The U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) legalized travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens through People-to-People licenses in 2011. But it was Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba in April that ignited the national conversation around American travel to the island nation.
Legal travel to Cuba through the People-to-People licensed program requires that Americans participate in cultural and educational exchanges with Cubans, and get to know them through these personal interactions. This is an extraordinarily enriching experience, as art and culture are inherent in the daily heartbeats of life in Cuba. It’s seen everywhere – from young school children who learn classical dance and can recite great Cuban works of poetry to seniors who spend lazy tropical afternoons discussing art and music over a game of dominoes in the cooling shade.
You can immerse yourself in all of this culture plus more, while also giving back to the country and its people, in many important ways. There is a great symbiotic relationship you can build when you visit Cuba through a People-to-People license. Here are three reasons why you should take a legal trip to Cuba.
You will definitely interact on a daily basis with real Cubans in every walk of life. In my opinion, the best reason to take a legal trip is that the mandated trip itineraries are phenomenal. I’ve been selling and creating travel experiences for 33 years, and People-to-People trips require you do what’s most interesting about Cuba and travel in general—get to know how the people of that destination really live, while sharing a bit with them about how you live back in the U.S.
The people of Cuba are very entrepreneurial, resourceful, ingenuous, and creative. They’re also very friendly and welcoming to travelers, and they love getting to know visitors and sharing experiences with them. It’s almost impossible to come away with anything but a wonderful impression of Cuba once you’ve met and interacted with Cuban people.
Some ways you might get to know Cuban people during a People-to-People trip could include sharing a meal with a Cuban family, meeting with entrepreneurs and business owners, watching a concert or dance rehearsal and then meeting with the performers, visiting an organic farm to discover how necessity and lack of funds can actually be the mother of invention, and so much more. The opportunity to experience culture on this level is one you won’t find simply by laying on a beach with an umbrella drink.
Legal People-to-People Travel helps Cuban people support their families. Cuban people benefit enormously from American travelers who visit the country legally. There are many people in the tourism industry who are employed specifically to service People-to-People tours. This ranges from the guides and drivers on the tours themselves to waiters in the restaurants and attendants in the hotels.
In addition to their wages, these workers also receive tips from American tourists. It’s estimated that the average Cuban earns about $20 a month in wages, so tips can greatly increase their quality of life. And many tourist-facing workers will share their tips with others who work behind the scenes in offices and other capacities.
In addition to tipping, American travelers often bring gifts with them on their People-to-People trips, such as clothing, educational materials, toiletries, art supplies, and basic pharmaceutical supplies. Our travelers then distribute these gifts as they travel through the country. You have to experience for yourself the look of pure pleasure on the face of a young Cuban boy when he holds, often for the first time, a real baseball or soccer ball.
Participating in an illegal trip to Cuba can cost you plenty. If you choose to travel to Cuba illegally and you’re caught, you will face major penalties. Violators face fines in the tens of thousands. Not only is it absolutely not worth such a huge risk to go, but it is disrespectful to your own country’s laws. Even if you are ardently against the embargo, you still should not travel illegally. You owe your country that much respect, especially when there is now a legal way to have the Cuba experience. Oh, and did I mention that you will, for sure, miss experiencing what makes Cuba so unique—its people.
Cuba is full of culture, color, and camaraderie—a must for any world traveler’s bucket list and easier than ever to visit. I know that if you visit, you’ll agree with me that Cuba is the shortest distance you’ll ever travel to enter into a whole new and fascinating world.
Learn more about legal trips to Cuba on Friendly Planet’s website.