HAVANA — The forbidden fruit of American travel is once again within reach. New rules issued by the Obama administration will allow Americans wide access to communist-led Cuba, already a mecca for tourists from other nations.
Within months or even weeks, thousands of people could be dancing in tropical nightclubs and sampling the famous stogies, without having to sneak in through a third country and risk the Treasury Department's wrath.
"This is travel to Cuba for literally any American," said Tom Popper, director of Insight Cuba, which took thousands of Americans to Cuba before such programs were put into a deep freeze seven years ago.
But it won't all be a day at the beach or a night at the bar. U.S. visitors may find themselves tramping through sweltering farms or attending history lectures to justify the trips, which are meant, under U.S. policy, to bring regular Cubans and Americans together.
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So-called people-to-people contacts were approved in 1999 under the Clinton administration, but disappeared in 2004 as the Bush administration clamped down what many saw as thinly veiled attempts to evade a ban on tourism that is part of the 49-year-old U.S. embargo.
Insight Cuba is one of at least a dozen travel groups that have applied for a license to operate on the island since details of the change were issued in April. If permission comes from Washington, it could begin trips in as little as six weeks, Popper said. Based on previous numbers, he believes he could take 5,000 to 7,000 Americans each year.
Many approved tours will likely be run by museums, university alumni associations and other institutions.