Now Playing

Three Ways to Get to Cuba Right Now

How to get onto the island before everyone else does.



The U.S. may be opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, but don’t expect to catch a flight from SFO to Havana just yet. Leisure and tourist travel remains prohibited for the time being, as lifting restrictions for general tourism requires congressional approval. And that’s not likely to happen for a while. 

But despair not, Cubanophiles. While you don’t have free rein to relax on the beach with a mojito yet, the policy shift has still managed to liberalize travel and trade with the country, making it easier to get there and more convenient to travel within the country.

President Obama will open general licenses to travel to Cuba for several reasons—public performances, workshops, athletic competitions, human rights and humanitarian work, private foundations or institutions—which previously required a case-by-case review and approval by the government.

The ban of US credit and debit cards has been lifted, making it much easier to spend within the country. Under the new policy, licensed travelers will also be allowed to import up to $400 worth of Cuban goods, including $100 of tobacco and alcohol products. Good news for Cuban cigars and rum!

The US will re-open its embassy in Havana, incentivizing permitted tour companies to increase tours and easing some peoples’ safety concerns. Cuba will also allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations human rights officials in the country for the first time in years.

Havana, which has had some of the worst Internet access in the world, has announced it will increase affordable access to its citizens and travelers. Under the new policy, telecommunication providers will now be allowed to establish necessary infrastructure for better Internet.

The lesson for restless travelers? It’s not as easy as flying to Mexico or Costa Rica, but if you want to go, it’s doable and easier than before. And if you want to see Cuba before it transforms, it’s best to experience it before the general tourism ban lifts completely (assuming it happens, of course). These three Bay Area-based operators offer legal, ethical, and immersive trips:

Presidio-based GeoEx offers 8-day custom private trips to Cuba for up to 16 people. Travelers can work with the company to create the perfect itinerary, and land introductions to local historians, artists, and musicians.

The Berkeley nonprofit Ethical Traveler is hosting a 10-day trip in April.  Led by local journalist and Ethical Traveler executive director Jeff Greenwald, this tour focuses on art and culture, with visits to Cuba’s studios, galleries, and community art projects, as well as opportunities to collaborate with Cuban artists.

Over in the Mission, the human rights nonprofit Global Exchange has been bringing Americans to Cuba for more than 20 years. Tours connect travelers with organizations in Cuba to see what life if like for locals and hear about current issues on the ground. 


Have feedback? Email us at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Jenna Scatena on Twitter @Jenna_Scatena