U.S. travelers have been forbidden from visiting Cuba since 1962. And of course, U.S. travelers have been finding sneaky ways of getting to Cuba since 1962. Flying to Mexico first and slipping the customs agent $20 to not stamp your passport as you continue on to Cuba is a popular way of doing it, for instance. Groups who could prove they were visiting the island for educational purposes were also sometimes approved, though that largely depended on timing: some U.S. administrations were more lax (Clinton) than others (various Bushes).
President Obama has recently announced that student, church and cultural groups can visit Cuba. It’s not a complete lift of the travel embargo that many say is coming any day now, but it’s a start. Naturally, travel companies are falling over themselves to announce tours to the Caribbean nation – better get a head start if you’re going to carve out a spot in that market, right? Here are the three most intriguing tour offers: we’re normally not tour group people, but if it’s the easiest and most legal way of seeing a foreign country, we can get into it.
Globus Tours: This tour operator will be flying U.S. passport holders down to Cuba in partnership with the Center for Caribbean Religion and Culture. Now, as you can probably suss out from the organization’s name, this tends toward the conservative (they also arrange mission trips to various countries). However, this is an academic journey, focusing on Cuba’s Catholic roots and its current mix of many religious influences, so if you’re into history, cemeteries and the ways in which Santeria and Catholicism overlap, this is it. (In other words, if you’d like to join me in this nerd journey, hit me up!)
Insight Cuba: Insight’s big promise is that you will experience life in Cuba as the locals do. Their Cuba tours are done in conjunction with People to People, so to a certain degree, the promise is a guarantee: you’ll have to visit an artist’s studio or a farm or something, whatever you choose from their list. These tours are very go-go-go, making them a good choice if you want to see as much as possible in one week.
Abercrombie & Kent: For the moneyed traveler. This outfit is one of the priciest out there (not just for Cuba, but for all of their tours), and they aren’t trying to challenge their clients. In other words, five-star all the way. Abercrombie is also in Cuba by way of People to People, but at the prices they charge, no one’s going to make you do anything. So if lounging on the beach with your new box of cigars and a mojito or seven is your heart’s desire, then that’s what you’ll get to do.