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While Cuba travel restrictions have loosened, U.S. guests must visit for reasons within 12 approved categories, including family visits and educational activities.
Most will opt for people-to-people exchanges, which tend to follow rigid schedules and offer minimal free time. Working with a travel agent, however, can allow for a more exclusive experience.
“American travelers in Cuba need to be on some kind of tour, which can consist of as few as two people,” said Diane Mullahy, a Cuba specialist with Travel Leaders. “Any program can be customized toward clients’ interests.”
Traveling in a small group will cost more, as clients will still need a full-time guide and a driver. But according to David Lee, a travel advisor and Cuba specialist with SmartFlyer, the level of access outweighs the higher cost — there are certain sites that large groups simply can’t visit. Clients also need to keep in mind that kicking back on the beach is not quite on the approved list of reasons to visit Cuba.
“If I have a group that wants to see Havana and then lay on the beach, we can do that in some form,” Lee said. “We might schedule an information session with someone from the fishing industry or with a marine biologist. There has to be something cultural about it, but you can have your beach vacation.”
But if all clients want is beach time, it may be best to point them elsewhere.
“Visiting Cuba today is the chance to see life in 1950,” said Kathy Bernstein, a travel advisor for Protravel International. “Cars and buildings remain the same; the vibrant colors, music and artistic expression are the real riches.”