and necessities to make sure you’re protected!
Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her today at http://www.TarverdiTravel.com.