U.S. loosens reins on travel to Cuba
If you’re wondering whether Americans can travel to Cuba, the answer is yes, but with many restrictions.
Since the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba was restored in December 2014, Americans have been able to travel to Cuba under 12 categories of authorized trips. The Obama administration recently loosened sanctions, allowing Americans to travel to the country independently, as long as they complete a form declaring their visits to be educational.
Cuba tourism is still technically outlawed, so if you want to book solo travel for an educational visit, you’ll need to plan a people-to-people trip, where you meet Cuban citizens in normal daily-life settings, such as schools and community centers.
Previously, Americans visiting for educational purposes were required to have fully booked cultural itineraries, which meant booking a trip with a tour company, which could come with an average weekly cost of $2,000 to $3,500 per person.
Planning a trip to Cuba on your own can be more affordable, but you’ll need to find your own hotel and get in touch with locals to meet with, which might prove challenging.
The average price of a round-trip ticket from the U.S. to Cuba is $717, but could fall to $364 without any travel constraints. Trips from Miami would be the cheapest, averaging $275 for a direct flight.
You have to take a chartered flight when traveling to Cuba, but this will soon change. In February, the U.S. and Cuba signed an aviation agreement allowing for up to 110 daily flights to Cuba by U.S. airlines. American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and Delta have all announced plans to submit bids to become a carrier.
After arriving in Cuba, you’ll need local currency. The country uses two currencies, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban peso (CUP). When visiting from the states, you’ll need the CUC, which has a 1:1 exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.
The Cuban government imposes a 10 percent tax on U.S. currency exchange — and many retailers charge a 3 percent service fee — so work these costs into your travel budget.
Some U.S. credit and debit cards can also be used when traveling to Cuba, but many businesses, especially those outside Havana, do not yet have the infrastructure to accept this form of payment.
Another technology concern to prepare for is the use of American cellphones. Sprint and Verizon have roaming services in Cuba, but other carriers do not yet offer mobile phone service.
In March, Google announced plans to equip Cuba with high-speed Internet service, but efforts are still in early stages. Cuba does have Internet access, but it is very limited, so don’t rely on this form of communication.
The cost of Cuba
If you’re planning to travel to Cuba, expect to spend about $45 per day during your trip, according to the travel site Budget Your Trip. The cost breakdown includes:
Local transportation… $6.25
Tips and handouts… $1.15
Intercity transportation… $12.67
Souvenirs … $6.24
■Spending a week in Cuba will cost you about $315, but with pricey chartered flights averaging $717 per ticket, your grand total will reach an estimated $1,032.
■If you want to upgrade to a luxury property, such as the Paradisus Varadero Resort & Spa in Varadero, your nightly accommodation rates could total $300 to upwards of $1,300.