How to travel to Cuba with 'support for the Cuban people' category

Travel specialist: 'Cuba is a hidden gem; It will not stay that way'

The U.S. Embassy along Malecon Seaside Avenue in Havana, Cuba, on Aug. 12, 2015.
The U.S. Embassy along Malecon Seaside Avenue in Havana, Cuba, on Aug. 12, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

MIAMI – For the last few years, Miami-based travel agencies have successfully been using one of the 11 categories of authorized U.S. travel to Cuba. It's known as the Support for the Cuban People category. 

President Donald Trump administration's new ban on the Educational Travel category and the use of cruise ships, which began in May 2016, hasn't really affected their business model. 

Cuba Candela, a travel agency based out of downtown Miami, has been providing legally compliant custom tours that fit the category since 2016.

"We have heard from many other tour operators that they will also now amend their operations," Chad Olin, Cuba Candela's founder, said Wednesday during a Facebook Live session.  

Olin said he was encouraging any cruise line customers facing cancellations to find a travel agency that can rearrange the trip under the new category. The new plan will require flying to the island, but Olin said there is no better time to do it.

"Cuba is one of the most amazing countries that you can visit in the entire world. You can still go legally and now is the best time to visit," Olin said. "There is a lot of confusion about what all of these travel rules mean, and as a result of that you can have an intimate experience."

Chad Olin is the founder of Miami-based Cuba Candela travel agency.
Chad Olin is the founder of Miami-based Cuba Candela travel agency.

Olin said the category requires a full-time schedule of activities, but officials haven't defined the specifics of the timing. His agency's interpretation looks at the three types of activities allowed, which includes promoting the Cuban people's independence.

Olin said this could be done by staying in a private home overnight and having a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule of activities. The activities that support private businesses can include eating in a private restaurant, hiring a private driver, hiring a salsa teacher and visiting galleries with a private art curator.

"You can have some free time associated with a full-time schedule," Olin said. "Now to be safe, you should have a full day of activities with the Cuban people -- supporting private businesses."

Olin said he recommends Airbnb experiences in Cuba and said U.S. travelers need to avoid "excessive recreational beach time," which is limited under the categories allowed. Travelers need to remember having cash is important. 

"If you don't have the cash with you is very difficult to get the cash in Cuba," Olin said. "It's almost impossible because U.S. debit and credit cards do not work." 

Olin suggests travelers take U.S. dollars instead of Euros.  Even though the conversion fee for U.S. dollars to Cuban currency is higher than Euros, the cost of converting U.S. dollars into Euros in the U.S. tends to offset any savings.

To remain compliant with the category restrictions, travelers need to avoid transactions with any Cuban military-owned businesses including the use of the public transportation system. Travelers also need to keep the records of their trip for about five years. 

 "Cuba is a hidden gem. It will not stay that way," Olin said. "We will be promoting the cause of U.S.-Cuba engagement as much as possible. We stand with the Cuban people in the work that we do and we are extremely excited for this opportunity to help people navigate these confusing times."

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