I'm interested in visiting Cuba (I'm a U.S. citizen with no Cuban connections). Is this an impossible thing these days? I have no anti- or pro-Cuban sentiments. I just want to visit there myself and form my own opinions. Plus I really like the music.
-Pat, Norristown, Pa.
Although journalists, researchers, government officials, and conference attendees may be able to obtain legal approval, everyday citizens are not eligible for these trips. And with the Cuban travel ban firmly in place, it's almost impossible for you to get there legally.
But notice I said “almost.” If you read the law, it doesn’t specifically bar U.S. tourists from going to Cuba, but it does ban Americans from spending U.S. dollars there. So are the roughly 2,000 Americans visiting every day in violation of the law? Well, they're certainly in violation of the spirit of the law.
To help prevent violations of the letter of the law, many American travelers book all-inclusive travel through a third country, like Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, or the Bahamas. Pay local tour operators in this third country, and you're not officially spending U.S. dollars in Cuba. Most Cuban customs officials know not to stamp your passport, making it very hard for American authorities to know you've been in Cuba. And don't forget, American credit and debit cards won't work in Cuba.
And finally, you are risking heavy fines if you decide to travel to Cuba. For official State Department rules regarding Cuba, check here: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1097.html.
And of course, you can adopt that age-old strategy for Americans abroad: pretend to be Canadian. The Cuba Tourist Board's Canadian Web site is quite helpful: http://www.gocuba.ca/en/index.asp.