How is Cuba travel legal?

With so many headlines talking about a “Cuba ban” and the discontinuation of cruises to Cuba, many Americans are – quite understandably – feeling confused about whether or not they can still travel to the island legally. 

In fact, there are still 12 legal categories for travel to Cuba. Most of these are very specific and wouldn’t apply to everyday citizens (visiting a close family member who is a Cuban national, educational travel as part of an official school program, etc.) but there is one broad category that allows regular US citizens to travel there: “support for the Cuban people.” 

There are two main components to the “support for the Cuban people” category. The first is making sure that your tourism dollars are not spent at government-run hotels, restaurants, and other blacklisted institutions, since the US does not want the Cuban government to profit off of US travelers. With over 20 years of experience in Cuba travel, we have consistently remained current with the regulations. We at CIT are well versed in exactly which places are legal for Americans, and we tailor our packages and itineraries so that your tourist dollars are going directly to the Cuban people.

The second part requires you to maintain a daily itinerary during which you are engaging in a meaningful way with the Cuban people. This means meeting Cuban artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, maybe taking a dance class, experiencing a cooking demonstration, etc. 

“But I’ve never been to Cuba. How am I supposed to plan all that in advance?” you might ask. That’s where CIT comes in! We have decades of experience in Cuba and have connections for everything and anything that you might want to see

The goal of our signature tours is to provide you with a broad introduction to Cuban culture and have you enjoy meaningful interactions with real Cuban people so that you can experience Cuba authentically. You might enjoy a private concert in a musician’s home, while his mom makes you a classic cafe cubano; or visit an antique car specialist at his workshop and take a ride in a classic car; or meet a 4th generation tobacco farmer and see, smell, and touch the leaves that go into making the world’s best cigars. 

Even if what you want to see isn’t already included in our regular tours, just ask! We take special requests seriously and always work hard to accommodate them. Want to meet a baseball player? Done. Want to take a Jewish tour of Havana? No problem. Want to meet a fashion designer? You got it.

Call or email us and tell us what your dream Cuba trip looks like! 

Is Cuba safe to visit?

Cuba was awarded the #1 safest country in the world to visit in 2018!

 

People are normally nervous about visiting any new place for the first time, but Cuba, off limits to US citizens for so long, somehow seems to stir up even more apprehension.

The good news is that Cuba has extremely low rates of violent crime. Gang and gun violence, drug-related crimes – these sorts of problems simply don’t exist in Cuba. The main issue to be aware of is one that plagues many travel destinations: petty theft.

To be on the safe side, leave your most expensive items (jewelry, designer bags, etc.) back home. We also recommend that you keep a close eye on your belongings in public places, and don’t venture into poorly lit areas late at night. In other words, just use common sense and you’ll be fine!

Americans are also pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming the Cuban people are. You will quickly discover that Cubans do not hold grudges against the American people. In fact the opposite is true as most Cubans are quick to engage in good-natured conversation, wanting to tell you about their relatives that live in the States and eager to hear the latest international news.

“What about those sonic attacks?” is another question that keeps coming up. While seemingly out of a science fiction novel, still nothing conclusive has been determined, with released recordings of the “attacks” turning out to be the sound of crickets. Most importantly, regardless of what actually happened, no tourists or private citizens were affected.

“Wasn’t Cuba destroyed by a hurricane, though?” Nope. Hurricane Irma in 2017 did cause some flooding and damage parts of northern Cuba, but that is well in the past now. Any minor damage was cleaned up within weeks.

Our team at CIT has many combined years spent living in Cuba, and one of the things we say to our clients is that in many ways we actually feel safer in Cuba than we do here in the US. We even regularly take our young children to Cuba.

Still having doubts? Don’t take our word for it! Below are snippets of testimonials written by past CIT travelers:

“Cuba is very safe, in fact, safer than some cities in the USA. The Cuban people were courteous, friendly, and helpful at all times. If we wanted to know something, i.e. directions to a particular store while shopping, they ensured we knew the way. As a former Chief on a Police department, as well as [with my] education and experience in Criminal Justice, I believe my credibility in this arena is a backbone to my comments.”

“Cuba’s people were delightful. We never felt unsafe roaming the streets.”

“We felt completely safe wherever we went on foot – no matter what time of day – and there was none of the aggressive hustling or begging that often has one constantly on the defensive in other countries.”

