After the U.S. government eased restrictions for travel to Cuba in 2015, citizens rushed for the opportunity to see the lost-in-time beauty of the island nation. The vast majority signed up for guided group tours designed as people-to-people exchanges. These trips meet government requirements — and often cost a lot of money. But there is another way. If you want to travel the country without the restrictions of an organized group, it’s easy to plan your own people-to-people tour. Here’s how to do it:
Create a thorough itinerary
Ensure your to-do list is packed with activities that fit any of the 12 justifications approved by the government: family visits; official U.S. and other government business; journalistic activity; professional research or meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation or transmission of information; and certain authorized export transactions.
Visit museums, eat traditional foods, talk to locals. During my trip, I stayed in casa particulars, private homes I booked through Airbnb. One host let me tag along on one of her daily trips to the markets. With another, I cooked dinner while sipping local rum. One thing you can’t justify on a people-to-people tour? Lying on a beach.
Keep detailed notes
Log your activities hour by hour, including the names of Cubans with whom you spend time. Customs may ask to see this upon your return, although they didn’t of me. Receipts that document activities are also important. Keep these records for five years.
Stay open to changing your itinerary. The most interesting experiences will likely be discovered only once you’ve arrived.
Get a visa
If you are traveling to Cuba for one of the dozen reasons approved by the U.S. government, getting a visa is relatively simple. I purchased one through the airline, Delta. Others on my flight obtained them at the airport gate.