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Mon Apr 8, 2019, 12:14 PM

My recent visit to Cuba [View all]

I'll bet most folks don't know that it's possible for Americans to travel to Cuba without sneaking in through another country. There are several 'loopholes' in Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations which allow this, and without going into much detail two of the most commonly used criteria fall under the category of educational visits. Several cruise lines are taking advantage of this and offering cruises with a stop in Cuba while tailoring shore excursions to meet OFAC requirements, this is how I did it.

Going to Cuba on a cruise has both advantages and disadvantages. It's very easy, and all the paperwork is taken care of for you, but on the down side you only have one day in Cuba. It's also possible to book multi-day tours which meet OFAC requirements, or even plan out your own itinerary which could include staying at a B&B.

My 'educational' activities in Cuba included a walking tour of Old Havana (Old Havana is a 'must-see' with it's gorgeous old architecture, street performers, and tons of history), watching a ballet performance by a local ballet company in Old Havana, having lunch at a local restaurant (the Cuban version of Cola was VERY good because it's made with real cane sugar and not HFCS like we get here), taking a ride in a 1955 Pontiac, and shopping at a small local store (I brought back 12 liters of rum - more on that later, several Cuban cigars for gifts, and a Cuban National baseball cap for my son).

In the evening I went on an optional trip to the Tropicana night club which was fabulous. The show included over 100 singers and dancers, I was absolutely amazed at the quality of the production.

I was somewhat surprised that our tour guides were willing to openly discuss ANYTHING with us. They naturally told us about all the good points of Cuba, but didn't sugarcoat their problems either. Cuba has free education (all the way to a PhD - you just have to pass entrance exams to qualify) with the stipulation that you work for two years at a job where the government places you (for instance there may be a shortage of nurses in a rural area so a newly minted nurse might be asked to work in a rural town for the two year commitment). Cuba also has a well regarded medical system which is also free.

The streets were all very clean, I saw virtually no litter anywhere. I later found out that recycling is mandatory.

Nobody we spoke to tried to sugarcoat the fact that wages are low for many professionals, and sadly some are leaving their field and instead working in the tourism industry where they can make a better living. (One of our guides had a veterinary degree). Also, many buildings in Havana have seen their better days - a result of a combination of things including salt spray, tropical storms, and economic conditions.

One common misconception about Cuba is that they only have old, broken down American cars which are horribly difficult to keep running because of a lack of parts. True, there are many old American cars, but that seems to be a niche for enthusiasts. Most of the cars on the road are compact imports.

The US government allows citizens to bring back up to $800 in merchandise, including 1 liter of liquor and 100 cigars, duty free. Anything beyond that and you have to pay an import duty (which is only 4%). Coming through Customs when I got home I had my 12 liters of Cuban rum in a wheeled cart, in plain sight, and fully prepared to pay the import duty. The Customs officer just looked at my passport and sent me and my Cuban rum on our merry way.

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Reply My recent visit to Cuba [View all]
groundloop Apr 2019 OP
malaise Apr 2019 #1
brooklynite Apr 2019 #10
malaise Apr 2019 #11
brooklynite Apr 2019 #14
The Mouth Apr 2019 #18
malaise Apr 2019 #24
brooklynite Apr 2019 #29
LanternWaste Apr 2019 #34
LanternWaste Apr 2019 #32
AncientGeezer Apr 2019 #26
malaise Apr 2019 #27
AncientGeezer Apr 2019 #30
Bonx Apr 2019 #42
lunatica Apr 2019 #2
ProudMNDemocrat Apr 2019 #3
groundloop Apr 2019 #33
zipplewrath Apr 2019 #4
livetohike Apr 2019 #5
elleng Apr 2019 #6
FM123 Apr 2019 #7
Greybnk48 Apr 2019 #8
whopis01 Apr 2019 #9
dhill926 Apr 2019 #21
whopis01 Apr 2019 #28
dhill926 Apr 2019 #37
Brother Buzz Apr 2019 #12
hunter Apr 2019 #13
zentrum Apr 2019 #15
sinkingfeeling Apr 2019 #16
HelenWheels Apr 2019 #17
secondwind Apr 2019 #19
DFW Apr 2019 #20
lpbk2713 Apr 2019 #31
DFW Apr 2019 #35
panader0 Apr 2019 #38
DFW Apr 2019 #39
panader0 Apr 2019 #43
DFW Apr 2019 #45
Karadeniz Apr 2019 #22
Paladin Apr 2019 #23
SunSeeker Apr 2019 #25
onenote Apr 2019 #36
groundloop Apr 2019 #40
onenote Apr 2019 #41
onenote Apr 2019 #44