White House Charts “New Course” with Cuba
Credit: Robin Thom

President Obama announced today sweeping changes to our policy with Cuba that will loosen travel and trade restrictions there. In ending our embargo—a Cold War Policy that has been in effect since 1961—the U.S. will re-establish an embassy in Havana and expand travel for Americans to the country.

“In summary, it makes travel to Cuba simpler, easier and less restrictive,” says Tom Popper, president of tour operator InsightCuba, on the changes.

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has systematically relaxed travel policies to the Caribbean island: any American can legally go through a licensed provider (not individually) for education and cultural exchange, but persisting heavy regulations and paperwork turned off a lot of would-be visitors. Though today’s announcement doesn’t lift the requirements, it makes travel far more accessible.

As part of the new strategy, Americans will be allowed to use their credit and debit cards in Cuba, a boon for tourists who previously could only bring cash. Telecom providers will now be allowed to establish infrastructure there, improving phone call and internet service.

Travel + Leisure included Cuba in its list of the Best Places to Travel in 2015, noting the Havana Biennial starting in May, a burgeoning restaurant scene, and itineraries by InsightCuba, G Adventures and Smithsonian Journeys as motivators even before today’s announcement.

“It’s welcome news on so many levels,” says Popper. “Go now, because this is it—this will live in the history books.”

Corina Quinn is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure. Follow her @corinaquinn.