“We walked all over and always felt safe.” 

“For any American hesitant about safety when considering a cultural vacation in Cuba, they shouldn’t worry as we felt secure on the streets and everywhere else.”

“We found the Cuban people to be friendly toward Americans.  We didn’t experience any incidents of dishonesty or being taking advantage of during our entire trip.  We took taxis in the evening and had no problems deciding on the fare with the drivers and even had taxis wait for us at the restaurants which were usually in quiet neighborhoods with few roaming taxis for hire.  For any American hesitant about safety when considering a cultural vacation in Cuba, they shouldn’t worry as we felt secure on the streets and everywhere else.”

Take a trip to Cuba now and you’ll experience firsthand the warmth and hospitality of the Cuban people, and you’ll see why Cuba was awarded the #1 safest country in the world to visit in 2018!

You can travel to Cuba legally

A day in paradise

Our lovely tour leaders – Ebony, Irma and Laura spent a day in the Viñales Valley to scout for new places to see and activities to add to our tours and came back with these amazing photos.

View from Finca Paraiso

found a nice spot to have lunch

The “Raices” project

The “Raices” project

Laura and Irma with our dependable head of transportation, Yordan

Amazing! Don’t think about it (ignore the news) and just go now!

One of our clients, Laura L., recently came back from her trip and left us with this review…

“Where to begin… I did some research online and came across CIT. From that moment on, I knew I found the perfect tour company. Kristen was easy and enthusiastic to work with and very responsive to any questions my friend and I had prior to our trip. She helped customize the tour to accommodate our requests. A big thumbs up on customer service.

Then from the moment we arrived in Havana, our tour guide Laura Gonzalez was fantastic. She was so pleasant, knowledgeable and fun to be around. She even added some fun little surprises for us along the way which we loved. We got the privilege to get to know Laura and made a friend along the way.

Cuba is a beautiful country with amazing people, culture, history, food, etc. I felt safer walking the streets of Havana than I do in my own city here in the US. The food (especially desserts) and drinks were delicious. All the guides that we met from the Revolution Museum to the Grand Teatro to old Havana were what made the tours fantastic, as well as the our drivers. Getting to visit community projects and private concerts is what really makes the trip special- along with how flexible the staff are to accommodating and customizing our visit.


As someone that has traveled extensively in different parts of the world, this by far was the best tour I’ve been on and exceeded all my expectations. Top notch all the way!

FYI – No one got sick or even an inkling of an upset stomach like what happens when you go to Mexico. CIT scouts out all the restaurants/paladars in advance and so it was great to feel like you could eat and order anything off the menus.”

Colors of Cuba : A Photo Album

Sharing these amazing photos that captured the beauty of Cuba. Photo credit to our guests and CIT staff.

Colors of Cuba!

Shabi in Trinidad, Cuba

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia

Dry house for tobacco leaves surrounded by a variety of palm trees

View of a little bit of the sunset from Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba

Shabi’s Favorite Cuban Black Beans Recipe!

According to Alex Garcia, chef-owner of Erizo Latino restaurant in New York City, there are two secrets to true Cuban black beans: preparing them without meat and allowing them to “sleep” overnight to develop flavor before serving. This recipe comes from Garcia’s grandmother. The finished beans can be seasoned to taste with sugar and vinegar.


Cuban Black Beans Recipe

The Secret – “They don’t soak the beans so it takes longer to cook but it comes out amazing.”

Ingredients:

1 pound dried black beans, picked over and rinsed

1 green bell pepper quartered lengthwise

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green bell pepper minced

1 large onion minced or 2 medium onions

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon oregano

1/2 cup minced garlic

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1/4 cup tomato paste

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Put the black beans, quartered green pepper and bay leaves in a large saucepan add 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Remove and discard the green pieces and bay leaves)

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the minced bell peppers and onion and cook over moderate heat until softened. Stir in the cumin and oregano. In a small saucepan, cook the garlic in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil over moderately low heat until golden brown.

When the beans are tender, add the sautéed pepper mixture, the garlic in its oil and the tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper, vinegar and sugar and simmer gently for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before serving.

Amazing Cuban Trip

George and Dan recently came back from their Cuban Music and Art tour very happy and delighted for having had the most wonderful time in Havana and Trinidad.

