courtesy: Nora McCarten

courtesy: Nora McCarten

By Lena Inglis

Since restrictions on travel to Cuba were lifted by former President Obama, people-to-people exchanges have become increasingly popular, with many tour operators offering diverse, yet expensive itineraries to the island nation, 90 miles from Florida.  For instance, Trek Travel’s 8-day cycling trip is priced at a whopping $7199 per person based on double occupancy.

However, it is easier than ever to craft your own trip, for a fraction of the cost, now that individuals are permitted to travel to Cuba under specific Treasury Department rules. To keep the trip legal, your Cuban adventure has to put an emphasis on interaction and engagement with the Cuban people.

To that end, getting there is more accessible with regularly scheduled commercial flights from JetBlue among others, taking off with flash sales that started at just $99 each way.  CubaTur, a state-run tour company, currently offers some of the most affordable tours, starting from $699. With visits to Cuba’s famous and less touristy destinations, it provides an opportunity to customize your Cuban experience.

courtesy: Lena Ingles

courtesy: Lena Inglis

Havana Nights (and Days)

With or without a guided tour, Cuba’s capital, Havana is easy to navigate through vintage car taxis, for as low as $5 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso-the currency mainly used by tourists) per ride. Currently, the conversion rate from USD to CUC is 1:1, however with the 10% tax on American dollars, and a 3% transaction fee, you will receive $0.87 for every CUC.  Converting euros can be a better option because they aren’t subject to the fees.

Stroll through the squares of Old Havana, dance to live salsa, visit Hemingway’s home, and dine in charming paladares ( small, family-run restaurants, usually in a converted part of a home), while not hurting your wallet. Bicycle taxis are the preferred mode of transportation in Cuba ($5 CUC depending on distance).

 

courtesy: Erlin Guerrero

courtesy: Erlin Guerrero

Close, and you can get a cigar; Or as many as you like
From the casual cigar smoker to the absolute novice, having cigars rolled freshly in Cuba is an unforgettable experience. The village of Viñales is famous for being the premier tobacco growing area in the world. For only 10 CUC per person, depending on the season, visitors can enjoy an hour long tour of a plantation’s harvest and drying process. Travelers can buy freshly rolled cigars on site which is great news for Americans, who are now able to purchase an unlimited amount of rum and tobacco, including the famous cigars, which are no longer a limited luxury. However, selling Cuban cigars back home is forbidden.

Eco-Adventure

With an abundance of tropical activities at your fingertips, it does not cost much to have an adventure of a lifetime in Zapata. CubaTur and private local guides offer custom itineraries which include exploring Cuba’s thriving coral reefs through snorkeling in the Bay of Pigs, underwater caves, and other sea life observation points.

Courtesy: Katrina Ruggiero

Courtesy: Katrina Ruggiero

Renting a snorkeling mask and fins costs around $5 CUC.  The peninsula is nature’s playground as the town offers opportunities to learn about Cuban crocodiles and Cuba’s healthy flora, more than 50% of which is indigenous to the Caribbean island. Depending on the season, it is also an ideal location for bird watching.

courtesy: Lena Inglis

courtesy: Lena Inglis

 

Insider Intel

With an influx of commercial flights, expanding cruise options (which in some cases offer a better quality of accommodation than can be found on land)  and a boom in ecotourism, it’s no wonder Cuba is firmly planted on the bucket lists of many an American.

As a matter of fact, for the second year in a row, Cuba ranks at the top of PriceWaterHouseCooper’s survey of the United States Tour Operator Association’s list of the hottest destinations of 2017.

As alluring as Cuba is to American travelers, visiting the island for blatant tourism purposes remains banned by law. There are 12 general licenses for travel to Cuba which include family visits, educational activities, exhibitions, along with public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions among others – all designed for cultural immersion while benefiting the Cuban people.

With a new administration in Washington D.C., it remains to be seen if the looser restrictions on travel to Cuba will be tightened or retracted all together.  So, now is the time to visit Cuba while you can.

Lena Inglis, an intern for this website, is a senior at Baruch College, majoring in Business Journalism. She was a recent recipient of a scholarship to explore Cuba.