Travel to Cuba for US residents...are there special tours that are legal?
Replies: 23 - Last Post: Apr 25, 2012 3:35 PM Last Post By: HemlockGal
Apr 22, 2012 10:05 AM
Travel to Cuba for US residents...are there special tours that are legal?We would love to travel to Cuba. But, as US citizens, I have read we can't. But, I have also heard/read that there are special week tours that we can go on. You are limited to your daily activity/sights/etc...you cannot go out on your own. Does anyone know anything about these? Thank you :)
Apr 22, 2012 11:05 AM
1I have read we can't
Several hundred thousand of us go every year without any license and have been doing so for decades. No one has been fined for simply traveling to Cuba for almost a decade now.
While there are organized tours they are extremely costly and unlikely to give you any sense of Cuba other than what the organizers wish to impart.
Cuba is a place to be experienced on your own or perhaps with an occasional guide. The idea that passing through it in an air-conditioned, tinted glass bus filled with other tourists might give you any idea of the country is nonsensical, imho. You would most assuredly miss that thing that keeps so many of us returning year after year, the people.
Apr 22, 2012 11:42 AM
2Poster #1's comments about the fact that Americans in the tens of thousands can and do visit Cuba without a license every year is accurate. His remarks about organized tours (which I think he told us in another post that he has never taken) are not accurate--or at best, are accurate only about some tours, principally those run by resorts. There are countless other tours that are not "extremely costly" and where one has more access to a wider range of Cubans than one might as an individual.
Some of these tours are legal for Americans; that is to say, participants are licensed by the US government. The main (US government) restriction on such tours is that the tour is for a specific length of time and participants must leave Cuba within 24 hours of the end of the tour.
I went on one such tour and although there was a daily program which did indeed include getting us to places on air-conditioned buses, we were also free to skip the planned event and go off on our own--or to go along and then wander off on our own once we reached the destination. And everyone on that tour--some 80 people--went off and did their own thing during the evenings, when there were only occasionally planned events.
Here are examples of other types of tours that the US government permits: Jewish Solidarity runs regular tours to Cuba, ostensibly for the purpose of dropping off supplies to the Cuban Jewish community. Which in fact they do. However, several Americans I know who go regularly with this group are serious art collectors and spend most of their in-country time not at the synagogue but visiting galleries and getting invited to dinner in the homes of well-known Cuban artists. Many evangelical religious groups run licensed tours as well, often staying in small Cuban towns and working on construction projects that have them mixing and mingling with Cubans all day long, including, often, staying in the homes of Cubans that are not licensed for tourists but are permitted to host foreigners who are part of a particular group like this.
There are many other tours on offer that are not licensed by the US government, but whose participants are not tracked and rarely if ever have got in trouble for "running the blockade." The best-known of these is Pastors for Peace, which collects participants (mostly non-pastors) from all over the US and Canada and then buses across the US border into Mexico and from there take a boat to Havana. Once there, they meet and mingle with Cubans at all levels, from cane cutters up to government officials (on occassions, even Fidel himself. ) Sometimes POP participants get a bit of hassle, but normally not, and not at all since the departure of the Bush regime.
While Pastors for Peace starts in the US, most tours that don't have US government sanction do not. A good example, of one I myself would love to take, which is run by www.wowcuba.com It offers a tour that involves cycling around Havana and Pinar del Rio Province visiting organic agriculture sites where I can assure you they have plenty of contact with ordinary Cubans.
The cost of such tours might run around $1000-$1500 week, but as that includes in-country transportation, meals, lodging, translators, guides, supplies and supervision for any construction project the group might be involved in, and, if the group is very large, medical personnel, you definitely get your money's worth. For sure you get more for your money (in terms of seeing more of Cuba and having more opportunity to interact with Cubans) than you would get for the same amount spent in a resort!
Apr 22, 2012 11:47 AM
3There are many organized legal group tours for Americans. Most are designed for Americans who just want to see what Cuba is like. That is the market currently. These are group tours. Many have free days so you can do what you like. There is basically nothing off limits to tourists in Cuba other than military installations. You must decide if you like group tours or travel on your own.
These tours are typically "themed". Some oriented around photography, some around architecture, history, religion, etc.
Because "tourism" is not allowed for Americans, they all carry the label of "cultural exchange", "humanitarian aid", "religious teaching" or something else that qualifies them. But in reality, they are almost all really for tourists once you strip away the outside layer.
Try an internet search, your university, your church or ask around to find these.
Apr 22, 2012 4:40 PM
Apr 22, 2012 7:02 PM
Apr 22, 2012 7:08 PM
Apr 23, 2012 5:55 AM
Anyone wanting to get an insiders look at the Cuban health system, should consider going with the experts: http://www.medicc.org
This is the organization for which I report and we are the only ones dedicated wholly to cuban health system trips - and we've been doing it for 15 years (without pausing during the trying W. years)
Apr 23, 2012 7:00 AM
Apr 23, 2012 8:45 AM
9Bringing up the rear, ie, my method of traveling to Cuba on the extreme edge of the method of travel continuum consists of merely getting to Miami, going to the Marazul or ABC office and buying a round trip ticket to Havana. No one, at the ticket office or when returning turn US Customs seems to ask for proof of any license. The usual reason for going direct from Miami is family living in Havana.
Apr 23, 2012 10:20 AM
10Trap: there is never an proof required for qualification by terms of the general license. No charter company wants to take on responsibility for assessing the validity of your reason. You simply sign a document saying which section of the general license you qualify for. You probably just signed that along with everything else.
Apr 23, 2012 10:56 AM
11Bob, so right about the fact that no matter what the cultural, humanitarian, or religious label these tours have to past on in order to get US government approval, the fact is that they are almost all designed to give participants a chance to see Cuba--or some aspect of it that is particularly interesting to them. I know of a veterinarian in Tampa who regularly organizes groups of vets to go to Cuba. I don't think it's especially expensive either.
John, thanks for the reminder that there are reviews of tours on TripAdvisor. And Conner, thanks for the link to www.medicc.org That website is also a great source of info for echange programs and anyone (even Americans) wanting to study medicine in Cuba.
OP, by looking at the lists of tours listed on the above to websites, you can get some idea of the huge range of state-department approved tours that are available for those Americans who are fearful of bucking their government's restrictions and want its stamp of approval before traveling to Cuba.
Apr 23, 2012 11:03 AM
Apr 23, 2012 3:08 PM
13I was in Cuba in January/February with a "People to People" tour run by an American travel agency. Our group of 22 went places I wouldn't have visited had I traveled independently: recitals at music schools, tours of organic farms, history lecture at University of Havana, etc. There was plenty of free time. We shared a flight with a Duke University alumni tour that concentrated on Art/Architecture and also crossed paths with people on a Drama/Dance tour. All very legal and problem-free through U.S. Immigration and Customs.
Of course there is bias on this board against group travel but sometimes it works.
Apr 23, 2012 3:52 PM
14There is absolutely nothing wrong with group tours. They are ideal for some, less so for others.
Yes, most of the regulars here are not group tour people. That is simply a function of the frequently returning people being more independent as one might expect.
There are many positives for group tours, especially for a first time visitor.
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