Online searches for trips to Cuba are up a staggering 95 per cent following US President Barack Obama’s plans to re-develop relations between the two countries.
Tourists are being warned that if they want to see ‘the real Cuba’ they should book their trips now, before the Caribbean country becomes ‘Americanized.’
President Obama announced a ‘new chapter’ in US relations with Cuba, with plans announced by the White House include easing access for US citizens, lessening financial restrictions, and lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.
And while the landmark thaw is relations signals a positive future for Cuba, travelers looking to explore the ‘time warp’ nation are being urged to go now, before it changes forever.
As part of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the US will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments. The US is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official US government business and educational activities.
Tourist travel remains banned for Americans, although the relaxing of regulations have led many to believe that this could well be the next issue to be reviewed.
TravelSupermarket travel expert Bob Atkinson is urging anyone who is thinking of visiting Cuba to book sooner rather than later.
Speaking to MailOnline Travel, Mr Atkinson said: ‘It really is a unique place to visit, and once it becomes fully open to the Americans, they will without doubt pile in.
‘Havana was seen as a party destination for Americans years ago, such was its close proximity to Florida.
‘However you look at it, opening up to the Americans will change the way it feels and I think this will be to the detriment to the culture and heritage of the place.
‘I would urge anyone who is thinking of visiting Cuba to book now; there is something about Cuba that you just can’t put your finger on.
‘I would say go now, as you cannot be sure the culture and heritage of Cuba will remain as it is now.
‘Looking at searches on December 10/11 against December 17/18, following Obama’s announcement of a new approach, searches to the destination were up 95 percent week on week.’
As one of the popular Caribbean destinations for travelers around the world, Cuba also remains one of the most affordable, and there is a good choice of flights available from the UK.
Natasha Lee, head of product at letsgo2.com, added: ‘Cuba is set to change now that relations with the USA are warming up. While Cubans will doubtless fiercely protect their national identity, customs and traditions – the authentic aspects of Cuba so loved by holidaymakers – change will come.
‘First time visitors and those already familiar with Cuba and her charms may be best to visit now and experience the island before the pace of change speeds up.’
Explore, the adventure travel specialist, is encouraging customers to travel to Cuba sooner rather than later to experience the country’s unique character and charm before it changes forever.
Ashley Toft, managing director of Explore has travelled to Cuba on a number of occasions and has mixed emotions about the news.
‘On the one hand it is very evident that change will come at some stage, and that the younger generation of Cubans are waiting for that to happen. While they have excellent education and healthcare, there is still real poverty, and they lack things that we all take for granted such as a choice of goods to buy (food is mostly from ration shops) and access to the internet and to world news.’
He goes on to add: ‘On the other hand, part of the charm and intrigue of Cuba as a travel destination is that it is ‘stuck in time’, with few shops, no global brands and of course a huge number of old gas guzzling 50’s American cars on the roads.
‘I have no doubt that change will happen quickly once diplomatic relations start to build, and especially if congress agree to start lifting sanctions, which looks likely to happen now,’ he added
‘All these things will take some time, but if you want to see Castro’s Cuba before change starts to happen and I would really recommend travelling soon.’
Gordon Steer, UK manager for World Expeditions, said: ‘We are thrilled that this historic announcement coincides with the re-introduction of Cuba in our program.
‘Although the development does not signify any changes in the immediate future for travelers, it does open the door to major developments in the country’s tourism industry and infrastructure to accommodate the increased interest and accessibility.
‘Travelling to Cuba today often feels like stepping back in time – internet access is limited and slow, there are no shopping centers and department stores, all cars go back to the 1940s and 1950s, you will not find any international fast food or coffee chains and all hotels are, either fully or partly, owned or run by the Cuban state.
‘But as the relations between the two countries improve, change will come. At World Expeditions, we hope that Cuba will move away from being a largely all-inclusive destination to offering more opportunities to independent and adventure travelers so they can visit more pockets of this beautiful country and enjoy more authentic experiences.’
Licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the US with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.
The US is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 per quarter, or every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Secretary of State John Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror.
Obama does not have the authority to fully lift the long-standing US economic embargo on Cuba, given that Congress enacted that policy. However, officials said he would welcome lawmakers taking that step.