If you’ve been thinking about taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cuba, you haven’t missed your chance.
In June, President Donald Trump promised tougher travel restrictions for American visitors to Cuba, and on Nov. 9, those regulations went into effect. But while tighter rules may make it harder to visit, experts say it is still perfectly possible to enjoy a trip to the island’s shores.
Here’s the deal: Tourist travel to Cuba has been banned by the U.S. embargo since 1962. (Authorized categories of travel are mostly for specific reasons, like family visits or journalistic activity.) But in 2014, during the Obama administration, regulations were loosened for Americans around a category called “people-to-people” travel, which requires an educational exchange element.
Now, the regulations enacted by Trump once again restrict this category of travel for individuals, though it is permissible in group, according to CNBC. Trump also restricted Americans from doing business with 180 hotels, stores, marinas and other organizations that are associated with the Cuban military.
“Any American can legally travel to Cuba under the people-to-people category, they just have to now arrange their trip with an authorized [tour] company,” Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, which books these kinds of trips, tells CNBC Make It.
This will likely increase the cost of the trip, The New York Times reports. Still, it is a good option, and the group you travel with can be your friends or family.
What’s a people-to-people trip like?
“On a typical day on a people-to-people trip, we might go on a walking tour of Old Havana, but when we go to Old Havana, we might go up to an artists’ studio on the second story of a flat with a group and meet different people and learn about their style of art,” Popper explains, which is not only interesting, but fulfills the requirement of activities dedicated to sharing culture between Americans and Cubans. Another example he gives is an afternoon spent meeting with the elderly or young children.
Jose Pineda, the founder of travel agency AC Journeys, structures his people-to-people trips to Cuba the same way. A morning might be spent touring the city with an architect and, after lunch, the group “could see a dance troupe rehearse and have a conversation with the dancers about what it means to be a dance artist in Cuba,” he explains.
Insight Cuba offers package trips where the itinerary is set, but you can also create your own. AC Journeys also offers signature experiences or the ability to customize your trip.
If you are planning to go your own way exploring Cuba, here are some unrestricted top Havanna spots to eat, drink and play that Popper and Pineda recommend.
Where to stay:
1. The Meliá Cohiba Hotel
A recommendation from Popper, guests at the Meliá Cohiba Hotel in Havana can find spa services, a fitness center and a large freshwater pool. According to Insight Cuba, the hotel is tended to by “an exceptional staff,” and “boasts a cigar bar for connoisseurs (or amateurs wanting to feel like one).”
2. Hotel Parque Central
Popper also points to the Hotel Parque Central, which features sweeping rooftop views of the city. It is made up of two different buildings, a “colonial section and modern tower, linked by a stylish, underground tunnel. Both sections have independent lobbies, restaurants, and rooms,” according to the hotel’s website. The modern tower is described as sleek and contemporary, while the colonial side is traditionally Cuban. Both sides feature rooftop pools. The Kardashians were spotted in this hotel’s lobby during their trip to the island.