Psssst – we’re going to let you in on a little secret: traveling to Cuba is still legal. Confusing, albeit, but legal. We’ve been keeping a close tab on our inbox this year and we’ve noticed a major trend. You want to go to Cuba but the bottom line is, you just don’t understand the new Cuba travel rules. Isn’t being a tourist in Cuba illegal?
Can I still travel to Cuba?
So here’s the 411: being a “tourist” is illegal. You can’t just go to Cuba for a mojito and a day on the beach. But to visit as a meaningful traveler? Someone that doesn’t just take from a destination, but seeks to enhance it? Who strives to make meaningful connections with those they cross paths with? That deeply cares about the betterment of Cuban society and aims to make an impact? Not only is that legal, but that’s what we’re all about. Be a traveler, not a tourist – sound familiar?
Why is the #elcaminotravel experience special? All you have to do is pick a cool destination and just go! No worries about planning a single detail. Because you know as soon as you arrive, you'll be greeted by a local, who feels like a friend. Someone who'll show you the best places to stay, to explore, to eat, drink and play! You'll experience every magical moment, with new friends and your own professional photographer taking care of all the photos. And at the end of your trip, you'll have memories no selfie stick could ever capture. | photo by @villa_de_rosa for #elcaminotravel
Travel to Cuba in 2018
Beginning in 2018, El Camino Travel will now be operating tours under the federally approved travel category of “Support for the Cuban People”. Traveling under this class allows us the most flexibility to offer the experience we’re passionate about by making a few minor tweaks (read: enhancements) to our itinerary that assure US compliance. If you’re not sure about group travel, (although we’re pretty confident we can change your mind), you, too, can legally travel to Cuba under this category keeping a few regulations in mind.
Legal Travel to Cuba for Americans Using Support for the Cuban People
Traveling to Cuba under Support for the Cuban People requires travelers to maintain a full schedule of activities that are “intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba”. The government requires that your full-time schedule includes activities that “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.” (All quotes direct from treasury.gov.)
In order to stay compliant, travelers must fill their time with a full time schedule of activities such as supporting private sector entrepreneurs, engaging in cultural activities, conversing with local business owners, etc.;. Moreover, once your trip has ended, you’ll be required to keep detailed records from your trip in Cuba for five years which can be requested by the American government at any time.
Accommodations during your stay must also be privately owned and operated. There is an explicit list of 180 government run hotels + entities being deemed as unlawful for American patrons. Be sure to carefully review this list as you develop your itinerary to make sure you’re not unintentionally breaking the law.
(PRO TIP: Six hours sleeping in your Airbnb does not count as “support for the Cuban people”.)
But what about that Cuba Travel Advisory?
If you’ve been seriously considering travel to Cuba, you’ve likely heard that the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning to Cuba in November 2017 following a series of mysterious incidents that caused various injuries to US and Canadian diplomats between November 2016 to August 2017. While much is still unknown about what exactly occured during this ten-month period, there is unanimous agreement that these attacks were carried out to specifically target government officials, not tourists, in very specific locations and may be part of surveillance gone awry. It is also important to note that no government official has been targeted since August 2017.
What we do know is that during this 10-month time period, 500,000 US travelers visited the island unharmed. Canada, who was also targeted by these attacks, did not raise the level of caution to its citizens and instead advises Canadians looking to travel to Cuba to “take normal security precautions” when traveling to the island. This is the same warning Canada issues to travelers headed to countries such as the United States, Switzerland or Italy, which are generally considered safe destinations for travel.
In January 2018, the U.S. Department of State revised its security warning, downgrading their previous ranking of Cuba from a Level 4 ( “Do Not Travel”) to a Level 3 (“Reconsider Travel”) and telling Americans to avoid Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri where they believe government officials were specifically targeted. This same month, Cuba was also awarded as the Safest Country for Tourism at Madrid’s 2018 International Tourism Fair.
Cuba’s food scene is evolving by the minute, and the best way to jump on the bandwagon is by visiting the paladares—privately owned restaurants—that are popping up across the city. Forget the government-run eateries of the past, these chefs are putting a fresh spin on every dish. 📷: @jodeedebesphoto for #elcaminotravel
So how can I travel to Cuba as a US citizen?
You ready to travel to Cuba? This is where we make things easy. You could:
A) Spend 20+ hours trying to figure out how to get the proper visas, putting together an itinerary that you think is probably (maybe?) going to be compliant, ending up in the tourist traps anyway, and holding onto all documents for the next 5 years hoping that they don’t get lost or stuffed in the drawer (read: black hole) where important documents never seem to return from …
B) Just book your ticket and go! Have the time of your life with 12 likeminded individuals and a rad local host that will guide you through Havana’s hidden gems and introduce you to creatives and change makers all while traveling with a group photographer to capture the adventure as it goes down. You do not have to deal with the added stress of worrying if you are staying legally compliant throughout the trip, because we got you. Oh, and leave the receipts behind – we’ve got you covered from the moment you book to five years down the line.
We knew you’d make the right choice. Check out your full itinerary to preview your adventure.