This year is definitely one of the most exciting years in regards to continued conversations around normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba since the Cuban Revolution ended in 1959 and Fidel Castro came into power. Now after more than 50 years and under a new Cuban regime, Castro’s brother Raul, Americans like myself who weren’t even born when all of this political unrest started just want to connect with the people and culture that has captured our imagination through pictures, stories and music.
But just as fast as we get a glimpse of hope that perhaps suggests that one day in the near future, relations between our two countries will be fully normalized, something reminds us that this may be further from the truth. Just this week, an article came out where Raul criticized the U.S. for its “lackluster approach” to furthering progress and that future relations has to be done with mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty and independence as well as removing all policies of the past including the trade embargo.
However, riding the wave of excitement and keeping hope alive, those of us who have been fortunate to visit the island within the last year, before “the Americans arrive” as many have been saying, see the hunger of the people to hold on to their past while embracing the opportunities of the future. This summer, as a group of us embarked on a journey that has been restricted for Americans, we witnessed a vibrant country with resilient people who modeled strength, happiness and yes, a capitalist spirit in hopes of creating an even better life for themselves.
There are still a lot of speculations and unclear assumptions about where we stand in terms of visiting Cuba as the U.S. and Cuban governments continue working things out. Although it was announced this month that both countries would resume commercial flights, the reasons why a person wants to go must be more meaningful than having visions of being a beach bum and reliving the days pre-revolution( partying, etc). Authorized travel has been updated to include 12 categories in which people can travel to Cuba for:
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activities
- Professional research
- Educational activities by persons at academic institutions
- People to people travel
- Religious activities
- Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
- Authorization to provide travel services, carrier services and remittance forwarding services
- Activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes
- Exportation of certain Internet-based services
- Visiting family
- Humanitarian projects or to provide support to the Cuban people
Once you have identified the reason for your visit, the next step is to obtain a visa which is $25. Cuban Travel Services is a one-stop shop that can help guide you through the process.
Both American Airlines, which flies from Miami to Havana currently, and JetBlue are chopping at the bit to establish regular flight schedules. Furthermore, as of January 1, 2016, those traveling from the U.S. can book their own flights via Havana Air’s new automated system.
Moreover, cruises to from Miami to Havana and other cities are all the buzz these days with many planned through 2017. Cruise ships and companies worth looking into include:
Carnival added itself to the list this summer with plans to start cruising to the island next year as well.
With a new election year coming up, we can honestly say that we are concerned about whether or not the progress we have seen thus far will continue.
Nevertheless, if visiting Cuba is on your list for 2016, plan wisely and get ready to cherish each moment of a country that is truly captured in time with hope for a prosperous future.
Getting the right information is important for a smooth entry and exit. Below are some additional resources to help guide your planning process, ensuring you experience what many of us regard as a trip of a lifetime.
Cuban Journal – Resource for all things about Cuba
OnCuba – Online and print magazine about about Cuba culture and happenings
Cuba Wanderer – Site by travel enthusiasts who love Cuba
Go Eat Give – Based in Atlanta and combines people-to-people experiences with volunteerism
Havana Journal – Comprehensive site with information about traveling to Cuba
Taste of Cuba.com – A bloggers collection of recommended sites related to Cuban food, culture, cigars and travel.
For additional planning information, read our article “Cuba: Things to Know Before You Go,” in Cuisine Noir.