The regulations governing who is and isn’t entitled to make an individual trip to Cuba are the murkiest in all of travel. According to various government pronouncements, there are only 12 reasons that justify such a trip: going there for religious purposes, for educational group meetings, for supporting the Cuban people, and so on.
But no one spells out exactly how one proves that he or she went there for such purposes. And most travel commentators simply suggest you keep a written record of such actions, to be shown if someone should later challenge the legality of the trip.
Until just several weeks ago, there were two definite rules against going at all: You were told that you could not make any use of a Cuban facility that was owned by the Cuban military, and secondly, you were warned that making such a trip was probably unsafe — a warning based on the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory level.
The State Department has four levels of travel warnings: Level 4, which tells you that travel to the destination is to be avoided at all costs; Level 3, which tells you it is dangerous to go there; Level 2, which warns that you should take reasonable precautions; and Level 1, which says that everything is OK.
Until recently, Cuba was placed in Level 3, and numerous Americans heeded the warning. Tourism to Cuba fell off badly.
Now, all that has changed. Just a few weeks ago, the State Department changed its ranking and downgraded Cuba to a Level 2. While it was still unsafe to risk a mysterious illness contracted by people who went into the U.S. embassy there or into one of the two hotels patronized by embassy personnel — the Hotel Nacional or the Hotel Capri — everywhere else in Cuba was reasonably safe.
So reschedule your plans, fellow Americans. Bring a notebook on which you write your hour-by-hour activities that comply with one of the 12 reasons (religious observances, attending a sports event, etc.) that permit such a decision, book a cheap, non-military room through Airbnb, and have a good trip!
Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer’s blog at frommers.com.