It’s been a good week in travel. First, it became much easier to travel to India. Now, the United States is drastically easing restrictions on Cuba, allowing travelers to move in and out of the island country and bring back its famed cigars and rum. There will even be a U.S. embassy in Cuba—the first one in the country for almost half a decade, reports the New York Times. The embargo that’s nearly halted travel and trade to the country, however, will still remain in place, so full-on U.S. tourism is still a long way off. But what does that mean for those who want to go?
“To travel to Cuba, you had to travel with a government-sanctioned itinerary through an operator with a people-to-people operator’s license, up until today,” says Lauren Maggard, a travel consultant at JetSet World Travel, Inc., and a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council. To legally travel to Cuba (many people have gone illegally through Canada and Mexico), most travelers would have to go in tour groups of 25 minimum, pay for their trip up-front, then bring a chunk of cash (credit cards and cell phones don’t work in Cuba), and be able to prove that they hit U.S.-approved stops on their trip, explains Maggard. “I could book a trip for two or a smaller group through an operator in California with a people-to-people license, and we’d handle everything for them, from chartering flight from Miami to getting visas and making sure everything’s been properly paid for.” Though travelers could wander off the U.S.’s beaten path and experience Cuba’s rich culture, they still needed to check off these places and not be relaxing on a beach or at their hotel’s pool.
That, however, will likely change, according to President Obama’s announcement. “You’ll probably be able to use credit cards and cell phones now,” says Maggard. Another perk? “It’ll be amazing for the travel industry, for hotels and cruises and airlines to create business that wasn’t there before.” Of course, hotels won’t be built in mere months and airline carriers won’t start flying to Havana tomorrow. As of now, you’ll still have to get a sanctioned itinerary and prove that you’re going for a sanctioned reason, but those restrictions will be much less strict. “So many Americans wanted to go because you weren’t allowed to go,” says Maggard “People wanted to see it stuck in time in the 1950s. You went off the radar. Now, we’re going to see it get Americanized.” It looks like now is a better time than ever to visit Cuba in its current state. If you want to book a trip, contact Maggard; but if you want the thrill of doing it illegally, check out our guide for a dream trip to Cuba. You won’t be disappointed.