If Cuba has been on your travel bucket list for a while, now you can go – legally, and as early as August.
On June 28, Insight Cuba, a pioneer in U.S. travel to the island nation, announced that it has been reauthorized by the U.S. government to send Americans to Cuba. The New Rochelle, New York-based organization, which specializes in small group trips that interact closely with locals, has six itineraries already in place, from music-themed excursions to one that includes a visit to the Bay of Pigs.
Roughly 130 departures are scheduled between August 2011 and September 2012, with prices from $1,695 for a three-night stay in Havana and from $2,495 for a seven-night trip, one of which includes the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio. Prices are per person, double occupancy, and cover accommodations, mostly in four- and five-star resorts, all meals, ground transport, domestic flights in Cuba, all entry fees, guide services, U.S. Treasury Department license and Letter of Authorization and travel insurance (www.insightcuba.com for more information).
After an almost half-century during which Americans were all but prohibited to travel to Cuba, it's an exciting moment for Insight Cuba – as well as any travelers who've had the country on their wish list but prefer to travel there without having to illegally sneak through Canada or Mexico.
"Everybody has been anticipating this for so long," says Insight Cuba Director Tom Popper. "We have incredible access to the places and people there. We strive so incredibly hard to make sure there's real life in [our trips]."
Since 1963, the embargo against Cuba has been in force, and until 1977, Americans were virtually prohibited from visiting. Regulations were later relaxed to allow those with family in Cuba, religious groups, academic researchers and occasionally athletes to travel there. Cultural trips – like those that Insight Cuba specializes in -- were permitted from 2000-03 under a program with former President Bill Clinton's administration.
In 2004, however, U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba were tightened under former President George Bush's administration, eliminating most U.S. travel there. So for the last seven years, Insight Cuba, which is a division of an independent non-profit organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions, forged ahead anyway, strengthening their relationships and reputation in Cuba.
Their perseverance has paid off. "We'll have some of the first Americans to return to Cuba since the new regulations, and ironically enough, we had some of the last Americans to leave in 2003," Popper says.
Popper says he's heard rumors of a handful of other tour companies receiving their travel licenses to Cuba, but as of this posting he knew of no others that had publicly announced theirs.
"We’re celebrating it," he says. "Hopefully the field opens up, and it brings a greater awareness to travel to Cuba. Part of the challenge is convincing people that it’s legal, because for 48 years it hasn't been."
While Insight Cuba's itineraries currently focus on culture (according to the new regulations, travel must center on person-to-person interaction), there are opportunities to add on activities like hiking, especially in the western region of Pinar del Rio. In addition, the company has its sights on expanding its existing marathon, which takes place in Havana in December, to U.S. athletes.
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