Obama's trip to Cuba lets US tourist know better the island

To make room for Obama’s entourage, tourists are being moved from Havana to Varadero, a beautiful resort and beach that’s off-limits to Americans

Americans traveling to Cuba later this month are being moved out of Havana hotels to make room for Barack Obama’s entourage and being sent tantalizingly close to a place US law effectively forbids them from visiting: the beach.

The US president will make his historic trip to the Communist-ruled Caribbean island on 21-22 March with hundreds of people in tow, crowning 15 months of warming relations after more than half a century of cold war animosity.

Cuba is already experiencing a tourism boom and March is traditionally its busiest month. The Obama visit has put additional strain on hotels that have already been booked to capacity for much of the high season.

Major Havana hotels are being cleared, according to the head of a US travel company who asked not to be identified for concern it would damage future business relations.

“Just got notice that the Capri, Panorama, Nacional, half of Parque Central and potentially other hotels have been told to send all guests to Varadero from the 19th to 23rd of March,” he wrote in an email.

The Varadero resort, an hour’s drive east of Havana, is Cuba’s most sought after tourism destination, with sandy white beaches, shimmering waters and plentiful hotels.

But the beach is off limits to Americans as US restrictions on travel to the island expressly forbid tourism in Cuba. Americans are limited to authorized travel such as educational and cultural exchanges. This means most US visitors are concentrated in Havana, where there are lots of cultural sites and activities, a rocky seafront and scarce hotel rooms.

“The Cuban government is clearing out Havana hotels and sending visiting US groups to Varadero Beach for a long weekend,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuban Educational Travel, which organizes authorized US travel groups.

“Tourism will be hard to avoid for a few days as US visitors are surrounded by white sand, turquoise water and all you can eat and drink bars and buffets,” he added. “But we will try.”

Cuban travel agencies were not immediately available for comment.

Following the US-Cuban detente announced by Obama and the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, in December 2014, American visits to Cuba soared 77% in 2015 to 161,000 visitors. Cuba is expecting a similar increase this year.

Obama, a Democrat, has loosened travel restrictions to the once-forbidden land as well as some other trade barriers. But only Congress, currently controlled by Republicans, can lift the US embargo and its ban on tourism, in place since the early 1960s.

Reuters |

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