Yes, you can still visit Cuba. Despite tight new travel and trade restrictions announced by the federal government yesterday—making good on President Trump’s pledge to freeze the thaw between America and Cuba that started during the Obama administration in January 2015—the island nation isn’t entirely off limits.
To start: If you have a flight booked or a trip planned, you don’t have to cancel your trip. “Administration officials said the new regulations, which will take effect Thursday, would not affect certain existing transactions,” reports The Washington Post. “For visitors, that means anyone who has ‘completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodations) prior to’ publication of the new regulations in the Federal Register on Thursday.”
One big thing to keep in mind: There are still categories of authorized travel to Cuba, and you have to fall under one of those categories to visit. The solo/individual trips you’ve been able to take the past year—where you book a flight on your own, get a visa, and go with a loose interpretation of the “support of the Cuban people” category—isn’t quite kosher anymore. You have to prove that you “engaged in a full-time schedule” of interactions with Cubans and activities that support civil society. Tour groups take care of this for you with full-day itineraries of people-to-people and cultural exchanges; if you’re on your own and asked about it at U.S. customs on your way home, you’d have to show that you had meaningful interactions. It’s tricky. (We cover this, and all the other challenges of traveling just 90 miles from Florida, in our Travelogue podcast.)
Travelers are also panicking a bit about the long (long) list of Cuban businesses Americans have been barred from doing business with when they visit—it includes state-run hotels across Havana, tourist agencies, and stores that the U.S. State Department says don’t support “private enterprise in Cuba.” In truth, much of the Cuban economy is still dominated by companies run by (or benefiting) the government, though the number of private businesses is on the rise. As previously reported byTraveler‘s Paul Brady, Airbnb rentals are mostly “casas particulares, “an existing form of legal lodging in Cuba that lets travelers stay in private homes.” And the paladars where you will likely eat lunch or dinner are often family-owned restaurants.
There’s a very good chance that if you take a trip to Cuba with a tour group, you won’t frequent a lot of the state-run places on the banned list at all. My trip to Havana with InsightCuba included several nights at Hotel Meliá Cohiba, a Spanish chain; lunch at Starbien and Paladar Los Mercaderes; a cigar rolling lesson at El Figaro; a private jazz show at La Zorra y El Cuervo; and a walk-through of the famed Hotel Nacional, in addition to several people-to-people exchanges with artists and musicians. None of this is on the banned list. Most of what’s barred is owned or operated by Compañía Habaguanex or Gaviota Tourism, two major Cuban hospitality groups.
“Americans can rest assured that it’s still completely legal to visit Cuba,” Cuba Educational TravelPresident Collin Laverty said yesterday in an email statement. “Commercial flights, cruise ships, Marriott hotels, Airbnb, and top-notch tour providers continue to operate business as usual, and it takes just minutes to secure your legal trip to the island. U.S. companies will continue to pursue deals that comply with the new regulations, benefiting business owners, workers and consumers in both countries.”