With an ever-increasing number of tour operators and cultural entities being issued licenses by the Treasury Department  to offer educational ‘tours’ to Cuba  that any U.S. citizen can sign up for, your excitement may need to be tempered with a reality check.
Sure, you may be eager to sign up for a “people-to-people” (P2P) exchange trip (see my blog post: “Licenses open door to legal travel to Cuba” ) to this otherwise off-limits island-nation remarkable for its eccentricity, eroticism, and enigma. But here are three important caveats to know:
P2P trips are no vacations
U.S. regulations require that licensed trip operators adhere to a “structured” daily regimen of educational and cultural activities that involve personal interactions with Cubans. Forget sunbathing on the beach! The operators are also required to ensure that trip participants don’t opt out on programmed activities to explore at will. Although the itineraries on offer by the licensed entities (more than 35 tour companies and similar institutions have received P2P licenses to date, but many have still to announce itineraries and dates), all will include day-long schedules such as visits to artists’ studios, tobacco farms, cigar factories, and other institutions that provide an insight into Cuban culture.
P2P trips are all-inclusive and pricey
The P2P regulations mandate that all trip members travel as a group on government-approved air charters from the USA (typically via Miami ). Cuba charges such carriers a huge landing fee, so mile for mile they’re probably the most expensive flight you’ll ever take. Add to that the fact that accommodations are typically in top-end hotels, such as Havana’s Hotel Nacional  or Iberostar Parque Central  (formerly NH Parque Central), plus all-inclusive meals, etc. are factored in. As a result, the P2P trips aren’t cheap. National Geographic Expeditions’ 10-day “Cuba: Discovering its People & Culture”  trip is priced at $4,995 per person. You usually get what you pay for: low-priced P2Ps may involve staying in truly inferior hotels that in some cases border on self-abuse. Of course, the National Geographic Expeditions  trips are the cream of the crop.
Sorry, no extensions!
Don’t even think of asking if you can stay on after the P2P trip. The answer is emphatically “NO!” Your PSP provider, such as National Geographic Expeditions , must warrant to the Treasury Department that all trip participants will adhere to the regulations, which require that all trip members travel to and from the USA as a group. Please adhere to these regulations, not least to avoid placing your host operator (and yourself) in violation at the risk of a hefty fine.
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