U.S. travel to Cuba booming after Obama switch

U.S. travel to Cuba is booming, despite an official ban on tourist travel.

The number of Americans visiting Cuba has risen dramatically — 36 percent — in the first few months of 2015, including a big jump among those flying into the communist nation from third countries like Mexico, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

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From Jan. 1 to May 9 of this year, 51,458 Americans visited the island, according to statistics provided to the AP by Jose Luis Perello Cabrera, an economist at the University of Havana. Of those who have visited so far this year, 38,476 have flown directly, more than the 37,459 total who visited over the same time period in 2014.

This year, 12,982 Americans have traveled to Cuba through another country, a 57 percent increase from the 8,246 who flew into the country from elsewhere during the same period last year.

The boom represents another indication of the thaw in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba that began last December, though travel to Cuba “for tourist activities continues to be prohibited,” a Treasury spokeswoman told the AP. President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions with the country in January and then recommended that Cuba be removed from the U.S. government’s list of state terrorism sponsors.

The overall number of visitors from all countries to Cuba rose 14 percent from this point last year, with more travelers visiting from Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain.