Ready to visit Cuba? Better be sure about that

The good news is that, thanks to President Obama, you can visit Cuba. Policy changes encourage more contact between Americans and citizens of Cuba. The not-so-good news is that you probably won’t be lounging on the beach all day and bringing back a box of Cuban cigars. Your trip will be jam-packed with required educational opportunities and an immersive Cuban experience.

The United States Treasury Department is once again granting the “people-to-people” licenses, created under President Clinton, stopped under President Bush, which greatly expand travel opportunities for Cuba-bound American visitors. Still, travelers won’t be surfing the Internet to buy a flight, coordinating it with a hotel stay and rental car on their own any time soon.

Traveling to Cuba requires planning your trip through one of several groups authorized to operate the “people to people exchanges” and the rules are strict. The Treasury Department says the tours must “have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.”
Ranging from about $1700 for a weekend to over $4000 for a week, the trips are packed with immersive travel opportunities enabling us to meet local citizens and learn about Cuba’s culture. Going it on our own? Not going to happen. Still, booking a package is easy.

“All a U.S. citizen has to do is sign up for an authorized program and they can go to Cuba. It’s as simple as that” Tom Popper, director of travel company Insight Cuba told the New York Times.

This is a really good example of travel plans that can benefit greatly with the aid of a qualified travel professional. Actually, this is probably the best example ever of how valuable a qualified travel professional can be: the packages put together by these authorized groups make using a travel professional required. Rightfully so, requirements are strict for the program content, traveler documentation and putting the packages together takes a great deal of planning.

“We’ve been preparing for this day for seven years” said Popper. “Now that we have the license in hand, anyone and everyone can reserve their spot on one of our carefully crafted travel programs to Cuba from August 2011 through September 2012. We’ve created six exciting new experiences, which can be found on our website, providing unique access to people and places the average traveler rarely sees.”

Insight Cuba hand-picks exclusive experiences for its 16-person (maximum) groups and has an in-country host/escort along for the ride. The all-inclusive packages feature some of the best hotels, all meals, ground transportation, domestic flights in Cuba (where required), all entry fees, professional guide services, U.S. Treasury Department license and Letter of Authorization, and travel insurance. Insight Cuba has these six itineraries with over 130 departures through September 2012:

A single supplement of just $300 ($200 for Weekend in Havana) is available also.

Another company, USA Cuba Travel specializes in travel to Cuba and urges would-be travelers to Cuba to take a very realistic view of what is ahead of them.

“Cuba which is still a socialist country, lives at a slow pace. At the same time, the country is very popular with the almost 2,000,000 tourists who travel there each and every year. In Cuba there is no central reservation system equipped with sophisticated computers that is open 24 hours a day” the company says on it’s website adding “It takes time, (up to one week) to make any reservation.”

Learn more about travel to Cuba at the US Treasury Department website.

Flickr photo by flippinyank

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