Ready to visit Cuba? Not so fast…

Cuba is the talk of the week with President Obama announcing his intention to roll back many of the travel and economic restrictions associated with the island nation. And, yes, it may soon be possible to legally bring back up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars, but that is not the same thing as eliminating the restrictions on tourism to the island. And, at least for now, that’s not really on the table. While there has been much mention of making it easier for US travelers to get the necessary permits to legally visit Obama’s proposal does not make regular tourist traffic a viable option. At least not yet.

Perhaps it is somewhat ironic that big businesses in the USA are likely to win with these moves before the everyday consumer or traveler is. There is certainly a huge economic market available 90 miles south of Florida for all sorts of investments. In the travel space the major hotel chains are likely to be the first with major moves. Airlines & cruise operators should follow soon thereafter, assuming normal tourist traffic opens up. And we don’t really know if the airlines will be limited to the specific bilateral route authorities which were in place when relations froze 54 years ago. It seems unlikely, for example, that United Airlines is going to operate service from Miami or New Orleans to Havana even if the markets opened up fully tomorrow.

Cubana Ilyushin Il-62
Cubana Ilyushin Il-62 by Dean Morley, on Flickr

Oh, and there’s a decent chance that at least some of the reform is held up in Congress. There are a lot of high ranking members pretty annoyed about the announcement.

As for me, I mostly want the chance to fly on some of the classic aircraft Cubana still has in the fleet. And to visit and explore the island, of course.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Have any Americans “illegally” traveling to Cuba through Mexico, Canada, Europe, etc. been busted recently? No?

    Have you ever traveled to Cuba? No?

    1. If you’re ready to go via a 3rd country today anyways then the announcement this past week has no bearing on your ability to go. If you weren’t willing to take that risk then the announcement also has no bearing on the ability to go as a tourist.

  2. Valid point, but the larger observation concerns scaling up tourism in general, which is certain to take time. Nothing that Obama announced will make it possible for Americans to just hop on a plane soon somewhere and land in Cuba. Doing third country trips is certainly possible, and probably won’t get you in hot water, but that adds cost and complexity that will keep most travelers out of the market for the present.

  3. Americans can quite easily fly to Havana with a brief stopover in Mexico or Canada. There has been significant tourism infrastructure across Cuba, including beach resorts, for decades catering to Europeans, Russians, Asians, Canadians, and quite a few Americans. Just no McDonalds or Hyatts.

    BoardingArea should focus on travel – and if a blogger is writing about a destination, they should be required to have been there at least once.

    1. Americans have been going legally for decades without the side trips, too. Given the volume of conversation I’ve heard in the past few days of people planning trips that they cannot actually take I figured I’d point out that they cannot actually take them yet. At least not directly or legally.

      As for my qualifications to write about the destination, I wasn’t actually writing about activities in Cuba. I didn’t give recommendations on where to go or what to see & do. And the facts I did provide are accurate.

      1. Americans can take those trips TODAY and not worry at all about possibly getting fined by the US Treasury Department if they spend their own USD there (which has always been the extent of the risk). W Bush tried to get the Treasury Dept to clamp down seeking evaders. Obama stopped that. You can pay ~$3K-$4K on a “legal” tour directly from the US or $1K total for a trip flying though Mexico and booking a hotels on your own given how inexpensive Cuba really is.

        If you had ever traveled there you’d know this and clarify what “legal” travel to Cuba means for Americans.

        1. One doesn’t have to actually go somewhere to know if it is legal or not to make the trip. Just because you won’t be punished (and there is no guarantee of that) doesn’t mean it is legal.

          Plenty of people break laws all the time and are not caught or punished. That doesn’t mean it is legal. Just that they aren’t caught or punished.

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