On December 10, President Obama briefly greeted President Raul Castro at ceremonies for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. This event created some headlines for a few days, then the news media forgot about it. Nobody knows if it was a sign of things to come—a possible movement in the direction of normalization of relations between our countries. For the past few months I’ve been hearing reports of back-channel communications between high-level representatives of Cuba and the U.S., but few people know for sure.
However, I think the Obama-Castro greeting will eventually be recognized as a significant event for a different reason. Since then, I have been bombarded with emails and phone calls from people interested in traveling to Cuba. Most of the other “Cuba watchers” I communicate with on an irregular basis have also reported a sudden increased interest in travel to Cuba. Preliminary research has indicated a sharp increase in requests for information and confirmed booking on tours provided by larger commercial American tour companies.
Since I can only take a maximum of 16 travelers in my groups, I want to encourage as many as possible of the rest of you to travel to Cuba. Travel costs have increased about 15-20% a year for the past few years for group travelers as well as for individuals. I believe they will continue to significantly increase yearly for the rest of this decade. The commercial companies who travel with Specific Licenses still offer a variety of tours. They tend to be more expensive than you might expect. For more information, click “Other Tours” on my website.
But I want to emphasize that Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the U.S. Department of Treasury also approves of individuals or small groups visiting Cuba with General Licenses, which do not require prior permission. There is a type of informal “movement” among Cuba-watchers to encourage Americans to travel legally this way. They can take advantage of the many casas particulares—bed-and-breakfast inns—that can be found all over Cuba. Depending on locations and services, you should be able to stay in safe, clean, usually-remodeled casas for $15-30 per couple per night, breakfast included. You can also usually order home-cooked dinners for $5-10 per person. In my experience, the room conditions and quality of food have almost always been quite good.
By the way, if you are looking for an economical place to stay in Old Havana for a few days, please contact me. The main restrictions would be that this offer only applies to a maximum of two travelers, and at least one of them should speak Spanish fairly well.
With my next posting I’ll explain more about Specific and General Licenses. To read previous article postings, click above on “Cuba Newsletter.”