If you've been planning to visit Cuba ever since former President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions to the Caribbean island nation in March 2016, you might need to pivot your vacation plans. On June 16, President Donald Trump announced a new policy that would ban American tourists from self-directed journeys, defined as "people-to-people educational trips" that operate outside of an organized tour group.
There are no immediate implications for American visitors, but the framework for the new Cuba travel rules, which will be developed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Controls, is expected to be announced in the coming months. "Right now, everything is the same as before, but that could change once OFAC publishes its revised regulations," says Deanna Ting, hospitality editor at travel media company Skift.
While the long-term policy implications are still shaking out, prospective American visitors are already facing a flurry of questions: Can I still travel to Cuba legally? What steps will I need to take to plan a future trip to Cuba? Will there be more stringent limitations for commercial flights there? Where can I find approved accommodations? And how will the tightened regulations be enforced?
To help you stay prepared for the upcoming changes, U.S. News gathered intel from travel experts. Here's a primer on potential policy shifts – and how they might impact you in the not-so-distant future.
You Will Need to Travel With a Licensed Organization
"The good news is that all 12 categories of travel, including people-to-people travel, are permitted; the embassies in both Havana and Washington, D.C., will remain open; and Cuba has not been placed back on the list of state sponsors of terror," says Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, a nonprofit organization that works with the U.S. Department of Treasury and offers legal tours to Cuba. Other authorized categories for travel to Cuba include religious activities, journalistic activity, athletic competitions and humanitarian projects.
You can zip through security
for just a $100 fee, but is the enrollment process worth it?
Still, under the new rules, Americans will be required to travel with an authorized organization on people-to-people educational trips. To plan a trip to Cuba legally, Americans will need to travel with a licensed organization that meets OFAC’s requirements. Additionally, the eligibility for each group could become more narrowly defined, explains John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based nonprofit. President Trump "could choose to be constrictive and define narrowly who is eligible within each of those categories," he says, pointing to restrictions on what entities U.S. travelers can patronize such as Cuban military-operated hotels, restaurants and businesses.
While the policy changes will negatively impact individuals looking to travel on their own, small group tours will be unaffected. "We're excited by the fact that the program we have created really does check all of the boxes that have been put forward by the Trump administration," says Gavin Tollman, CEO of tour operator Trafalgar, adding that on the company's small group tours, visitors can interact with locals and enjoy culturally immersive activities.
While tightened restrictions are underway, "the beauty of Cuba doesn't change," he adds. "Tourism is and will remain one of the most impactful ways to drive economies," he says. "I would imagine that tourism will be one of the key catalysts to make sure more and more travelers understand the world we live in," he adds. Rather than building walls, we can break down barriers through travel, he adds.
Already Booked? You Can Still Visit Cuba Legally
If you've booked accommodations or flights to Cuba, regardless if it's a personal educational trip, you may proceed with your plans. No matter whether the travel is scheduled before or after the new rules are unveiled by OFAC, they will be approved "as long as those transactions are consistent with the Obama administration's approved Cuba travel regulations as of June 16 ," Ting explains. "If you are planning a trip to Cuba right now, and haven't yet purchased your flight or booked a place to stay, I'd say you should proceed with caution," she adds.
Cruise Lines and Commercial Air Carriers Will Continue Trips to Cuba
Unlike other sectors of the tourism industry, "cruise lines will benefit from the reversal," Kavulich says. Since cruise lines (and licensed small tour operators) offer approved cultural exchange tours, they can operate as they do now. "And cruise lines could make the argument that it's easier for Americans to travel to Cuba by traveling with them since cruise passengers don't have to book any hotels; they just sleep on the ship," Ting adds.
Another silver lining: "Nothing will change for airlines or consumers regarding the booking of air travel to Cuba," Ting says. But on the other hand, if interest in visiting Cuba wanes in light of the changes, "the airlines may cut capacity even more so than they already have done," she says. Currently, major carriers such as American Airlines and JetBlue Airways offer easily accessible and cost-effective routes to Cuba.
About to embark on your first cruise? Don't make these rookie mistakes.
Some Accommodations Will Be Off-Limits
Under the new restrictions, U.S. citizens will also be unable to stay in accommodations operated by the Cuban military, which controls much of Cuba's hotels, restaurants and tourism operation. "And presumably, they can't spend any money with those hotels, or in state-owned restaurants or other businesses, either, which is extremely hard to do in a country like Cuba, where almost everything is state-owned," Ting adds. (More on that in a moment.) Instead, Americans will need to find civilian-operated hotels. American travelers will be able to stay in private houses (called a casas particulares) or an Airbnb.
