Over the last couple of years, we’ve addressed this question as the government modifies its rules on acceptable travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens. Earlier this month, on June 9, 2019, one category of travel, Group People-to-People, was eliminated from the list of acceptable categories of travel.
None of the other categories were changed or eliminated. U.S. citizens may still legally travel under any of 11 other categories of General License by the U.S. Treasure Department.
The category that was eliminated covers groups of 10 or more who travel using Cuban Government resources like tour buses and hotels (all hotels in Cuba).
U.S. citizens may still travel independently to Cuba under the Support for the Cuban People category. This category specifies that U.S. citizens must rent accommodation in private Cuban homes called Casa Particulares, which are essentially Bed and Breakfast / private inn style accommodations. Casas Particulares can easily be booked on Airbnb.com.
CheapAir.com staffers have been to Cuba and can vouch for the fact that the best way to experience authentic Cuba and support the Cuban people is to avoid the government-run establishments. The standard in a Cuban hotel in not what most Americans are expecting in service or amenities anyway, while the service and amenities at a Casa Particular is warm, welcoming and unique, often offering a true “guest” experience. In Havana, many casa particulares are in beautiful, old colonial buildings with tons of character.
Travelers should also avoid government-run restaurants, and dine at the private establishments, called Paladares. Paladar restaurants started as something like “speakeasy” style operations, often using people’s dining rooms to run their establishments. In the past 20 years, Paladars have gone much more mainstream – with most paladars indistinguishable from a restaurant you’d find anywhere else.
The new rules aim to strip the Cuban government of U.S. dollars, while, in a way, protect the Cuban people and encourage intrepid Americans to engage with Cuban citizens in a more authentic way. A lot of Cuban companies, while nominally independent, are still under the thumb of the Cuban government. The OFAC rules still allow independent travel to Cuba and you should not stress at all about whether or not you can still visit the country. If you had bought an airline ticket or booked accommodation and you had plans to travel with one of these larger groups, as long as your purchases happened before June 9, you’re good. The Trump Administration has grandfathered in anyone who has purchased a flight or accommodation or other large ticket items.
Please read the new OFAC FAQ and accompanying Fact Sheet for yourself. Cuban flights can still be booked online with CheapAir.com and you can also reach out with individual questions in the comment section below. Please read our post on how to DIY your trip to Cuba. It has valuable information for visitors.