It’s been a tough five weeks for Cuba, one of my absolute favorite destinations. So I wanted to address the hundreds of travelers we have booked on a Cuba tour, as well as anyone who is still thinking about traveling there.
Travel to Cuba is still completely legal for Americans, and when you go there, you have absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I don’t know if I can say this enough!
A few days ago, the U.S. State Department posted a warning about Americans traveling to Cuba. This is only a warning, and not an edict that Americans can no longer legally visit Cuba. Months ago, employees of our Embassy in Havana fell ill from an unknown source, and in an abundance of caution, the Embassy staff has been reduced. But not a single tourist from any country has gotten the mystery illness during this period, including the hundreds of American travelers on our own tours (and our own staff).
American Tour Operators in Cuba (ATOC, a national professional organization which counts more than 50 U.S. companies as members) believes that American citizens can continue to travel to Cuba safely and legally. We’ve had no problems obtaining visas, airlines continue to fly, and to our knowledge no tours have been cancelled by any tour company or cruise line. Like all of our colleagues, we at Friendly Planet are continuing to operate our programs to Cuba in full confidence.
And on a similar note, if you are still worried about the impacts of Hurricane Irma in early September, don’t be. Once the storm had passed, we dispatched one of our most experienced tour managers, Gary White, to personally tour the places we normally visit and report back on the impact of the storm.
Thanks to Gary’s early assessment and later comprehensive on-site reports, we realized with relief that we could resume our scheduled programs as of October 1st. We are confident that our travelers will not encounter inconveniences in their accommodations, in getting around the island, in enjoying the best of Cuban cuisine in the island’s awesome paladars (private restaurants) and in visiting the many venues that are the basis for our people-to-people programs.
And that goes for beyond Havana as well. Varadero beach has recovered, and most of Southern Cuba, where a few of our tours explore, saw very little lasting impact while the storm hit in the Northern Central parts of the island. On our Captivating Cuba tour, we stop briefly in Santa Clara, a small town whose rural areas experienced some damage and may still be in the process of recovery. Even here, touring has resumed in the main areas of the town and the schools are back in session.
If you’re wondering whether you should still visit Cuba, please don’t let any of this get in your way. One of the most spectacular aspects of Cuba is the resourcefulness and can do attitude of the Cuban people, who are no strangers to getting through difficult times with grit and determination. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to witness the spirit of the country firsthand, and to help fuel the economy and the recovery effort with your tourist dollars.
Cuba is at the top of my personal list of favorite destinations, and if you visit, I am certain it will top your list too.
President, Friendly Planet Travel