Thanks to President Obama’s recent initiative to thaw relations with our geographically near (yet ideologically distant) neighbor, it’s a little easier to go but restrictions remain in place, specifically with respect to pure leisure tourism — it’s still not legal for Americans, who must travel under a general or specific (i.e., an application and a case-by-case determination) license (visa). The main changes include an expansion of general licenses to allow 12 categories of travel without specific approval, and the use of credit cards. Don’t expect to hop on a plane, grab a hotel and hit the beach on your own just yet. There is a lot of good information about travel to Cuba, including this comprehensive Q&A in The New York Times.
Unless you have family on the island, or your travel schedule is filled with full-time activities in these approved categories, your only legal options are licensed tours, many of which are described as cultural, educational or People-to-People. Some Americans travel via a third country like Canada or Mexico, but some are caught — because they let Cuban immigration stamp their passport, because they were caught connecting directly from a Cuban flight to a US-bound flight, because U.S. Customs searched them on arrival and found Cuban goods, or for reasons unknown to us. The risk seems small, but know you’re taking one by traveling this way.
There are many mainstream travel companies offering licensed tours includingTauck. But why go straight to Cuba when you can go gay? Our friend Matt Smith has a licensed group for Cuba’s Pride Week May 4-10, 2015, and a license to do custom People-to-People trips if you’re looking for something custom. As a Canadian company, Out Adventures, does not require a US License, and doesn’t have to package up its tours as educational or cultural so this is the most leisure-oriented of all the LGBT tours, with departures scheduled March 7-15 and December 27, 2015-January 4, 2016. (U.S. citizens may join at their own risk and in six years of running tours, they’ve brought a number of U.S. citizens without a problem — inquire directly with them for details.) Highlights include exploring the charm and nightlife of Havana, learning salsa in Trinidad, lying on seemingly undiscovered beaches; and dining under the stars in the middle of a tobacco field in Vinales.
Licensed trips are also scheduled in 2015 from a few of our recommended gay tour operators — Check them out on the next page
March 8-15: Cuba! Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad
Coda’s extremely popular Havana & Colonial Trinidad is back for 2015. On this all-gay adventure with Coda Tours you’ll meet with cutting-edge artists, members of the Cuban gay community and explore Havana’s art and food scenes before heading to Cienfuegos (Pearl of the South) and soaking in the languid atmosphere of colonial Trinidad.
April 14-19 Arts, Educational Exchange to Havana, Cuba
This tour honors the life and work of Tennessee Williams and facilitates meeting some of Cuba’s most creative artists. The centerpiece of the trip: an elegant reception at the National Museum of Fine Arts celebrating the Tennessee Williams Exhibit and the deep long-standing ties between the arts communities of Key West and Havana. President Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro may attend.
May 1-11, 2015 Cuban Pride Week
They don’t call it Pride Week. It’s officially the Cuban Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. But it’s a week of events, culminating in a big march/conga … so in English, we just say Pride. This licensed trip includes Old Havana, encounters with Cuban nationals — from scholars to performance artists to random friends of Matt’s, the Pride march/conga, visits to LGBT community spaces, and other queer activities, and a Pilgrimage to La Guarida, a restaurant based in the apartment where Strawberry and Chocolate was filmed.
December 28, 2015-January 2, 2016: Cuba: Santa Clara, Santa Maria Island Cay, Caibarien, and Havana
For Zoom Vacations’ third trip to Cuba they wanted to do something extra special: Celebrate New Years in Cuba. Guests will enjoy a beachside all-inclusive resort with white sand beaches, experience all the art, culinary and culture Cuba has to offer, ring in 2016 at a special New Year’s eve dinner and celebration in the historic Old Havana Cathedral Square and meet locals.