(This is part of the Jersey City in Havana Series, multimedia stories produced by St. Peter’s students who spent Spring Break in Cuba.)
By Annalisa Leite, Class of 2019
The sound of music and car horns fill the broken cobblestone streets. The bright and vibrant buildings filled with handmade gifts catch your eyes as you walk by. You are walking down the streets of Havana, Cuba, which is something not many people will get the chance to do.
According to the Cuban Tourism Ministry, Canadians were visiting Cuba the most, followed by Cuban Americans. There has been a sharp drop in non-Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba, due to the State Department’s newest restrictions, including bans on certain hotels and services in Cuba. However, this isn’t stopping college students from the U.S. and all around the world from traveling to Cuba.
Jessica Carlucci, a student from Wagner College, had the chance to go to Cuba, and was pleasantly surprised by what she experienced.
“What I liked most about our trip was experiencing the support and camaraderie that everyone had for each other,” Carlucci said, “It was amazing to see how the children would go out and play without supervision and not worry because they knew it was such a close knit community.”
I also had the opportunity to go to Cuba because I was taking a study abroad course, and unfortunately, that is one of the few reasons why Americans can travel to Cuba.
To travel to Cuba, U.S. citizens must obtain a special visa, such as an education visa or people-to-people support visa, which are the two most common.
Daisy Guasch, Associate Director of Admissions at Saint Peter’s University, was able to travel to Cuba with an educational visa. “We went to the airport, were the first ones on line and the lady behind the desk filled out our visa for us, easiest thing ever,” Guasch said. An educational visa to Cuba cost Guasch $50.
Although it may be easy to get to Cuba, you may find some difficulty finding somewhere to stay or shop if you are an American.
On November 9, 2017, Acting Assistant Secretary Brian McFeeters posted a public notice listing restricted entities and sub entities associated with Cuba, also noted as the ‘Cuba Restricted List”. The list includes hotels and business that Americans are not allowed to visit while in Cuba.
According to the list, McFeeters writes, “The publication of the Cuba Restricted List implements the Secretary of State to identify the entities or sub entities, as appropriate, that are under the control of, or act for or on behalf of, the Cuban military,intelligence, or security services or personnel, and publish a list of those identified entities and sub entities with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”
There are 84 hotels on the list that Americans are prohibited from visiting, most located in major Cuban tourist areas, such as Old Havana and Varadero.
Hotel Palacio O’Farrill is located on Cuba street in the middle of Old Havana. Hotel Ambus Mondos is another hotel in center of Old Havana. Both of these hotels are on the restricted lists, however, there is no way for Americans to know what is on the restricted list while in Cuba due to limited internet access, unless they do their research before they leave for their trip.
Americans also cannot use their U.S. debit or credit card in Cuba, so converting money to Cuban Pesos is necessary for all expenses.
While I was traveling in Cuba, I had the chance to look around both of these hotels. They are open air and have cafes inside of them, and are an ideal location for Old Havana. Receptionist Teresa of Hotel O’Farrill could not share much about who is staying at the hotel. “We have two hotels, our manager works at both and he is the only one who can speak about that,”” Teresa shared.
Americans are still finding other ways to visit Cuba. Cruise lines, such as Norwegian and Carnival, are taking passengers to Cuba. Chantel Estrada visited Cuba with her family through Carnival.
“I only was able to visit Cuba for a few hours, since we were only docked for one day,” Estrada said. “I loved talking to the people and being immersed in the culture. The one thing that was hard to see was the living conditions of the people.”
According to the the Cuban Tourism Ministry, 2017 was historically the best year for tourism in Cuba but has recently fallen, in the first three months of 2018, by 7 percent due to the new regulations for Americans.
American tourism may have fallen, but there are plenty of people from other countries visiting Cuba.
Melanie Oana lives in Montreal, Quebec and visits Cuba with her husband quite often. “For Canadians to travel to Cuba, we just pay $20-30 Canadians dollars to leave Canada and we just go,” Melanie said. “We usually will stay about 2 weeks in a resort in Varadero and will take bus tours to Havana.”
Oana believed that Quebec citizens travel more to Cuba then they do to Florida. “It’s a cheaper vacation and there’s a lot to do, so vacationing in Cuba is very common for French Canadians,” Oana said. Oana was not aware of all the restrictions Americans have while traveling to Cuba.
Although traveling to Cuba may be more difficult for Americans, it is worth the experience. “Cuba is a beautiful place and a strong community of people,” Carlucci said, “I was pleasantly surprised while I was there and I hope I get the chance to visit again.”