You've probably heard that Americans can legally travel to Cuba, right? Well, sorta. You can go but there are some hoops to jump through to make sure you do it right. Also, there are some incentives that may make you want to travel to Cuba now.
1. Travel To Cuba, it's Legal(ish) For Now
In January 2015, President Obama added new categories of authorized travel to Cuba. U.S. citizens can now legally travel to Cuba if they are engaging one of the approved categories of activities such as journalism, professional research, performing, working on a non-profit/humanitarian project, etc. If your trip doesn't fall under one of the approved reasons you can still apply for a license here or call Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) directly at 1-800-540-6322.
Technically, travel to Cuba for tourism is still off limits. Technically. Many people get around this by having their trip fall under one of the approved categories since they are pretty loosely defined.
BUT... Trump is now rolling back Obama's opening with Cuba. This means he is moving us a step back to the way it was, making travel to Cuba much more difficult, and still illegal for pretty much all Americans. So now is a great time to go (before he makes it even tougher), but don't forget your passport!
2. Afro-Cuban Heritage
The history and heritage of Black Cubans runs deep, and is not unlike that of Afro-Brazilians or Afro-Colombians. Enslaved Africans were forced to endure the voyage from West Africa. The Spaniards took some of the slaves from Hispaniola (the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic sit on) and brought them to Cuba.
Even though they tried to take their culture from them, much of it still remains in Cuba to this day! Religions like Abakuá and others still persist, as well as other aspects of culture like food, dance, music, etc. Don't miss Casa Museo de África when you go! You will find out a lot about Afro-Cuban history and culture there.
3. Cheap Tickets
Flights to Cuba are pretty cheap because we are still in a sweet spot right now. On Aug. 31., 2016 jetBlue carried out the first commercial flight to Cuba in 50 years. Since then many other airlines operating in the U.S. have been able to get their own routes too. They all pretty much opened for business within a 2 month window so some have been unable to fill seats.
American has already cut back 3 daily flights from 13 down to 10 now. But there are still plenty of others which means the supply is high and the demand is low, so cheap prices for us! $99-$400 is not uncommon for a roundtrip (RT) ticket. I paid $260 from San Francisco, CA which is a steal from Cali. But as more routes are cut back, prices will certainly rise... supply and demand.
4. Step Back In Time when you travel to Cuba
When you travel to Cuba, parts of your trip will feel like you stepped into Marty McFly's time machine and went backward.
The surreal feeling of seeing so many classic cars on the street will at least stun you. They actually have more 1950's era classic cars than we do!
The cars are so common that many of them function as taxis. When you go, you have to ride in as many as possible! At this point, it's ok to act like a tourist so take all the selfies and gopro videos that you like.
Also, people are more friendly there and much more prone to, well, talk; that old school form of communication that didn't involve emojis and 4G LTE, remember??
5. Learn To Slow Down
I mean, who needs all that internet anyway, right? This is the main thing to note, there is an iron fist wrapped around the internet controlling information access, and it's speed. That's not so bad though, I actually found it refreshing.
After you learn the game with prepaid internet cards, where to get online, and how to get the best speeds you'll be able to surf away, just not very fast. But this takes much of the static noise out of life and you learn to do things the old school way. Talking to actual people, looking at maps and not constantly checking social media can be good for your health.
Try walking to places that are nearby instead of grabbing a taxi everywhere. You can also opt for one of my favorite modes of transport, a bicycle. You will see much more on a bike or on foot than in a cab, and apparently it's good for your health too.
6. Legal Souvenirs
Yes, you can now bring back rum, chocolate and Cuban CIGARS legally! Obama lifted the $100 cap so, start shopping!
Pro-tip: Get a box of cigars and give each one of your good friends one. They will cost you next to nothing individually, but giving a REAL Cuban cigar to a friend will be sure to get a smile out of them even if they don't smoke.
Be careful buying cigars off of the street although they may be just as good as the more expensive ones you will get in the official shops or tours.
**Make sure that you check the current laws and list of approved items to bring back before you go.
Afro-Cuban jazz is the earliest form of Latin jazz anywhere. It is almost as engrained in their culture as much as salsa and revolutions, maybe more. I was able to go to the Havana Jazz Festival as a journalist in 2016, what an event! Chucho Valdés, a 5-time grammy award winning pianist, did an amazing job at the opening.
You can find jazz being played in many cafes, bars and street corners in Cuba, and you never know, one of the musicians just may be world famous.