View of the Capital

An evening at La Guarida

Having a in Fusterlandia

Dan & George with their guide, Irma

Why we do what we do

George and Maria recently returned from their trip and sent us this letter with such deep insight of their experience…

Hi Teresa,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on our great trip. So here are some comments regarding the tour, guides, meals, etc.

1.    Ari is a great guy who is knowledgeable, friendly, intelligent and helpful in every respect. Rather than go on at length, I will just say that I cannot think of how he could be any better. He is just excellent in every respect.

2.    The tour construction is great as well. I confess that, when I first looked at the itinerary there were were at least a couple of things that I thought might not be all that interesting. For example, we don’t smoke, hate cigar smoke, and we are not car buffs. That said, both the cigar factory tour and our time with Fernando, the car man, were very interesting and I am really glad that we did both things,  given how integral cigar production and maintenance of old cars are to Cuban society. I would not want to have missed either of those two tours. In the end, the tour provides a thorough, busy, but not frenetic exposure to diverse aspects of a very rich history and culture in a single week. We realize that is not easy to do, and we really enjoyed it.

3.     The food was great, as were your restaurant choices, for which we thank you. We had no problem with finding excellent food that fit our non-meaty dietary needs. We did not have a bad meal, including lunches, and they were all very good to excellent.

4.    We loved the people. We found the Cuban people with whom we interacted to be warm and friendly, very much including the drivers you folks employ. Maritza and Margarita, with whom we stayed, are two of the finest people we have met in a while. I looked forward to our morning chats over excellent breakfasts, they were delightful at all times, and the accommodations we first rate in every respect.

5.    Every tour guide at whatever place we went to was excellent. They were all knowledgeable, friendly and informative.

We look forward to seeing Ari, Maritza and Margarita in the future, and to seeing more of Cuba; however, this trip really gave us a broad, thorough sense of the place, and a desire to return.

Thanks much.

George & Maria

 

“Our trip to Cuba was truly outstanding!” – Scott family testimonial

The Scott family recently came back from their tour and sent us this lovely email:

Dear Teresa,

Our Cuba trip was truly outstanding!  Overall, there is nothing but praise we have for Teresa, Donna and Ebony from Cultural Island Travel.  We were introduced to a friendly, happy country with wonderful people, food and culture.  From the beginning of the trip planning, with the organization that the CIT team showed, it was clear that we were dealing with consummate professionals.  The completeness of the background information, education on the country and the smooth visa process showed that there was nothing to be concerned about. 

From the arrival in country to our heartfelt departure, the family enjoyed every minute of our experiences.  Ebony O’Reilly was instructional, helpful, engaging and made every day more enjoyable than the day before.  Ebony went our of her way to extend herself to our family.  She arranged special times with restaurants, musicians, friends and a birthday party!  We truly bonded with Ebony.  Thanks to her very much (and Ari).  If and when we return we will definitely request Ebony as our guide.

Ebony and Candice

The casa particular lodging arrangements in Havana worked out very well.  Liliana was very helpful and supported our requests without a problem. The living spaces and bedrooms were clean, well maintained and there were no issues.  Next trip we might want to stay closer to evening activities.  It was hard to get around in the evening after dinner.

Our drivers, Julio 1 and Julio 2, were also terrific.  Senor Julio even went back to Fusterlandia to pick up a package that was left behind.  They were very accommodating and generous with their time and patience.

Our visit to Trinidad was also very memorable and our favorite stop.  The location for our stay really made us feel very much a part of the community and celebrate the beauty of Trinidad, it’s people, and the museum-quality of the area.  Our tour guide was very enjoyable, knowledgeable and fun!  We loved going to the beach and relaxing on the Caribbean with the entire family and Ebony.  That was a real cap to our time in Trinidad.

Happy times in Fusterlandia

Memorable excursions to Revolution Square, the tunnels in the harbor, visit to fantastic Fusterlandia, the Old Havana tour, rides in 50’s convertible cars, private jazz and vocal concerts, the Compas Dance group and the cigar factory tour certainly made the cultural part of our trip really very special.  Spending more time along the malecon, relaxing in the Central Park area and visiting more museums would be on our next trip.  As well as partaking in more of the nightlife!

Your team did a fantastic job and we truly appreciate the efforts of everyone involved.

The Scott Family, Cuban Music & Art Tour