cheap beach vacation on flights to Cuba holiday visa

Cheap Beach Vacation: Flights To Cuba For Holiday Sharply Reduced, But Visa Requirements Still Restrictive

Searching for a cheap beach vacation in the Caribbean has gotten increasingly difficult, but flights to Cuba for holiday have just registered a sharp drop that makes the island even more accessible to those looking to soak up its rich culture and pristine playas.

On Wednesday, Jet Blue carried out the first commercial flight between the United States and Cuba since 1961. Following in its footsteps in the coming weeks are Silver Airways and American Airlines. While prices vary between the three air travel providers, round-trip tickets seem to settle at around $200. Previously, charter flights ran no lower than $700 for vacationers, reported Time.

The comparatively low price may at least be partially due to strict visa requirements curtailing demand. While traveling to historic Havana and the stunning Cuban coast will undoubtedly be popular, Americans still can’t actually go there just to lounge on the beach. Potential travelers must prove that their trip goes beyond mere vacation, as defined by a set of criteria agreed upon by the U.S. and Cuban governments.

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activities
  • Professional research or professional meetings
  • Educational activities and people-to-people exchanges
  • Religious activities
  • Public performance, 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 or informational materials
  • Travel related to certain authorized export transactions

As the visa process is new, no one is quite sure how selective it will be; but given the precarious relationship between the two countries, it’s unlikely that the requirements will be easily circumvented for a cheap holiday.

Still, even if you’re not a journalist or a diplomat, it doesn’t mean these flights are completely out your reach. As stated above, volunteering or doing research in Cuba can also land the chance to visit, and there are actually a wide range of groups that you can apply for — from environmental conservation to building community centers.

Flights are just one way that American businesses are seizing on the long off-limits market of the Caribbean’s most populous nation. Just after Obama’s historic visit to Cuba last year, Starwood Hotels — which has assets including Sheraton, W Hotels, and Westin Hotels — signed the first contract of the new era of relations between the United States and Cuba. In agreement with Cuban and U.S. authorities, they made a three-hotel deal for an undisclosed amount, with promises to pour in millions to bring them “up to our standards.”

Getting a taste of the Caribbean in 2016 is a difficult task on a budget. Areas like Tulum that were once backpacker’s paradises have now attracted hoards of wealthy foreigners, losing both their shine and accessibility. Cuba, on the other hand, seems frozen in prices from another era. Beach-front AirBnBs can cost as little as $25, with luxury listings accommodating large groups peak at around $500.

Of course, up until recently catching a flight to Cuba was only possible through illegal means. That didn’t stop many — including celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyonce — from passing their holidays in the Communist country. Over the years, many celebrities and revolutionary figures in the United States controversially visited to hold office with Fidel Castro. American officials were often critical of such trips, citing the regime’s human rights abuses documented by many international watchdogs.

If sloughing through the visa process sounds like enough to take the “holiday” out of your cheap beach vacation in Cuba, some of the airlines will take of it for a fee of $50.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]