Unfortunately, some countries are closed to visitors, especially American travelers. Today, the U.S. has issued serious travel warnings to places such as Syria and Yemen, making it hard – not to mention, dangerous – for Americans to visit such destinations.
On the bright side, there are a number of spots that Americans can now visit that they couldn’t five, 10 or 20 years ago. So if you’re a travel enthusiast looking for a place that’s still slightly untouched by American tourism, check out this list below.
At the height of the Cold War, the United States placed an embargo on Cuba, partially as a response to the government’s actions in aligning with the Soviet Union. It wasn’t until 2014 that President Barack Obama and Raul Castro began discussions to end the embargo between the two countries. After a year of talks, the U.S. reopened embassies in Cuba and Americans were finally able to travel to the country. Cruises from the United States started making stops in Cuba in May 2016. And starting Aug. 31, there have been direct flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
But before you start packing your bags, take note of the following restrictions. For one, Americans can’t travel to Cuba as tourists. You must apply for a general license from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Licenses will only be granted to those traveling to Cuba for certain reasons, including family visits; official government business; journalistic, educational or religious activities; public performances; humanitarian projects; and more.
For those lucky enough to hook a license, there are some essential tidbits to keep in mind. Debit and credit cards don’t generally work in Cuba, so bring cash. There’s also a spending limit, so don’t splurge freely. Travelers can only bring $400 worth of Cuban merchandise back to the United States. And most importantly, behave. As a U.S. citizen, you’re subject to Cuban laws and their penalties might be harsher than you might expect.
Perhaps the best way to experience Cuba right now is through a people-to-people educational program. These are generally weeklong organized trips that allow Americans to visit the country for an educational purpose. This includes visiting local artists, taking dance or Spanish classes, meeting local leaders and seeing different historical sites throughout the country.
Where to stay: Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa, Varadero
Following the end of the Vietnam War, the relationship between the United States and Vietnam was a bit rocky, to say the least. And so the former enacted a trade embargo on Vietnam. Although this didn’t include a travel ban per se, it wasn’t easy for Americans to visit the country. In 1995, however, President Bill Clinton established full diplomatic relations with the country.
Today, Americans can visit Vietnam under the following regulations. In addition to a passport, Americans must apply for a visa from a Vietnamese embassy prior to travel. Since Vietnam is a communist country, U.S. travelers should also be aware that all forms of political speech – even private conversations – that are critical of the government may result in arrest or detention. This also applies to those travelers who engage in non-sanctioned religious activities.
Where to stay: InterContinental Asiana Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Ronald Reagan enforced the embargo on Nicaragua in 1985 that not only prohibited trade, but also prevented Nicaraguan planes and ships to land on U.S. soil. The travel and embargo ban was created in response to the actions of the Sandinista government at the time. That being said, it wasn’t easy for Americans to visit Nicaragua until 1990 when George H.W. Bush lifted the ban.
Today, travelers can visit Nicaragua, but should be aware of current events within the country. With the upcoming election in November, there have been several protests, which have made the government wary of foreigners. Some travelers are denied entry into the country upon arrival, while others are questioned about their interaction with Nicaraguan citizens, their research or volunteer efforts in the country, and any activity that involves political unrest. Plus, the country is subject to protests and strikes, some of which turn violent. Do your research and check warnings before booking your trip.
Where to stay: Mukul Luxury Resort and Spa, Rivas
Ten years ago, traveling to Colombia was out of the question. The country was struggling with drug cartels, kidnappings, gang violence and guerrilla warfare. In recent years, however, security has improved, especially in bigger cities such as Bogota and Medellin. Overall, there has been a boom in the travel industry that Colombia hasn’t seen in decades. Although it is safe to visit the country now, U.S. travelers should still be cautious. It’s unwise to visit rural areas where gang violence still occurs. And kidnappings and robberies (even among taxi scams) still sometimes transpire in the cities, so be vigilant at all times.
Where to stay: The Orchids Hotel, Bogota
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar used to be closed off to the world under a 50-year dictatorship. This stayed the case until 2010 when a civilian government led by President Thein Sein began to initiate change. Political prisoners were released, media censorship lightened, and eventually a pro-democracy female leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the elections in 2012. Tourism is slowly increasing here, thanks to the rich history, gorgeous attractions, and delicious food.
To visit the country today, you’ll need a passport and must apply for a visa. Travelers can also apply online rather than at an embassy, making the process a breeze. Take note that there are some areas where travel is restricted due to violence between the government and armed ethnic groups. In the past few years, there have been bombings carried out by these groups as well as violence associated with protests and demonstrations. The crime rate, however, is fairly low in Myanmar, especially towards foreigners.
In addition, travelers aren’t allowed to take pictures of anything associated with the military, including buildings and personnel. Emails and other interaction with the locals may also be monitored by the government. Oh, and don’t forget to bring crisp bills to exchange as there aren’t many ATMs and most banks won’t accept traveler’s checks.
Where to stay: Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon