How to Get to CubaBy Teo Spengler; Updated September 26, 2017
Adventuring into Cuba without breaking the law
The golden age of travel to Cuba came and went in the blink of an eye. During President Obama's final year in office, he eased travel restrictions and allowed Americans to visit Cuba as tourists. As of 2017, this directive was undone. Can you get to Cuba now? Yes you can, but you may have to jump through a few hoops.
Restrictions on travel to Cuba
If you're kicking yourself for not getting to Cuba as a tourist when it was easier, you're not alone. The move to tighten travel restrictions again caught many travel planners by surprise, but the good news is that you can still get to Cuba if you're willing to comply with a list of restrictions.
The 2017 changes in the law restrict who can visit Cuba and what you can do when you're there. You can visit family in Cuba. You can go on private or government business or as part of an organized educational or cultural tour. You can go to Cuba to do professional research, for journalistic reasons, for religious activities or for humanitarian projects. You can even perform there as an artist. But, if you want to travel for fun on your own outside a tour group, you're in the cross hairs of the law.
As of 2017, independent travelers are barred from organizing their own private, educational or cultural trips. The Treasury Department licenses Cuba travel. And the rules state that a "traveler's schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess."
Everyone is forbidden from doing business with the government-linked GAESA, which controls much of Cuba's tourism industry. That means that the hotels you can stay in are quite restricted.
Getting to Cuba
If you want to get to Cuba as a people-to-people tourist, you'll have to book with an approved tour group. You do need a tourist visa, but the group organizers will get you what you need. They will also book the hotel your group will stay in and organize your activities. You can go either by plane or by boat, but these same restrictions apply in both cases. Be sure your passport is valid and will remain valid for your entire stay.
When to go
Cuba is blessed with a warm tropical climate. As a tourist, you should know in advance that the country has two distinct seasons, the dry season and the wet season.
The dry season starts in December and ends in May. Weather will be dry and sunny with blue skies and little rainfall. This is generally the best time to visit, although it is also the most crowded. December through March brings cooler weather, great for exploring, but not quite warm enough for beach lounging. April and May are both dry and warm.
June starts Cuba's wet season, which lasts through November. Hurricane season is from August to October.
December through May is high season in Cuba. Crowds are most dense over Christmas and Easter breaks. December is also the month when Havana's famous jazz festival is held, so make reservations well in advance if you're thinking of a December trip.