There's been more effort to foster positive relations between Cuba and the U.S. in the past few years than we've seen in several decades. In fact, President Obama became the first Commander in Chief to visit the island in nearly a century.
Once subject to embargoes and restrictions, Cuba is becoming a desirable vacation destination for Americans — a snapshot in time of culture, art and history. However, although Obama recently lightened several trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba residents, Americans can only visit Cuba under certain circumstances. According to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Americans who qualify under one of the following 12 categories are now free to visit Cuba:
- Family visits
- Government business (U.S. or foreign)
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research
- Educational activities
- Religious excursions
- Public performances, clinics, workshops and athletic competitions.
- Cuban support endeavors
- Humanitarian efforts
- Participation in private or educational foundations
- Export and import of information
- Certain authorized export transactions
As of March 2016, President Obama also allows what he calls “people to people” educational trips to Cuba, provided that they include a full-time schedule of museum visits, cultural sightseeing, journaling and conversations with Cubans about their society, according to the New York Times. Visitors will also need to keep a record of their activities on the island for five years.
Assuming you qualify for a visit, here are some great reasons to make Cuba your next vacation spot.
1. The beaches are pristine
If you're looking to vacation at a beach city, Cuba has more than 300 beaches from which to choose. Varadero Beach is one of the country's most famous destinations, while Playa Pilar, Cayo Santa María and Guardalavaca all offer high-quality swimming and snorkeling. Additionally, the coral reefs are said to rival those found in the Caribbean.
2. The American dollar goes just as far (sort of)
There are two forms of currency in Cuba: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The CUC, which can be converted to other currencies, carries a 1:1 average exchange rate with the dollar. However, be aware that you'll also be hit with a fee when you change U.S. dollars in Cuba, reports the Los Angeles Times. According to the Times, the government will levy a 10 percent penalty for changing the dollars and an additional 3 percent financial transaction charge.
3. The cost of flying to Cuba is likely to drop
Currently, a round-trip ticket from the U.S. to Cuba costs about $717, according to an Los Angeles Times article, which cites research from travel website Hopper.com. However, if you fly out of Miami, you will pay closer to a third of that price. If Obama manages to remove all the travel restrictions to Cuba, that round-trip price tag could be slashed to about $364, saving you even more money.
4. Cheap lodging is abundant
Saving money on a hotel in Cuba is easy. According to BudgetYourTrip.com, which aggregated travelers' expenses in Cuba, you can expect to pay about $25 per night on a hotel. This cost is comparable to the price of staying in a Casa Particular with a local family. But expect to spend nearly twice that amount for other all-inclusive lodging — still not a bad deal when food and drink are part of the package.
5. You can enjoy authentic food and drink
In Cuba, you can wake up to a Café Cubano, enjoy some lobster and bocaditos for lunch and finish the day with an icy mojito made with oak-aged rum. Yes, Cuban cuisine satisfies the palate in every way imaginable.
Travel experts suggest that the best Cuban food is homemade, so if you’re lodging in a Casa Particular, you’re in luck.
Additionally, cigar lovers can sample the classic Montecristo during their visits.
6. Cuba’s architecture is a beautiful blast from the past
Visiting Cuba is also an opportunity to feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. In cities like Havana and Trinidad, the Spanish architecture dates back to the 1500s and 1600s and offers all the historic pedigree that you’d find trekking around Europe.
One of the best ways to sightsee is from the back of a classic 1950s American car. Book a driver and cruise around town while enjoying the Art Deco buildings and sculptures.
7. A visit to Cuba doubles as a history lesson
A trip to Cuba wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Bay of Pigs, where the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba took place in 1961. Additionally, history lovers should check out Fidel Castro’s famous headquarters, Comandancia de la Plata.
A tumultuous time in modern-day Cuba, the 1960s also saw the death of the famous revolutionary Che Guevara. His mausoleum in Santa Clara contains a museum and eternal flame lit by Castro himself.
8. Cuba’s music, art and culture are second to none
Salsa clubs and jazz bars aren't mere stereotypes of Cuban culture. Music is in the country's DNA, and visitors can hear the diversity of sound wherever they go, whether they are strolling along a cobblestone street or dancing in one of Cuba’s many nightclubs.
Brightly colored murals and tiled walls on buildings also reflect Cuba’s love of artistic expression, despite the country’s oppressive past.
9. The people are friendly
Despite Cuba's tumultuous history, many who have visited the country say its people are friendly, warm, hospitable and generous. Because conversing with the natives is highly encouraged on Obama-approved trips, visitors should make an effort to widen their horizons by meeting people from this diverse and fascinating culture.
10. Tourist traffic is still light
Though travel restrictions are the lightest they’ve been in six decades, once the embargo goes away completely, tourists from the U.S. will likely flock to Cuba. Not only will an increase in tourist traffic drive up travel costs, but it will likely affect the country's authenticity.
“The time to get to Cuba is now, before the crowds and before the country is forced into losing some of [its] culture in order to please the tourists,” said Lindsay MacNevin of EscapeHere.com. “Part of Cuba’s charm is the lack of giant ritzy hotels, overcrowded beaches and unauthentic restaurants.”
See Cuba now and experience this land's charm and history for yourself.