In 2000, the U.S. government started the people-to-people initiative, allowing Americans to travel to Cuba when they're part of cultural exchanges that include direct contact with the Cuban people. The program was suspended in 2003, but recently reinstated.

Tour companies including the one I traveled with, Insight Cuba, are licensed by the Department of Treasury. Participants must carry a copy of the company's license and a letter of authorization throughout their trip. Tours begin with direct charter flights, usually from Miami, arranged as part of the package.

The nine-day Cuban Music & Art Experience tour I took ( lets tourists explore the country's arts scene through performances, informal discussions and events in Havana and in Cuba's second city, Santiago de Cuba. Included were meals, hotel accommodations, activities, a Cuba-based tour guide, ground transportation, round-trip airfare from Havana to Santiago, and travel-related health insurance. Insight Cuba's fees don't include airfare between the United States and Cuba. Tours run throughout the year. Per-person prices for the Cuban Music & Art Experience tour start at $4,295 for double occupancy.

Contact information for Insight Cuba, a nonprofit based in New Rochelle, N.Y.: 1-800-450-2822;

St. Paul-based Global Volunteers is among the few organizations that the U.S. Treasury has authorized to conduct people-to-people programs in Cuba. The nonprofit's seven-night trips run year-round; prices start at $3,195, plus airfare from Miami to Cuba. The next trip with availability departs Nov. 24. 1-800-487-1074;