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Cuba-US relations

GOOD NEWS FOR CUBAN TOURISM – AND THE MOMENT THE REST OF THE CARIBBEAN HAS BEEN DREADING

Simon Calder - www.independent.co.uk/

President Obama is the US leader who has kissed and made up with Cuba. The historic changes he announced at noon, Washington and Havana time, on 17 December will have profound beneficial effects on both countries. And when the dust has settled on the prisoner swaps and diplomatic rapprochement, some of the most significant effects will be on travel – transforming the tourist geography of the Caribbean.

How does tourism work in Cuba now?

Remarkably well, given the fact that it is an island that has undergone tremendous economic stress, and remains a one-party state with many challenges as a result of the US embargo. 

Cuba opened up for mass tourism in the early 1990s, as the Soviet Union’s collapse left the island almost destitute. Since then, it has been the preserve of Europeans, Latin Americans and Canadians.

Visitors are free to travel where they wish (except into the US base at Guantanamo Bay), and stay where they like - including, on a budget, in casas particulares (private houses). Red tape is minimal, comprising a tourist card that is issued with little formality.

Most travellers are on package holidays, under the auspices of the various agencies of the tourism ministry, Mintur. Thanks to internal and external competition, facilities and standards in the main resorts such as Varadero and Guardalavaca are steadily improving. 

Yet the most rewarding holidays are generally those that begin in the fascinating capital - Havana is by far the largest and most interesting city in the Caribbean - then explore more widely. From the strange limestone landscapes in the west, you can travel via a succession of exquisite colonial towns and through rugged hills to the tranquil far east. Cuba is very safe, and very friendly. And compared with other Caribbean nations, prices are extremely competitive.

Post-scriptum: 
Relaxation of travel restrictions will transform the tourist geography of the Caribbean, says Simon Calder

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