Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Cuba will reopen to all international tourism on Nov. 15, the start of its high season, according to Juan Carlos Garcia, minister of tourism.

Although Cuba had technically reopened in June 2020 for resort travel for foreign visitors to the all-inclusive resorts in Varadero, tough entry and quarantine regulations for international visitors, in addition to the closure of many restaurants, hotels and shops, kept most visitors at bay.

Americans, in particular, are barred from vacations to the all-inclusive resorts on Cuba's north coast since they must travel to Cuba under one of 12 specific categories of travel, the most popular of which is Support for the Cuban People, which requires that visitors follow a rigorous schedule of educational-style touring.

"Taking into account the progress of vaccination in Cuba, its demonstrated efficacy, and the perspective that more than 90% of the total population will conclude vaccination agendas in November, conditions are being prepared to reopen the country's borders beginning Nov. 15," Garcia said during a news conference in Havana on Oct. 18.

It's been a long, tough 18 months for tourism since Covid shut down entries in March 2020. Cuba received approximately one million foreign travelers in 2020, far less than the 4.2 million recorded in 2019.

Year to date, less than 200,000 visitors, the majority of whom were from Russia, traveled to Cuba's seaside resorts in Varadero on package programs, according to data from Tourism Analytics.

Entry requirements for Cuba travel

As of Nov. 15, international visitors flying into Cuba must present proof of vaccination. Unvaccinated foreign visitors must present a negative PCR test result taken less than 72 hours prior to arrival. Regulations regarding quarantine and further testing on island have been eliminated, although, as with any foreign destination, any visitor returning to the U.S. from Cuba must take a Covid test 24 hours before departure.

Children under 12 are exempt from the PCR test and proof of vaccination.

"The Caribbean nation is gearing up to receive international travelers under Covid-19 safety protocols," Garcia said. "Medical teams will guarantee compliance with coronavirus rules at hotel facilities."

What are some concerns?

Cuba expert Top Popper welcomed the news of Cuba's reopening but cautioned that questions remained, such as what test will be available for visitors returning to the U.S., and where it would be available.

"What happens if a visitor, vaccinated or not, suddenly develops symptoms of Covid while in Cuba? Quarantine? Where?" he asked.

Popper said that the reopening "will probably see a lot of Cuban Americans returning to visit their families whom they haven't seen during Covid. I expect that tour operators who serve the Cuba market from the U.S. are putting together packages for January and beyond but are waiting to see how the first month or so of reopening goes."

American currently operates one weekly flight between Miami and Havana, while JetBlue's website lists flights to Havana beginning in December. It is not known at this time whether carriers will step up frequency if demand builds after the reopening.

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