A whirlwind of change is upon Cuba. It began on December 17th. Seeking to reverse decades of strained relations, President Obama’s announcement to re-establish diplomatic ties, loosen travel restrictions, and allow increased trade with Cuba came as a gift, to Cubans and Americans alike. For the first time in decades, the Unites States is seeking to establish an embassy in Havana, while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson’s visit to the island marked the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit Cuba in nearly 40 years.
At the same time, President Obama loosened the restrictions on twelve categories of travel, including people-to-people travel. Since the historic announcement, inquiries and bookings on insightCuba’s trips have almost tripled.
What does it mean for travel to Cuba?
While travel to the island has been relaxed, it’s imperative to note that the U.S. Embargo against Cuba and the ensuing travel restrictions remain in place. Simply booking a flight to Cuba is still excluded, as is travel to Cuba for touristic purposes (i.e. beach vacations). Under the new regulations, people-to-people travel remains the most inclusive way for Americans to legally travel to Cuba. The other eleven categories include only a narrow swath of Americans including journalists, religious travel, travel for humanitarian purposes, and others. More so, people-to-people travel provides the most immersive, rewarding experience into the Cuban culture.
While essential conveniences contribute to a more enjoyable people-to-people tour – no planning required (insightCuba takes care of all the visa, license and charter plane arrangements, as well as provides with a daily itinerary), paid meals in select locations, and continuous access to a Cuban guide - it’s the unexpected surprises scattered throughout our trips that portray the real Cuba. Guests have unique access to people and places the average tourist rarely sees. This includes everything from far-flung communities in the middle of the mountains, exclusive dance and music displays, inspiring artists communities, as well as meetings with Cuba’s most notable people. You will visit people’s homes – the real Cubans – and learn about their lives as entrepreneurs renting casa particulares or serving tourists in the increasingly popular paladares. While discovering Cuba, you’ll taste its old world charm in convertible cars or in your very own bicitaxi.
Commercial flights to Cuba are said to begin in six to twelve months, but extended negotiations between the U.S. airlines and both governments are expected. As frequency of future commercial flights remains an uncertainty, our licensed charter flights through Miami, departing numerous times daily, remain the only way to travel directly from the U.S.. Please note that insightCuba only provides flight services for registered guests on our tours.
Credit cards and banking in Cuba
MasterCard and American Express announced to be the first credit card companies that that will authorize the use of US credit cards in Cuba, as early as March 1, 2015. Equally so, U.S. banks have been authorized to open correspondent accounts in Cuba. While the developments are a groundbreaking first step in providing access to cash while traveling in Cuba, the use of U.S. credit or debit cards will take some time before becoming a reliable form of payment or receiving cash. Until further notice, all US travelers should rely only on the cash they bring to cover required cash expenses in Cuba.
Important facts to keep in mind:
- If and when U.S. credit cards do work, credit card terminals in Cuba exist mostly in hotels. Few retailers or restaurants reliably use this form of payment. Therefore, the use of credit cards may be very limited.
- ATM terminals are currently limited throughout Cuba and those that exist often run out of money, only dispense limited amounts of cash, are unreliably connected to the banking system, and/or don’t work with certain cards.
- While credit and debit cards issued from banks outside the U.S. are currently being used in Cuba, they are not 100% reliable throughout the island.
What can I buy in Cuba?
Travelers can now bring home $400 worth of any type of goods previously prohibited to bring back into the United States, including $100 worth of cigars and alcohol. Mostly unknown to Americans, Cuba is well respected for their coffee. We recommend bringing some home. Additionally, Americans are still allowed to bring home unlimited quantities of art, music, and informational materials. These expenses should be taken into consideration regarding one’s cash needs.
Phone and Internet use
The White House has authorized U.S. telecommunication companies to initiate mobile and Internet services to Cuba, to serve more than 5% of the island’s eleven million people currently connected. Given the island’s limited infrastructure, the issue will take some time to take full effect. While cell phone coverage is nonexistent, American guests can access Internet connection via their smartphones from their hotels (note: not all hotels in Cuba provide Wi-Fi), in exchange to an hourly fee, which ranges anywhere from $5 to $12 an hour. Also note that cell phone rentals on the island are not currently available.
The time is now!
Like never before in history, travel to Cuba is growing at an exponential rate. Many of our tours are selling out. As the Caribbean island continues to morph into a new nation, with new infrastructure and improved travel offerings, there is no time to waste. Allow us the honor to host you in a vibrant, magical Cuba, as it’s come to be known, before it all changes.