NEW YORK (March 11, 2013) – Cuba, the all-all-but-forbidden country now legally open for Americans, has been attracting a growing group of savvy travelers: those from the LGBT community.
Cuba’s gay culture has expanded notably in recent years, and since U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba were loosened in early 2011, more and more gay travelers are taking advantage of the opportunity to visit the enticing island, with its vibrant arts and music scenes, welcoming locals, and current status as a must-visit hotspot.
“Cuba is definitely a destination that people want to go to, especially the gay market,” says Jim Smith, founder of Coda International Tours, an operator that specializes in luxury gay travel and has its first trip to Cuba, in partnership with insightCuba, a leading provider of legal travel to Cuba, in April. “It’s a very warm and friendly destination. Gay travelers are usually on the cutting edge – they are the first to establish trends, not just follow them. They’re going to places before they’re flooded with the average tourists.”
While Cuba is far from flooded with American tourists, travel experts say the Communist-run country is on the verge of big changes that will forever alter its landscape. For just the third time in 50 years, Cuba is legally open to all American visitors (who must travel with a U.S. government-licensed operator such as insightCuba). Many contend that the longstanding trade embargo will be lifted in the not-so-distant future, which will open up the country to U.S. commercialization.
The bottom line, says Smith, who has been to Cuba seven times, is that travelers shouldn’t wait to book a trip. “One of the things that people mention when they’re booking travel is how Americanized the world is becoming,” he notes. “There’s no doubt that Cuba, only 90 miles from the United States, will be Americanized practically overnight once the travel ban is lifted. There will be a lot of good things about it, like pushing Cuba toward more democratic ideals, but it will bring in all of the American food and hotels that people travel to get away from. And that will happen very quickly.”
Further incentive for gay visitors, and the tour operators who cater to them, is that Cuba’s gay culture has grown considerably as of late, especially in Havana and Santa Clara. Many gay rights advocate point to the efforts of Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of president Raul Castro who is widely viewed a champion for gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Cuba, as part of the reason. A married mother of three, Castro has advocated for equality in both Cuba and the United States, and Coda International Tour’s upcoming trip to Cuba will include a visit to the National Center for Sex Education, of which Castro is the director.
In May 2008, the country’s the state-television network transmitted Brokeback Mountain on TV, the first time a gay film has been broadcast in Cuba, and in June of the same year, Cuba authorized sex-change operations. In addition, a growing topic of discussion has been the legalization of gay marriage in Cuba.
In the meantime, Cuba will continue to emerge as a hot new destination for gay travelers.
“There’s nothing to prevent the gay traveler from thoroughly enjoying a trip to Cuba,” Smith says. “There’s no hostility or open animosity toward gay people, and certainly not gay tourists. And people are very friendly.”