The hot topic at the recent The New York Times Travel Show was Cuba! With President Obama quickly easing restrictions and lifting the embargo between America and Cuba, this one act will end a 54-year old embargo that has severed the ties between the two countries. Although the road ahead is a long one, including some
resistance by the Cuban government to allow America to build an American embassy, the changes are, in general, well received by the Cuban people who are anxious to have Americans visit their beloved country. As of January 16th, 2015, new rules for travel to Cuba have been enacted which include 12 different categories of varied ways to create your upcoming visit to Cuba. Tours are of course being offered that fall within one of the 12 categories, but what we learned is practically any American can work with many diverse travel companies to organize their own group as long as it falls within one of the categories. Even a family or extended family can create their own vacation package with very few restrictions.
A few years back we featured Cuba from our Canadian correspondent, Meera Kamra-Kelsey. You can read about it here: http://bit.ly/1lgsJP4 Now that Americans can visit Cuba we’re back with our American correspondent, Michael Graham. You can read more about his trip below.
People to People Programs
People-to-People travel is an initiative that allows American citizens to travel to Cuba to learn and participate in cultural experiences that enrich American citizen’s understanding of Cuban culture. The same is true for the Cuban people which allows them to interact with Americans, while teaching them about their country and way of life. Even with the lifting of the embargo, American citizens cannot freely travel to Cuba for typical tourist travel, they must fall under one of the 12 categories in a somewhat organized fashion. Under these categories there are many options available to explore Cuba while interacting with the people. As one insider from The New York Times Travel Show mentioned, ‘take advantage of these programs to learn about Cuba’s rich culture, as someday people will treat Cuba as just another Caribbean destination to sip daiquiri’s on the beach.’
12 Types of Programs
Below you’ll find the 12 types of programs one would need to fall under to visit Cuba. There are several travel companies that have already fleshed out programs and are now taking reservations falling under these categories, but the good news is they can also help you organize your own trip with a group. If you have your own organization, you can likely arrange a trip to Cuba that would meet one of the categories, while creating your own excursions for your travelers.
1) family visits
(2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
(3) journalistic activity
(4) professional research and professional meetings
(5) educational activities
(6) religious activities
(7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
(8) support for the Cuban people
(9) humanitarian projects
(10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
(11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
(12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Advice from The New York Times Travel Show
There was so much great advice from the panelists at The New York Times Travel Show regarding Cuba, mainly go sooner than later! Some of the best information included a panelist suggesting people to organize their own trip, including large families, as well as encouragement to schedule in time for plenty of free time. The thought behind the later referenced People-to-People time that can only come when one explores the city interacting with natives to learn about the current culture. The same person also mentioned that although one cannot freely engage in traditional tourist travel, no one is checking your travel to see if you are adhering to guidelines, so he encouraged people to get creative with their People-to-People travel planning. Additionally, we learned that soon their will be direct flights from American Airlines, and other major airlines from JFK to Havana, as early as this month. These flights will be weekly non-stop trips. Finally, there was so much encouragement to see Cuba as it is the largest island in the Caribbean with some of the most amazing people.
Savvy Insider Places to Visit in Cuba
A friend of Progressive Pulse, Michael Graham recently embarked on a trip to Cuba and agreed to share some of his savvy insider tips of Cuba. Top destinations included visits to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Christopher Columbus Cemetery (Centario de Colon), Old Town to visit the home of artist Jose Fuster, Ernest Hemingway’s House and the beautifully restored National Theater. Graham also recommended seeing the infamous, Tropicana Show. Regarding gay travel, ‘there are no gay clubs per se, instead they have ‘fiestas’, which are located in different locations every night.’ For more information you can email nightlife guide, Jose Osmel Garcia Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Santiago Hotel in Havana seems to be one of the top spots to stay at which has great views from the rooms and a rooftop. Visit: http://www.hotel-saratoga.com/
Graham’s top pick for dining was at the very hip Paladar La Guarida. “This was a 1913 palace converted to residences. The restaurant was on the top floor; we had to go through some run down common areas to get there, including an area that looked like a former ballroom with clothes lines strung across the pillars,” said Graham. Visit: http://www.laguarida.com/ Other restaurants included:
– Paladar La Moraleja – Cigars were given out as well as Havana rum. Visit: http://lamoraleja-cuba.com/
– Paladar Dona Eutimia – The very attractive wait staff are worth the visit according to Graham.
Man About World Upcoming Visits
For a list of upcoming organized trips to Cuba, which some are catering to the LGBT community visit Man About World’s link: http://www.manaboutworld.com/?p=4611 The digital downloadable magazine, which yours truly will be contributing for very soon, lists some exciting upcoming trips, including the Cuban version of Gay Pride.