Cuba is officially “open for business” as a travel destination, but if you plan to head south to this Caribbean island solely for the white sand beaches and salsa dancing, think again! Travel to Cuba for tourist activities is still prohibited.

While U.S. travelers cannot go to Cuba as tourists, there are legal ways to experience the mysterious and forbidden destination. By understanding the travel restrictions, acceptable travel categories and local Cuban resources, you can plan a fun and “legal” trip to the island.

The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses for 12 categories of travel, including:

  • Family visits
  • Public performances/competitions/exhibitions
  • Official government business
  • Support of the Cuban people
  • Journalistic activities
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Professional research/meetings
  • Activities of private foundations/institutes
  • Educational activities
  • Transmission of information and materials
  • Religious activities
  • Select authorized export transactions


The most common method of travel – dubbed people-to-people travel, which exists as part of the educational activities category – allows any U.S. citizen to legally travel to Cuba, provided they engage in a full-time schedule of activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people. For most travelers, this requirement can be satisfied by using a licensed tour operator such as InsightCuba, an outfit that specializes solely in people-to-people travel to Cuba for Americans. Tours showcase the island nation’s rich art, dance and culture. The 12-day Undiscovered Cuba Tour gives visitors the unique opportunity to participate in discussions with Cuban government officials, experts in architecture and world-renowned chefs.

A visit to Havana, Cuba’s capital and the largest city in all of the Caribbean, is highly recommended, whether you’re seeking history, ice-cold mojitos or adventure. Many tours offer itineraries that allow you to explore Spanish colonial architecture, street-side musical performances and art displays and authentic food and drinks. Cuba’s “rolling car museum” also is a sight to see as classic American cars fill the city streets thanks to the longstanding ban on foreign vehicle imports that kept newer vehicles from entering the country for more than 50 years.

Don’t forget to leave some room in your suitcase; U.S. citizens can stuff up to $400 in souvenirs in their luggage, including $100 worth of alcohol or the infamous Cuban cigars. If it’s trinkets you’re after, coconut monkeys and rare coconut carvings can be found on every street corner. But pack plenty of pesos because credit card processing is still very limited.

So, now that Cuba is on your vacation wish list, how does one get to Cuba? The Department of Transportation has authorized six U.S. airlines – American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest and Sun Country, which depart from Miami, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Philadelphia and Minneapolis – to provide passenger flights to various cities in Cuba, excluding Havana. Most visitors to Cuba, including Americans, need a tourist card to enter the country. When booking your trip, travel organizations and charter flights will typically process the tourist card as part of your package.

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