Then: It was illegal to vacation in Cuba
Now: It's STILL illegal to vacation in Cuba You read that correctly. You can't just lay on a beach in Trinidad, even if you're Jay Z and Beyonce.
"An American can still only travel to Cuba if the purpose of their visit fits into one of 12 specific categories, including educational, religious and cultural reasons," Christian Wolters, Deputy Manager of the tour company Intrepid Travel, told Thrillist. "If they don’t fall into one of those 12, it is technically still illegal."
The good news is that Americans visiting Cuba under these categories won't need a license from the government, as they did before. Which, according to this New York Times report, means more Americans will be able to travel to Cuba "without having to use such firms or satisfy government agents about the specific purpose of their visits." Translation: less paperwork.
And while the Obama administration is reportedly planning to broaden these travel categories, Wolters hopes they'll be axed completely. "Eventually, these categories may be eliminated altogether, at which time we could start seeing major changes in Cuba’s tourism landscape. This embargo has kept Cuba almost frozen in time, which makes it an incredibly unique destination."
Then: Americans needed a license for travel
Now: Americans don't need a license While getting to Cuba just got easier, it's still not like flying to, say, the Dominican Republic.
“Can Americans jump on a plane today to visit Cuba? The short answer is ‘no,’" said Terry Dale, CEO of the United States Tour Operators Association. "At least not for some time until commercial flights begin and the infrastructure is in place... But, US travelers can visit Cuba today through the existing cultural programs offered by tour operators.” Companies like Globus, Explorica, and Go Colette all offer excursions to Cuba, with more planned for this year.
Unsurprisingly, there's been a huge surge of interest from travelers eager to visit Cuba -- especially from the UK and Australia, according to Wolters. "Cuba is an incredible country, and the secret is out: bookings for us are up 32% globally this year alone," he said. "Located just a few hours from most major US cities, Americans should feel very excited about the upcoming travel opportunities."
Wolters warned, however, that a boom of interest from tourists could affect Cuba: "We hope the potential influx of American travelers won’t impact its authenticity, and Cuba will maintain its distinct flare and vibrant local culture."