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What the recent Cuba news means for travelers

With the recent thawing of America-Cuba relations, Cuba could be the new beach destination for Americans. It is the largest island in the Caribbean and one with breathtaking scenery. However, the travel ban is still not completely lifted.

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    Tourists rest and listen to a Cuban musician sitting on the wall of the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations, a historic shift that could revitalize the flow of money and people across the narrow waters that separate the two nations.
    AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa/File
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With the recent news that US and Cuban relations will begin to normalize going forward with the prisoner swap, my first thought as a travel writer is: when's the first plane to Cuba?

According to Quartz, we Americans are already traveling to Cuba: over 98,000 in 2012 alone.  While this isn't close to the number of tourists that hop aboard a cruise ship in Miami each year, since 2011 Cuban-Americans and a select number of travel agents have been able to travel to the Caribbean island.  And, the island saw about 2.8 million visitors from the world in 2010 (more than Costa Rica).

This recent news does not automatically lift the ban for Americans looking for a new beach destination in Cuba – there are a number of bureaucratic steps that need to happen before there are direct flights from the States.  Instead, it gets us a big step closer.  According to an AP article today, Carnival Cruise's CEO says that Cuba is an "exciting opportunity."  Since it is the largest island in the Caribbean, new to most cruisers, it should be.  Cruise lines have resorted to creating their own ports, like private islands in the Bahamas or beaches in Haiti, in order to entice visitors with a new destination.  This is an entirely new island!

Recommended: Where do things stand at Guantánamo? Six basic questions answered.

Airlines like American already fly to Cuba, in the form of chartered flights for sanctioned visitors (mostly academics, Cuban-Americans, and cultural visitors, like Jay-Z).

However, until the travel ban is completely lifted, get this:  as a visitor starting today, you can now bring up to $400 in Cuban goods back to you, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. No doubt, more Cuban cigars will be hitting American shores soon.

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