Story and Photos by Lee Daley
Renowned Cuba travel expert and author, Christopher Baker, recently regaled a standing room only audience with numerous travel tips and Cuba updated travel advice at a book signing and slide show event in Marin County, California, hosted by Book Passage and the Bay Area Travel Writers. A great raconteur, Baker fielded questions for more than half an hour after his overview of travel to the island. The author’s travel tips to Cuba were peppered with insightful anecdotes and trivia garnered from his more than 100 trips to the island. These tips and more are contained is his best-selling Moon guidebooks. Since then, travel restrictions have been re-instituted but it is still possible to legally travel to Cuba.
At the time of Baker’s talk, the author noted that as long as Americans certified they were traveling through one of 12 approved categories of Cuba travel — which include journalistic, religious and humanitarian trips — they could simply head to the island. Much has since changed, although all U.S. citizens are still pre-approved for travel to Cuba if they believe they qualify in any one of 11 difference travel license categories.
Here’s the latest update as of: 6/28/2019 – President Trump has rescinded the Obama Cuba travel initiative and restored the ban on US citizens individual travel to Cuba. Group travel on people-to-people tours is still permitted provided the traveler had already made at least one arrangement for travel prior to June 5, 2019. However, all U.S. citizens may still travel freely to Cuba under the “support for the Cuban people” category of Cuba travel, and numerous travel entities are continuing to operate group trips accordingly. For the latest status you can also check the US Department of State website.
Baker reports the following update for his photo tours: “Due to the popularity of my sold out March 2020 photo tour to Cuba for Jim Cline Photo Tours, we’ve added another date… November 9-December 3, 2020.” This exciting “people-to-people” program remains fully legal, despite President Trump’s recent changes to Cuba travel regulations, as it is grandfathered in. It is also designed to maximize “support for the Cuban people” through stays at private B&Bs, meals at private restaurants, and interactions with artists, private tobacco farmers, etc. and facilitates support for an independent society.
One of the most rewarding ways to visit the island remains under the auspices of a “support for the Cuban people” tour organized by many U.S. approved travel agencies. In fact, Baker himself leads Cuba tours for Jim Cline Photo Tours (above). However, he says others entities for which he has led tours, such as National Geographic Expeditions, are currently assessing the recent changes. Since 2017, the re-instituted Cuba travel ban includes detailed restrictions for U.S. travelers to prevent trading with a long list of Cuban enterprises, including hotels, marinas, and shops run or owned by Cuba’s military.
At this point, Americans can return to the USA with up to $100 in Cuban rum and cigars and a total of $800 in goods. In Cuba, American visitors should plan on bringing cash for personal expenditures not covered by their tour.
What you can look forward to once you are in Cuba: Vintage classic cars create an “only in Cuba” experience: One quarter of all cars in use in Cuba are mid-century vintage U S cars. Ford Edsels were manufactured in the U S for just 2.5 years and more of them are in Havana than anywhere else. Cadillacs, too, exist in Cuba more than in the US. Cubans call their vintage U.S. vehicles “yank tanks” and on your first evening in Havana, celebrate your arrival by taking a beautifully restored classic American convertible taxi to dinner. These retrofitted relics of the fifties, the Ford Fairlane 500s, Chevrolet Bel Airs or Impalas, Pontiacs and Studebakers, many with paint jobs spiffed to the nines, serve as taxis for their drivers who earn a living from tourists.
Listen to radio host Tom Wilmer’s NPR interview with Baker as he talks with Wilmer about Cuba’s classic cars by clicking here: http://christopherpbaker.com/national-geographic-expeditions-cuba-expert-christopher-p-baker-talks-nprs-tom-wilmer
Architecture: Cocooned in a time warp, parts of Havana resemble the setting for a romantic novel, a portal to the past. In Old Havana alone, more than 500 monuments exist. Few cities in the world contain the plethora of architectural periods as this vibrant capital. Fortunately many restoration projects are ongoing. Venture out for a jaunt aboard one of the city’s many antique horse-drawn carriages, a fitting perch from which to peruse Havana’s architectural glories. See also Cuba Libre? Documentary on Cuba Travel History