"Any U.S. hotel company looking to do business in Cuba would find it extremely difficult without entering into a deal with GEASA [Cuba's Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA], and that's now prohibited under Trump's policy," Ting explains. While Marriott International's Four Points by Sheraton property is currently open in Havana, other properties that were reported to debut as part of the Marriott portfolio, including the Hotel Inglaterra and the Hotel Santa Isabel, have delayed their scheduled openings over concerns with a provision in the Trump administration's policy that restricts businesses from entering deals with the Cuban military. "While OFAC said that deals in place with military entities prior to the new regulations might be permitted on a case-by-case basis, the future of Marriott's two planned Luxury Collection properties is still an open question at the moment, as is its current Four Points by Sheraton," she explains.
You Will Need to Be Mindful About Where You Go and Where You Spend
"If [the categories are] expansively interpreted, it could put the area of all of Havana off-limits," Kavulich says. And with the government managing hotels, retailers and ground transportation, there will be increasing challenges for travelers. They will need to be careful about where they eat, where they buy rum and all activity in Cuba, he adds.
[See: 9 Ways to Travel Better.]
Another challenging component of the new policy: enforcement. "How are travelers going to be expected to know what's a state-run business or not? Essentially, Americans traveling to Cuba under the new regulations will have to be very mindful of where they're spending their money, and definitely hold onto any receipts," Ting says. While the Treasury and Commerce departments will oversee the restrictions and law pertaining to travel to Cuba, the enforcement methods and rules are still unknown.
9 Tours for Solo Travelers
Find an itinerary tailored to your preferences and goals.
With the chance to explore remote corners of the globe, step out of your comfort zone and embrace cultural immersion and self-discovery, solo forays offer gratifying vacation experiences that appeal to adventurers of all ages and interests. But embarking on a solo journey comes with its own unique set of challenges that factor into the decision-making process, from safety to logistics to pricing. Happily, trailblazing travel companies are eliminating the intimidation that often impedes prospective jetsetters from venturing on their own by empowering them to set off with like-minded travelers on enriching small-group tours. Here are a few choice itineraries to spark your wanderlust.
Corrected on July 11, 2017: A previous version of this story misstated where a tour in South Africa is located.A culture-filled adventure in Greece.
A culture-filled adventure in Greece.
If you've always wanted to see dramatic ruins, whitewashed buildings and charming villages, consider joining operator AdventureWomen on a journey through Delphi, Athens and Naxos, Greece, from Sept. 12-23. The mother-daughter tour company, managed by three pioneering women, aims to help women plan life-changing trips in exotic, safe and beautiful locations, where they can engage with other women and enjoy cultural immersion and enrichment, explains owner Judi Wineland. On the 11-day tour, you can join an interactive cooking class and explore tucked-away treasures on Mount Pelion. With transportation and perks like accommodations in four-star hotels and bilingual guides, the tour – starting at $5,695 – caters to soloists who don't want to sweat the details.Hike in the Himalayas.
Hike in the Himalayas.
For a one-of-a-kind adventure in Nepal – complete with Bengal tiger-spotting, Buddhist temple viewing and an optional flightseeing tour around Mount Everest – join AdventureWomen's 16-day itinerary from Oct. 21 to Nov. 5. On the trip, "we do river rafting, we look for tigers and rhinos and we hike," Wineland explains. What's more, all permits, lodging and local flights, along with adventure travel gear are included in the $4,995 price tag. On the journey, you'll be accompanied by a trip leader and have the opportunity to meet local Ghundruk women who are expert Nepalese weavers. Another highlight: excellent wildlife viewing at Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Take an exhilarating tour across New Zealand.
Take an exhilarating tour across New Zealand.
With otherworldly landscapes and abundant opportunities for paddleboarding, surfing, hiking and other recreational pursuits, New Zealand has long attracted those with a zest for adventure. Take advantage of the Southern Hemisphere's warmer temperatures from Feb. 26 to March 9, 2018, on an adrenaline-pumping journey with AdventureWomen. During the 12-day trip, you'll explore Waiheke Island, soak in the area's dreamy backdrops and world-class wine, and delight in stargazing on New Zealand's South Island. What's more, you can explore Great Barrier Island and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, where penguin and whale populations reside, and partake in kayaking, bungee jumping and surfing, among other activities. Pricing starts at $6,990 per person and includes meals, transportation and lodging costs.Go on a sightseeing adventure across Chile and Easter Island.
Go on a sightseeing adventure across Chile and Easter Island.
