02/06/2012 07:17 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2012

How To Travel From The US To Cuba Now (PHOTOS)

At Travelzoo, we come across deals to exotic spots around the globe all the time -- Kenya, the Galapagos, New Zealand, Tahiti, to name a few -- but one destination a short plane flight away has remained elusive over the years.

For years, U.S. citizens have not been able to fly legally to Cuba from the United States. Some travelers found their way around the ban, slipping in through Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. This was time-consuming, costly and a bit risky.

In the past year, the Obama administration has eased travel restrictions, making it easier for cultural, religious and education travel from the States. Under these "people-to-people" licenses, only a small number of U.S. companies have been approved to bring travelers.

Trips to Cuba aren't a typical Caribbean beach vacation; there are plenty of vacation deals to the Dominican Republic or Jamaica if that's what you want. The schedules planned by these approved travel companies are busy with cultural activities such as visits to Cuban artists' studios and trips to schools to learn about the Cuban education system. The itineraries ensure that you'll interact with dozens of Cubans and return home with a better understanding of the country's culture.

Looking for a deal to Cuba? Despite these changes, deals are still rare. Airfare is chartered, and with the U.S. government paperwork required, it is nearly impossible to put a trip together yourself. But deals can be found.

Friendly Planet, one of the approved travel companies to bring U.S. travelers, currently has two programs (which include the Cuba entrance visa and all U.S. government paperwork). The four-night getaway costs $1,899 per person, based on double occupancy; similar packages from other licensed companies are selling for at least $2,400.

Highlights of the trip include meeting with experts on U.S.-Cuban relations; learning to salsa at a weekly block party; visiting a neighborhood known for its Afro-Cuban culture; seeing a cigar factory (and learning about the hand-rolling process); and meeting farmers in the Las Terrazas area. Plus, you'll visit with a historian at the mansion and museum of Ernest Hemingway.

So, if you are looking to get a deal, get a tan and a get an education -- all on the same trip -- keep an eye on Cuba in the coming year.

-- Angela Tablac is based in Miami, Florida and is one of Travelzoo's 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.

American Tourism to Cuba

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