Many U.S. residents have been itching to get to Cuba, and now they can. Since President Barak Obama lifted various travel and commerce sanctions against the communist island, Americans have been flocking to the country.
Plenty of airlines now offer flights to and from the country. In early December, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line also announced they had received approval to sail to Havana from ports in Florida starting in 2017, resulting in even more opportunities for U.S. citizens to get a real taste of Cuba.
Check out everything you need to know to travel to Cuba in 2017 below:
Flying to Cuba: Commercial airlines began traveling to Cuba in August after the Department of Transportation approved flights to Havana and nine other cities with international airports by American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines. Depending on how travel is booked, flights from the U.S. to Cuba can range from $230 to $700. However, JetBlue offers one-way flights to Havana from New York City starting at $99. One-way flights from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are available for as little as $54.
Entry Requirements: Although U.S. tourism is becoming increasingly popular, American’s technically aren’t allowed to visit the country solely for tourism, which is why a tourist visa is mandatory. Tourist visas are only available for people visiting Cuba for one of 12 reasons, including visiting family members, academic programs, professional research and meetings, journalistic or religious activities, humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, activities pertaining to private foundations or research for educational institutions, public performances, sports activities, games and competitions, or to produce art, films, movies or music. Travelers can participate in educational people-to-people tours independently or within a group, but they must be prepared to show a schedule of activities and hold on to paperwork documenting how their time was spent. Most airlines will offer travel visa applications at the gate before a flight to Cuba, but tourist visas also can be requested ahead of time by visiting the Cuban Embassy's website.
People-to-People Trips: This is the most common category of Cuba’s tourist visa. The educational trips are open for everyone to enjoy as the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control never actually explained what qualifies as a people-to-people trip. However, the reason behind the category is to encourage Americans to enjoy all that Cuba has to offer by doing more than just soaking up the sun at the beach. Tom Popper, president of insightCuba, a nonprofit travel organization, told the Washington Post the intent with people-to-people travel "is to not just do tourist activities, but to meet Cuban people and to exchange, talk about life in the United States, learn about life in Cuba.”
Hotels in Cuba: There are not very many hotels in Cuba in tip-top condition. Of the 61,000 hotel rooms available on the island, many are in need of major repair, including the first U.S. hospitality chain to do business in Cuba, Four Points by Sheraton, operated by American hotel chain Starwood. A great alternative is a bed-and-breakfast. There are hundreds of them in various towns across the island, including in Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Viñales. Visitors also can take up shelter in many of the home and apartment rentals available through Airbnb.