Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, is so close (90 miles from Key West) and yet so very far. It is the land of sugar cane; pristine beaches; salsa, cigars and rum; Che Guevara and Castro’s revolution; historic and nostalgic cities; and—oh!—those beautiful, well-preserved old cars! While travel for purely “tourist” reasons is still strictly forbidden, it IS open for U.S. visitors whose travel falls under one of 12 categories of “authorized” travel to Cuba and who want to get there before Starbucks and McDonald’s arrive! 

Of these 12 categories, some of the most commonly utilized by leisure travelers include: family visits; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances; clinics; workshops; athletic and other competitions; exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; and activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes. 

A visit to Cuba can be via land with a pre-arranged tour that meets the approved criteria, or via cruise ship with stops at various Cuban ports. Several of us at Travel Leaders/Goli’s Avenues of Travel have visited Cuba in the past few years, either on a land tour or via cruise ship. For Samantha Zielke, travel sales agent, cruising last fall into the port of Havana was an emotional experience as she watched locals line up on the street excitedly watching the cruise ship come in. 

What to do in Cuba? Options abound, far too many to list here.

However, while In Havana (also called “Queen of the Night”), walk around Old Havana. Visit Plaza Vieja with its amazing architecture, or Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Catedral. Walk the streets, notice the buildings, interact with locals, visit New Havana and experience a local community that has turned its neighborhood into a mosaic maze. Or, spend time in an art studio where you can enjoy a local band and take in a quick salsa lesson. Most people are not aware that there are nine designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba, including some notable cities, coffee plantations and national parks. Each area offers its own unique opportunities to learn and interact with locals.

Regarding souvenirs, there is no specific dollar limit established by the Cuban government. U.S. citizens are subject to the normal limits on duty and tax exemptions when reentering our country. Cuban cigars and Cuban rum are now legal to bring back to the U.S. for personal use only, not for resale.

Zielke found Cuba to be a great destination to visit, with a lot of amazing architecture, unique restaurants and shops. The locals were very friendly and wanted to engage in conversations about their country and learn about where she was from.

The country continues to change daily; most returnees we have spoken to are happy they experienced it in its “present” state and look forward to visiting again to immerse themselves in other experiences unique to Cuba. 

Ready to check off your bucket list? Call or email Travel Leaders/Goli’s Avenues of Travel at (608) 784-9820 or to get started.

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