But was the island-nation ready for it?
Whether it’s the allure of sampling one of Cuba’s fabled freshly rolled cigars or sipping minty mojitos in one of Old Havana’s speakeasy-style bars, approximately 3.1 million people infiltrated the Caribbean country’s post-communist borders in 2015, a 17.6% increase compared to the same time last year.
Americans account for an estimated 147,401 of those tourists according to Cuba’s Office of National Statistics. Canada—or those traveling through our neighbors to the North—maintains the lions-share of Cuba’s tourism. Germany, France, Britain, and Italy also were major sources of visitors followed by Japan, Haiti, Costa Rica, Ireland and Poland, the study found.
While it has become far easier for American tourists to travel to Cuba since the embargo was lifted last January, an economic embargo is still very much in place for U.S. citizens, who still need approval from the Treasury Department to spend money in the Caribbean’s largest island. That said, the number of American tourists is only expected to rise in the months and years ahead following steps the Obama administration has taken to ease travel restrictions to the communist-ruled country.
U.S. citizens can legally travel to Cuba only if they are engaging in 12 categories of activities including professional research, journalistic endeavors, an athletic event, performing in a concert, working on a humanitarian project or taking part in educational activities, a restriction which makes the island a bit harder to get to.
As we begin to look at the year ahead, between a higher demand for flights and accommodations in Cuba of late to major cruise liners and air-carriers getting the green light for travel from the U.S government, the post-Castro era in Cuba is sure see an unprecedented rise in tourism in 2016. The question of how much of an influx the island nation is prepared for remains to be seen.
Michelle Gross is a Freelance Producer at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @mtothegnyc