Sean and Bow from Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane, Wa. just returned from Turneffe Flats, Belize. Turneffe is one of the few destinations in saltwater, where it seems everyone can be happy. Anglers, nature lovers, snorkelers, and divers come to Turneffe and always seem to enjoy themselves. Read below to get the full trip report:
Cayo Cruz is located at the eastern end of the Gardens of the King archipelago bordering the north coast of Cuba. This whole area has long been pristine and protected. Some anglers in the know come here just for the great shots at Permit, often swimming in the company of rays. Others also know that the average Bonefish from this area is large.....many fish are between 5 and 7 pounds. And still others wait for the annual Tarpon migration, when big fish fill the channels and cuts between the islands, and are susceptible to the fly.
Right now, anglers have 2 choices when fishing Cayo Cruz. They can, all through the year, stay at La Casona in the small town of Brasil, and make the daily hour long voyage to and from the flats. Or, through Spring and Summer, they can board the Avalon 1 yacht which anchors near some of the best Tarpon channels.
All of that will change this Fall. New resorts have been under construction at Cayo Cruz, and will be open for business as of October 1, 2017. With five star ratings, guests will not only be comfortable, they will also be two minutes from the marina where they will board their flats skiffs each morning. With these new arrangements, the outfitter is offering promotional rates for Cayo Cruz that are very attractive. Contact me soon.....these weeks should fill quickly.
October 1, 2017 - March 31 2018
$3500 per person based on double occupancy and shared skiff
$4500 per person in single skiff
7 nights/6 days fishing
Program is Saturday to Saturday, and includes transfers to and from Cayo Coco to Cayo Cruz, all room and board (4 drinks per angler each day in boat)
Still out there on the show circuit, as it is that time of year. I have done Denver and Somerset, and although they have had some typical show moments, they have been overall really nice. For industry folks, shows are always a great opportunity to re-connect with others that you only get to see occasionally. I really enjoy seeing folks from lodges, or other fly shops around the country, and having a chance to compare notes.
The Lynnwood show is one of the smaller venues around the country, and runs just Saturday and Sunday. Again, I am doing CUBA presentations, highlighting both travel for US citizens, and the details of fishing in Cuba. Presentations are both days, at 3pm, in room D. If you are in the great Puget Sound area, I hope you will attend. If you don't see me in the theater, I will be working at the Outcast boat booth surrounded by the latest and great in inflatable fishing craft!
I know I have said it before......finding space to fish in Cuba on short notice is difficult. That said, we have been in contact with the outfitters to get the latest on any openings or specials. Listed below is what is currently available, and there are some great opportunities! Of particular note are the weeks at CAYO LARGO and aboard the TORTUGA where prices are significantly reduced.
The Zapata Peninsula
If you are interested in experiencing some of Cuba’s most diverse and economical fishing opportunities, Zapata National Park may be your place. The expansive flats that extend from this huge mangrove swamp provide an amazing saltwater fishery, particularly for bonefish. With most of the flats being hard sand or coral, plenty of good wading options are available. Additionally, anglers can cast from skiffs while stalking bonefish that average between 3 and 5 pounds. There are also good chances for permit here, particularly on the outer edges of these vast flat expanses. Resident tarpon can also be found in the slightly deeper water of the channels and lagoons. Guests will stay aboard the 100 foot live-aboard yacht, Georgiana.
March 4-11 8 rods
Rate $26,000 for up to 8 anglers.
Cayo Cruz features one of the most healthy, untouched and pristine marine environments in Cuba. Located on the northern central coast, this newer destination from Avalon is still being explored and producing impressive results. This fishery is defined by great wading opportunities and fantastic fishing for large bonefish, permit and migratory tarpon in season (April-June). Anglers will stay aboard Avalon’s live-aboard yacht, Avalon Fleet I.
March 31-April 7 8 rods (2 per skiff)
April 21-28 6 rods (2 per skiff)
Rate: Contact for rate
Gardens of the King
The area around Cayo Santa Maria has an established track record for providing amazing tarpon opportunities. Located on the northern coast of the country, approximately a 4.5-hour drive due east of Havana, this area known as the Jardines del Rey (Gardens of the King) is a prime destination for both resident and migratory tarpon. Some opportunities for bonefish and permit are available as well. This diverse region offers flats, beaches, deep channels and mangrove estuaries. Most fishing takes place from the boat. The best time to visit Santa Maria for migratory tarpon is March through July, with peak months being April through June. Anglers stay at the large, all-inclusive resort Iberostar Ensenachos. Santa Maria is also one of Cuba’s more budget-friendly options.
