Christopher P. Baker
Christopher P. Baker is an expert on Cuba. He's visited the country more than 30 times, met with Fidel Castro, and is personally acquainted with key Cuban figures. Baker’s experiences and understanding of Cuban history, politics, and U.S.-Cuba relations is infused into his book, Moon Cuba.
Making Travel to Cuba a Reality with Christopher P. Baker
1. What do the new Cuba travel provisions mean for U.S. citizens?
The Obama administration’s announcement on January 14—that it is expanding the categories of permissible travel to Cuba—opens the door to a much wider segment of U.S. citizens eager to learn about Cuba firsthand. Some of the details are at this stage unclear. Academics, plus students whose reason for travel is related to a degree course, will be able to travel freely under a general license, which means they don’t have to seek permission from the U.S. government, nor even advise it of travel. Licensed academic institutions will also now be able to sponsor conferences, seminars, and workshops related to Cuba in Cuba “for faculty, staff, and students.” However, it appears that ordinary U.S. citizens will not be able to participate in such conferences or workshops. The new regulations also allow specific licensing for a “greater scope of journalist activities.” However, it is unclear whether this means bloggers, e-Newsletters, and even travel journalists.
2. Can U.S. citizens travel solo, or is group travel mandatory?
Students and academics will be able to travel solo, as will Cuban Americans and journalists. Most importantly, from the perspective of the average U.S. citizen, it appears that the Obama administration is reinstating a Clinton-era provision, which will permit non-profit organizations (and possibly regular tour companies) to apply for a license to arrange “people to people” travel to Cuba. This should open the door for the average U.S. citizen–in fact, everyone–to join group tours that focus on cultural study and include at least a nominal interaction with Cubans.
3. Where should one start when planning a trip?
Travelers need is to ensure that they’re fully legal. My blog will keep readers fully up-to-date on the changes. My Moon Cuba guidebook spells out all the details travelers need to know, including how to apply for licenses, if necessary, plus how to get there and around, where to stay, dine, etc.
4. On average, how much does it cost to travel with a tour group (in U.S. dollars)? Are there any groups or agencies you’d recommend?
I believe that in coming months, we’ll see dozens of non-profit organizations and tour companies apply for licenses and announce programs across the spectrum. Two entities that previously ran cultural study tours include Global Exchange, which offered budget-oriented ‘Reality Tours’ focused on studying Cuba’s health and education systems; and National Geographic Expeditions, which is likely to once again apply for a license to offer trips that highlight art, architecture, culture and history.
5. Are there monetary or length of stay restrictions U.S. citizens need to be aware of?
One of the new provisions announced on January 14 will permit any U.S. citizen to send up to $500 per quarter to Cuban citizens in Cuba. Currently a per diem limit applies to how much licensed travelers can spend while in Cuba. The U.S. government has no restrictions on how long licensed travelers may stay. However, Cuba restricts visits to a 30-day limit, which can be extended one time for an additional 30 days. Canadian citizens are permitted to stay for up to six months. No one under U.S. jurisdiction may bring back any Cuban goods, with the exception of literature and art.
6. Name three can’t miss attractions or sights for a first-time visitor to Cuba.
1. Wandering the streets of Habana Vieja, Havana’s remarkable (and partially restored) colonial core.
2. Sampling fine cigars at Partagas Cigar Factory, in Havana.
3. Visiting Cuba’s premier Las Vegas–style nightclub, the Tropicana.