Geared toward worldly female travelers in pursuit of exotic itineraries, The Women's Travel Group features tours focused on culture, history, enrichment and exploration. "It's a group of pretty serious travelers," says Phyllis Stoller, the company's founder and president. On the 11-day expedition from Nov. 3-16 – through Buenos Aires, Santiago, Patagonia and Easter Island – all meals, lodging, national park admission fees and transportation are included. Best of all, the company negotiates single supplements – the added cost for solo travelers staying in double-occupancy accommodations alone – by pairing participants with each other. If no match is found, the company pays the cost, Stoller explains. On the tour, you can visit Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, before continuing on to Easter Island.Escape Thanksgiving and retreat to Portugal.
Escape Thanksgiving and retreat to Portugal.
If you want to get out of dodge this November, head to Portugal with like-minded companions on a weeklong trip with The Women's Travel Group. Take a picturesque tour of the UNESCO-recognized Batalha Monastery in Lisbon and explore charming sights across the Alfama quarter, including Belém Tower, before making your way to Sintra to catch sight of Pena Palace. From there, you can also embark on an expert-led tour of Colares, a coastal village. Best of all, you can count on all accommodations, breakfasts, excursions and local transportation being included. And the tour price is a reasonable $2,399 per person based on 15 participants.Discover South Africa's top historical, cultural and natural sights.
Discover South Africa's top historical, cultural and natural sights.
Cape Town and Johannesburg offer plenty of enticements for culture and history buffs, architecture enthusiasts and outdoorsy types alike. On the upcoming Women's Travel Group tour from Feb. 17 to March 3, 2018, you can check out Cape Town's must-see attractions, including Table Mountain, the District Six Museum and Robben Island. After taking in Cape Town's top sights, you'll enjoy wine tasting in Stellenbosch, admire jaw-dropping views at Victoria Falls, steal away to a lodge along the Zambezi River and explore Chobe National Park to catch sight of lions, zebra, buffalo and other magnificent wildlife. Even better, the trip price, $5,890, includes local transportation, game-viewing entrance fees, lodging and meals.Explore the rich history and ruins of Mexico City.
Explore the rich history and ruins of Mexico City.
"In Mexico City, it's an immersion trip," Stoller explains. Here, participants explore the city through an anthropological lens as they visit authentic restaurants, interact with locals and connect with other women, she adds. On the upcoming trip with The Women's Travel Group, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, 2018, you can explore Mexico's cultural history as you tour the mysterious town of Tepoztlán, known for its colorful craft market, before admiring the iconic frescos in the Palace of Cortés and the vibrant outdoor markets in Cuernavaca. Afterward, you can explore the colonial town of Malinalco, which features spectacular scenery and impressive ruins. The trip is priced at a reasonable $1,129 per person for bookings made before Sept. 15.Embark on a coastal journey through the Amalfi Coast.
Embark on a coastal journey through the Amalfi Coast.
"Tours are great if you don't have the time to plan," says Janice Waugh, publisher of SoloTravelerWorld.com. Curated small-group tours are also ideal if you haven't gone overseas often and have concerns about safety and other practicalities, she explains. She suggests picking a tour based on your interests (i.e., art, cooking or music). An upcoming weeklong tour of the Amalfi Coast from Oct. 7-13 with small-group outfitter Explore Worldwide encourages solo travelers to indulge in the area's excellent culture, scenery and cuisine with ferry rides along the coast and a tour in nearby Pompeii, Italy. Pricing starts at $1,420; you can share a room or book a single room for an added fee.Take in old and new influences in Morocco.
Take in old and new influences in Morocco.
Adventure tour operator Intrepid Travel caters to millennials in pursuit of far-off journeys with unique group-trip itineraries designed specifically for singles. On a 15-day trip through Morocco (available throughout the year), you can wander past the city walls and through the Old Medina of Casablanca, peruse the markets of Fez and take in the sights and sounds of the spice markets of Marrakesh. With most meals, activities, local transportation and accommodations included in the $1,125 rate, the tour offers an enticing option for bargain hunters. You can also get matched with a roommate for no additional fee or opt to pay the single supplement (a minimal fee) if you prefer to room alone.Read More
7 Vacation Ideas for Solo Travelers This Summer
March 26, 2019
Climb aboard these locomotives for jaw-dropping views.
March 25, 2019
Ditch the crowded streets of Rome or Milan and head to Italy's picturesque countryside.
March 14, 2019
Make sure your next getaway is both enjoyable and informative.
March 12, 2019
Plan an unforgettable trip in your own backyard or on the opposite coast.
March 11, 2019
Explore the globe in search of these intriguing historic sights.
Feb. 5, 2019
See which new properties offer surprising and fun features.
Feb. 5, 2019
U.S. News ranked 3,877 top properties for 2019. Check out the 50 best.
Feb. 5, 2019
Discover which properties offer ample amenities for children.
Feb. 5, 2019
These island properties are sure to impress travelers.
Feb. 5, 2019
Go all-in for these luxe resorts flush with amenities.