April 22-30 4 rods
June 3-11 6 rods
Rate: $5320 per person
Jardines De La Reina
The Jardines de la Reina (JDR), which translates to the “Gardens of the Queen”, is located off the southern central coast of the country. This massive archipelago is formed by some 600 cays and parallels the Cuban coastline for nearly 100 miles. It alone is bigger than the entirety of the Florida Keys. The JDR is a vast and prolific marine sanctuary and is serviced by Avalon exclusively, meaning it’s likely you will never see another fishing boat other than those from your own party. This area offers anglers true variety and fantastic biodiversity. Both migratory and baby tarpon, permit, bonefish, jacks, snapper and barracuda are all available. Anglers access the fishery aboard Avalon’s floating hotel called
La Tortuga or aboard one of several motherships located in the area.
June 24-30 12 rods (2 per skiff)
July 8-16 12 rods (2 per skiff)
Rate : Contact for rate
Cayo Largo offers an immaculate and highly productive flats fishery coupled with great options for those interested in a wide range of resort-based activities. Absent of commercial fishing pressure, Cayo Largo (Long Cay) is a meticulously managed biosphere preserve and the area is designated “fly fishing only”. Trips to Cayo Largo avoid the confines of a mothership and give guests the ability to explore the island’s beaches, tours and dynamic ecosystems. The primary targets for anglers include large bonefish and permit. Migratory tarpon are available during the months of April through mid July. Anglers stay at The Sol Club, a large (296-room) all-inclusive resort complete with several restaurants, swimming pools, activities, eco-excursions and amenities. Suitable for families and couples, Sol Club provides a perfect home base for general vacation tourism and world-class saltwater angling.
June 16-23 6 rods
July 14-21 12 rods
June: Contact for rate
July: Contact for rate
Island of the Youth
Island of the Youth is the largest of all the islands surrounding the Cuban mainland. Located off the southwest coast, access to the island is via a short commuter flight from Havana. IDJ is renowned for being a prime tarpon fishery, having resident fish all the year, and large migratory fish in the months of April-July. With access to the many islands of the Canarreos Archipeligo, there are also bonefish and some permit to be found here. Guests will stay aboard the intimate yacht Perola which will anchor near the best fishing.
June 2-9 6 rods
Rate: Contact for rate
In case you are in the New Jersey, New York market, I hope you will find time to visit the very fine fly fishing show put on every year in Somerset. This destination gets rave reviews from manufacturers, retailers, and lodges as being one of the best shows in the country. I will be doing 5 presentations during the 3 day show. Several of them are about Cuba, and the others a primer to fishing in Patagonia. I hope to see you! Here is the schedule:
Friday January 27th: 11am-12pm on Cuba at the Adventure Theater & 3pm-4pm on Patagonia at the Westfield Room
Saturday January 28th: 3pm-4pm on Cuba at the Bedminster Room
Sunday January 29th: 1pm-2pm on Cuba at the Bernardsville Room & 3pm-4pm on Patagonia at the Westfield Room
In the case that any of you readers are in and around the Denver area, remember that the annual Fly Fishing Show is this weekend at the Denver Mart. Along with a host of other exhibitors and presenters, I will be at the show to talk about Cuba. I will have a presentation each of the days, and am concentrating my talks on what US travelers need to know about traveling to Cuba, as well as the differences in each of the angling destinations. Show times are 1:00pm on Friday, 4:00pm Saturday, and 2:00pm Sunday. Hope to see you there!
The Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Washington is leading a group of adventurous anglers to Bolivia in 2017. Their quarry........GOLDEN DORADO! Details below.
