Cuba Travel: With People-To-People Trips On The Rise, Advice To
First-Time Travelers To Cuba
By Paul Brady Posted: 11/29/2012 7:18 am EST Updated: 11/29/2012 7:25 pm EST
The Castro regime is still in charge, but for some travel companies, the
2012 election in the U.S. has ushered in the closest thing to a golden
era of Cuba travel possible under the current trade embargo.
Earlier this year, the future of legal travel to Cuba seemed in doubt as
tour companies faced unprecedented hurdles in securing required
licenses. But in the run-up to November 6, the Office of Foreign Assets
Control renewed a number of licenses for "people-to-people" trips, run
by companies with an educational mandate to show the cultural side of
Cuba rather than the beaches that are so popular with Canadian, Japanese
and other tourists from around the world.
President Obama called for people-to-people trips back in 2011. His
second term should offer further stability for travelers contemplating a
trip to Cuba, says Tom Popper of Insight Cuba, a tour company that
focuses exclusively on trips to the island.
"We went from the doldrums to the most glorious position," Popper says
of the delay in license renewal followed by the Obama victory. "This is
amazing for everybody involved."
Speaking generally about legal travel to Cuba, Popper also shared with
HuffPost Travel a number of tips for first-time visitors to the island.
"People-to-people licensing is really the only time in the last 50 years
that any American can travel to Cuba," Popper says. Journalists, church
groups and others were able to travel to the island but "this changes
everything." In other words, if you've wanted to go but were afraid of
going illegally, now's the time.
"Select a company that has experience," Popper says. He also advises
travelers to ask good questions of their trip provider -- and to be sure
that the itinerary as advertised is up to date.
"Most of the trips are going to be expensive," Popper warns. Between
regulatory requirements and the general difficulty of doing business in
Cuba, prices can seem high compared to trips of similar lengths going to
"Properly set your expectations," Popper advises. "Hotels in Cuba are
not like international hotels anywhere else," he adds with a laugh. Food
too can be less impressive than some visitors might expect --
particularly given the quality of Cuban food in the U.S. Popper says
that the quality of tourist services on the island is a direct result of
the trade embargo: "They can't get stuff," he says.
Be prepared to pay for the web. Many major hotels have insanely
expensive Wi-Fi, but other than that, you'll be largely disconnected
from the web, Popper says.
"Things are expensive, in part because they're for tourists," Popper
says. Between cocktails, small souvenirs, cover charges, the
aforementioned internet, things add up -- and there are no ATMs. You'll
need to take all the cash you think you need plus plenty more just in case.