The reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington on July 20 signals another chapter in the fast-moving developments in U.S.-Cuba relations.
The thaw in relations between the two countries, initiated last December by the Obama administration, launched a number of changes in travel, including new charter airlift from New York and Houston, expanded lift from Florida gateways and approval from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for several companies to begin passenger ferry service between Florida and Havana.
On the cruise front, Haimark Line plans to begin nine-night cruises aboard the 210-passenger Saint Laurent from Miami to Cuba on Feb. 20, with Florida-based United Caribbean Lines; Carnival Corp. received approval to bring U.S. citizens to Cuba under its Fathom social-impact brand, and MSC Cruises will deploy its MSC Opera in Cuba for the winter.
Apple Vacations will launch its two Cuba people-to-people programs this fall, and tour companies already operating in Cuba, such as Friendly Planet, Mountain Travel Sobek, Island Travel & Tours, Classic Journeys, Latour and Globus and Cosmos, are adding departures and expanding itineraries.
Group IST is adding more sailing dates on its eight-day Havana-to-Cienfuegos people-to-people program, beginning in December. The two small ships, Panorama and Panorama II, sail in opposite directions between the two points each week through April.
Horse-drawn wagons are a common sight in the smaller towns in Cuba.
Insight Cuba, which has sent more than 12,000 U.S. travelers to Cuba since its inception in 2000, according to President Tom Popper, is launching its Weekend in Santiago de Cuba tour this winter. It's the second installment in its Weekend series; it also offers a Weekend in Havana. Departures on the Weekend in Santiago de Cuba program run from Jan. 15 to May 27.
“American travel to Cuba is growing by leaps and bounds," Popper said. "We’ve seen demand more than double. Santiago offers access to a seldom-visited part of Cuba, and it was the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution in 1953."
For agents, meanwhile, OurCuba.com is offering a fam program, also called A Weekend in Havana, through Sept. 21.
Cuba visitor numbers in 2015 hit the two million mark on July 10, according to the Ministry of Tourism. The tourism industry generated more than $1.7 billion in revenues in the same time period.
Cuban officials predict that year-end totals will surpass the three million number reached in 2014 and that revenues will exceed the record $27 billion set last year.