Cuba: American tourism is slowly making a comeback

Lifting restrictions opens Cuba to travel by Americans.

The Grand Theater of Havana remains one of the architectural highlights of the city (wikipedia)

HAVANA,Cuba, Aug. 15, 2015 — Back when the United States and Cuba were not on speaking terms, many people mistakenly believed American citizens were not permitted to travel there. The specific restriction referred to spending U.S. dollars in Cuba, which, more or less, amounted to the same thing.

Today, regions such as Varadero and Holguin are rapidly regaining popularity. Old Havana, with its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with mansions, churches and colonial-style architecture that have been restored to their former magnificence. La Habana Vieja, as Havana is called in Spanish, is once again returning to its glorious past through renovations that have given a dramatic facelift to its previously tired countenance.

Nightclubs featuring traditional music and the magic of the salsa are making Havana nights lively again.

Havana at night as seen from its harbor (wikipedia)
Havana at night as seen from its harbor (Wikipedia)

With more than 3,000 miles of coastline, Cuba has some of the world’s best beaches, lapped by translucent waters and drenched by rays of the sun. Nudism is officially banned, but it has been tolerated for years and there are several beaches where naturists can obtain an all-over tan.

Brief History

In the dark days of the Bay of Pigs debacle and the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s, tourism to Cuba by Americans dried up.

Cuban flag  (wikipedia)
Cuban flag (Wikipedia)

In 1959, Fidel Castro came to power when he and Che Guevara staged a dramatic historic coup to oust Fulgencia Batista.

Castro’s assault ushered in Communist rule and, with his rise to power, tourism between Cuba and the United States was virtually non-existent for five decades.

In April of 1961, only three months after President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, the United States attempted to overthrow Castro with an invasion at a beach called Playa Giron, at the mouth of an area known as the Bay of Pigs.

The CIA had been recruiting anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami since 1960 to lead the attack. It took just three days for Cuban forces, trained by the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations, to repel the attack. In so doing, they politically embarrassed the United States.

Castro and Kruschchev after the Bay of Pigs  (wikipedia)
Castro and Khruschchev after the Bay of Pigs (Wikipedia)

To counter future attempts at Castro’s regime by the U.S., Cuba, with the aid of the former USSR and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschchev, began to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles on the island aimed at the United States. Khrushchev was also reacting in part to the United States having missiles that had been installed in Turkey.

When the secret mission was discovered, President Kennedy established a blockade to prevent Soviet ships from arriving in Cuba with their missiles. The international game of chicken lasted 13 days before the Russians backed down and a nuclear confrontation was prevented.

Since those ominous events, United States tourism to Cuba all but disappeared from what was once a haven for Americans.  In the next decades, Cuba’s tourism infrastructure declined dramatically thanks to a trade and economic embargo by the United States. Where Americans once flocked to glitzy casinos and the sensual rhythms of Havana’s music scene, the lively touristic atmosphere all but disappeared for half a century.

Changing Face of Tourism

By the 1990s the effects of the embargo, lack of resources (including the loss of Soviet subsidies and the effects of Communist bureaucracy) resulted in a renewed effort by Cuba to reopen its doors to tourism.
Though Americans were still absent, Canadians and Europeans were soon making their way to this rediscovered destination.

The Old Square in Havana  (wikipedia)
The Old Square in Havana (Wikipedia)

On Friday, John Kerry became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years. The occasion was the reopening of the U.S. embassy after the Stars and Stripes came down in 1961.

It would be misleading to say that Cuba has come all the way back from the glory days of the past. But the island nation is rapidly reviving itself. Many tour operators are now obtaining licenses allowing them to bring U.S. citizens back to this once popular travel destination. For travelers taking advantage of the new opportunities to visit Cuba, here is a brief list of things to remember before you go.

Exterior of the Grand Theater in Havana  (wikipdeia)
Exterior of the Grand Theater in Havana (Wikipdeia)

Condiments: Many visitors return from the island nation with high praise for everything except the food. In most places condiments such as ketchup, pepper, jam, cinnamon and the like are not available. If they are a must, you can bring your own.

Donations: Cubans working in your hotel make low wages and spend very little for every day personal care items. Leaving behind extra things like toothbrushes, mouthwash, toothpaste and panty hose are greatly appreciated by the housekeeping staff.

Money: Cuba has more than one official currency; the Cuban peso is used by the locals and the Cuban convertible peso is designed for tourists. Tourists are not allowed to spend Cuban pesos, so make sure you have the correct currency for your souvenirs and purchases.

Internet: The internet is highly regulated in Cuba and also relatively expensive. In addition, you need a special permit to access the internet and usage is closely monitored. In this case you might want “to leave home without it.”

Drinking water: Be careful. El Turista, otherwise known as Montezuma’s Revenge, is alive and well in Cuba. Drink only bottled water and even be careful when eating items such as fruit and salads that might have been washed off in water before being served.

Departure tax: You get to pay for the privilege of visiting Cuba with a $25 departure tax. It’s cash only so make sure you have the money available when you leave or it could be an added hassle that can spoil everything.

Contact Bob at Google+ About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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Bob Taylor
Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.