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Surprise! Going to Cuba Just Got Easier for U.S. Climbers

Trump’s supposed new restrictions on travel to Cuba have actually made it easier for climbers to go there legally.

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President Trump may be the master of the switch-and-bait. That’s right, a reverse bait-and-switch. He can arouse his folks and goad the media, and what’s buried in the details goes undetected. Intentionally or not, he just did that on travel to Cuba.

Trump took away the category of legal travel to Cuba that created a travel surge for Americans in 2016 and 2017. So many American climbers have gone to Cuba the last two winter seasons that couldn’t keep with the climbers volunteering to take gear donations for the Cuban climbers.

Yarobys García Martínez on Huracan (5.12d). Photo:Anne Skidmore.
Yarobys García Martínez on Huracan (5.12d). Photo:Anne Skidmore.

Barely noticed, however, Trump redefined another category of legal travel, to provide Support for the Cuban People, that should make legal travel to Cuba even easier, at least for climbers.

The rules fits to a “T” the existing climber lifestyle in Viñales, Cuba’s climbing Mecca. Stay and eat in private Cuban homes. Spend your free time where ordinary Cubans go and predominate. Take climbing gear and provide donations to maintain the Cuban climbers as the primary route developers in their own country and those responsible for safe climbing anchors. Don’t do what you wouldn’t do anyway: stay in expensive hotels or go on tours run by the Cuban Army.

That basically describes what climbers, especially American climbers, have been doing in Viñales for the last two decades. Climbers launched an eco-tourism boom in the valley that today is a national park and a World Heritage site.

Viñales has over 1,000 rooms and 100 restaurants, all in Cuban homes. It may be the most prosperous, dynamic, entrepreneurial town in Cuba—and the easiest fit for travel intended to help Cuba’s rising entrepreneurs. No more claiming that climbing is an educational people-to-people exchange.

This isn’t the story in the United States media, which has focused on the end of individual people-to-people travel and the ban on the many luxury hotels and travel businesses under the control of the Cuban Army. The result may be fewer folks believing that they can still travel to Cuba. That alone could affect the convenience and price of commercial flights that have once again made Cuba a relatively cheap, short puddle-jump flight. So, there is a downside to this story.

But for most climbers the new rules are a step in the right direction. If you do your best to avoid the Cuban government and its enterprises and instead stay, eat, and interact with ordinary Cubans, Cuba is open for your climbing pleasure.

Help Bolts4Cuba crowdfunding  campaign to replace anchors and develop new routes and climbing areas in Cuba.

Also check out Ted Hesser’s photo gallery of Viñales, Cuba