Iowans who’ve heard the news about travel restrictions to Cuba being relaxed as of today will be disappointed if they try to book a flight. Gail Weinholzer, with AAA-Iowa, says travel agents are getting a lot of calls from people who think Cuba will be the next hot vacation destination.
For now, it will only be easier for certain people to make the trip, if they meet very specific qualifications. “You have to be visiting family, on official business of government, some educational opportunities, journalistic activity, but you have to fit under one of the 12 criteria,” Weinholzer says. “You can’t just go as a tourist and think you’ll hang out on the beach and have a good time. That’s absolutely not the case.”
One big change is, Americans will no longer be required to get a special license from the U.S. government to visit Cuba. Now, a passport will be sufficient. Also, you won’t be allowed to explore the island nation by yourself. “American visitors are required to be accompanied by an employee or a tour guide from the travel agency they purchased their trip from,” Weinholzer says. “You cannot venture off on your own regardless of whether you’re there under one of the 12 criteria.”
The process of actually getting to Cuba isn’t getting any easier, either. There are no direct flights from Des Moines to Havana, nor will there be in the immediate future. You’d have to first fly to another country like Mexico and then fly to Cuba from there. “There are a few travel agencies that actually do sell travel packages to Cuba, but it’s a bit of an expensive trip, however,” Weinholzer says. “Just to give you an idea, an average trip costs about $500 to $600 per day.”
She doubts the situation will improve further anytime soon, noting that any changes beyond what President Obama has already announced will take an act of Congress.