What's a legal Cuba tour? There's a fine line

A tour group in Havana.
A tour group in Havana. Photo Credit: Action Sports/Shutterstock.com

With "people to people" Cuba travel now banned, tour operators that continue offering Cuba must operate tours under one of the remaining categories of legal travel to Cuba. 

While many companies have already been running trips under categories including humanitarian, religious, academic and professional meetings, the most common one that most operators will now use, and one that many already do, is "support for the Cuban people."

The difference between people-to-people (P2P) and support for the Cuban people (SCP) is somewhat nuanced. 

"There is more of a 'doing' with the support for the Cuban people and the very political: helping them become more independent from government," explained Collin Laverty of Cuba Educational Travel, which has a long history of organizing trips under that category. 

Cuba Candela CEO Chad Olin said some differences are that "P2P travelers might stay in a hotel, while SCP travelers might stay in a private home. P2P activities might include a presentation from a city planner on the restoration of Old Havana, followed by a visit to notable cultural landmarks. SCP travelers might eat at a private restaurant and buy services from a private business such as a taxi driver, local shop or salsa teacher."

It was previously understood that as opposed to people-to-people tours, those doing support for Cuban people trips were encouraged to stay in private homes instead of hotels.

This week, a Treasury Department spokesperson said that as long as the hotel is not on the State Department’s list of restricted Cuban entities, then it is not prohibited, assuming the travel activity is authorized.

InsightCuba president Tom Popper said accommodating guests in homes is easier than it used to be with the surge in the number and quality of private homes for rent since Airbnb launched in Cuba.

“As a result, so many homeowners have updated their properties,” he said. “There are some incredible places to stay.”

The government lists several examples of the kinds of trips that qualify as "support for the Cuban people." 

It stipulates that travelers engage in a full-time schedule of activities that "enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba or promote the Cuban people's independence from Cuban authorities, and result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. The traveler's schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule."

Examples are staying in rented accommodations in a private Cuban residence, eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans. 

The travelers "engage with the Cuban host to learn about Cuban culture" and support Cuban entrepreneurs "launching their privately owned businesses." 

The examples specify that as long as a group volunteers with a "recognized non-governmental organization to build a school for underserved Cuban children" in their free time it is ok to "rent bicycles to explore the streets of Havana and visit an art museum."

However, it is not ok to do the aforementioned bike ride if the traveler otherwise only engages in "brief exchanges with local beach vendors" and stays in a hotel because "none of these activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba."

This report has been updated with new information from the Treasury Department regarding hotel stays. 


From Our Partners

From Our Partners

2019 Celebrity Cruises Webinar December
Celebrity’s Eco-luxurious Journey’s in the Galapagos Are Back
Register Now
We Love Travel Advisors 2021
We Love Travel Advisors 2021 Guide
Read More
2021 Riviera Nayarit
Location, Location, Location, Choose Riviera Nayarit
Register Now

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI