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U.S. Eases Its Warning Against Travel to Cuba

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By Laura Dannen Redman, Condé Nast Traveler

The U.S. State Department no longer thinks American travelers need to reconsider travel to Cuba, dropping the threat level from 3 to 2 ("exercise increased caution") this week; on a scale of 1-4, it's the same warning issued for travel to France, Germany, and Italy.

The shift in attitude is encouraging for travelers: The U.S. government had issued a flurry of warnings against Cuba visits following a series of "health attacks directed at U.S. embassy employees" in Havana in January. Some two dozen government workers and their families were evacuated after so-called sonic attacks—suffering "hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, and difficulty sleeping"—though the source of the symptoms remains a mystery. That broad warning against travel to Cuba "roiled relations" with the island nation, "which immediately fell under suspicion, and led the United States to expel Cuban diplomats," wrote Traveler's Paul Brady. The U.S. government has since concluded that the average traveler is not at risk.

“The Department conducted a comprehensive risk assessment for U.S. private citizen travelers in Cuba and decided that a Level 2 travel alert was appropriate,” Orna Blum, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told the Miami Herald. “The health attacks appear to be directed at U.S. government personnel and occur mainly in the residences of embassy staff," including a long-term apartment at the Atlantic and rooms at the Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana. Family members still aren't allowed to join U.S. government workers in Cuba.

American tourism to Cuba dropped off sharply following the January warning—by nearly 23.6 percent in the first six months of the year, reports the Miami Herald. But tour operators and cruise ships have continued to book trips to Havana, Cienfuegos, and other Cuban cities. In early August, Seabourn announced it would start sailing to Cuba for the first time late next year, in addition to routes run by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and ships such as the Carnival Paradise and Holland America’s ms Veendam.

Some tour agencies had sharp words for the Trump administration, calling the original threat level 3 designation "excessive." “It is a breath of fresh air in a highly politicized process of confusion, anxiety, and speculation which led to an excessive measure by the State Department,” Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, said in a statement. “Cuba continues to be one of the safest countries in the world to visit and hundreds of thousands of Americans—and millions of global travelers—enjoy all that it has to offer each year with no health or security risks to note.”

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