PLUMA LODGE, BOLIVIA - HOSTED BY SILVER BOW FLY SHOP
JUNE 1-11, 2017
Destination: BOLIVIA - Pluma Lodge
Dates: June 1-11, 2017
Group Host: Sean Visintainer of Silver Bow Fly Shop
Capacity: 8 Anglers
Price: $7600 plus $670 native fee per person double occupancy
2 SPOTS OPEN
LOCATION AND ACCOMMODATIONS
The remote Bolivian jungle is a long way from most visiting anglers. Anglers fly to Santa Cruz Bolivia where they overnight, and then transfer to the lodge via 6 seat aircraft. The fishing program, designed by Untamed Angling, is varied and interesting. Accommodations are beautiful, with all guest cabins, walkways, and common areas built from native hardwoods. The transfer to the lodge from the airstrip is adventurous, and includes a ride upstream by canoe, and a 10 kilometer ride via jeep through the jungle.
The staff at Pluma is very accommodating. Guides are made up almost entirely of Argentines who speak fluent english. Each day is different, with paired up anglers assigned a different beat of the Pluma, the Secura, or one of the smaller tributary rivers. Guests are accompanied by one fishing guide, and two native boatmen who either motor or pole a dugout canoe with amazing skill. The terrain and rivers are varied, so guests will fish both from the canoes, and while wading. With bouldery stream crossings, and soft sand banks, this is arduous fishing. Guests should have at least a moderate level of fitness.
The Golden Dorado in this region are mostly migratory. They arrive each year following the migration of the "Sabalo," which is a baitfish the Dorado hunt. Anglers use flies that imitate the Sabalo, almost always on floating lines cast by 8 or 9 weight rods. These Golden Dorado strike viciously and fight with acrobatic jumps. Fish here range from 5-40 pounds, with numerous fish in the 15-20 pound class caught by anglers every trip. They are among the most beautiful predatory fish anglers will ever encounter, with their stunning yellow, orange and black coloring vibrant against the colors of the river and jungle surroundings. Pacu and Yatorana are also present, and highly sought after by the guides and natives. The Pacu is often called the "Permit of the Amazon" because of its finicky nature and hard fight.
CUBA, as you have heard me say before, can be difficult to book. The combination of high demand and limited space simply can make spots hard to come by. We at FlyWater are hosting several trips in the coming year, as are several fly shops here in the Pacific Northwest. A few of them have limited open spots. See below for dates and number of spots open.
ZAPATA is a Bonefish mecca. However, both Permit and Tarpon, as well as Snapper, Jacks and Barracuda are available.
MARCH 25-APRIL 1, 2017 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
APRIL 29-MAY 6, 2017 1 SPOT AVAILABLE
Price for both trips is $4595 per person based on double occupancy
Hosts for these two trips are FLY & FIELD OUTFITTERS from Bend, Or., and THE GIG HARBOR FLY SHOP from Gig Harbor, Wa. Both trip leaders have extensive experience as anglers and guides, and have fished in many flats destinations around he world. Better yet, they are both great guys to be around, and excellent at making certain that your experience is as good as you expect.
The ZAPATA area of Cuba is known for having extensive habitat for saltwater flats fish. Bonefish are the prevalent species here, and anglers will fish for them both from skiffs and while wading. Both Permit and resident Tarpon also love Zapata, as do Snapper, Jacks, and Cuda. Guests will share skiffs for part of their week, and fish solo the other part. Included are 6 full days of fishing, room and board on the yacht Georgiana (limited number of drinks provided), and round trip transportation from Havana.
GARDENS OF THE KING
APRIL 22-APRIL 30, 2017 5 SPOTS AVAILABLE
Price is $5420 per person based on double occupancy
JUNE 24-JULY 2, 2017 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
Price is $4560 per person based on double occupancy
GARDENS OF THE KING is located on Cuba's north coast, and is about a 4 and a half hour bus ride from Havana. Guests will all stay at the beautiful, all inclusive Iberostar Ensenachos resort. This is a very comfortable hotel, complete with several bars and restaurants, swimming pools, and white sand beach.
Guests will share skiffs, and normally take turns fishing from the bow of the boat. GOK is unique, and for some reason seems to have Tarpon all year around, outside of just residents. In Spring and Summer, more large Tarpon arrive during their annual migration, and fish ranging from 30-150 pounds are found in channels, flats, and bays. Bonefish and Permit are available here as well, but this area is mostly known for its very good Tarpon fishing. The April trip is currently not hosted. The trip in June will be hosted by Jon Covich, of FlyWater Travel. Jon has made many trips to Cuba, and has fished GOK as well as every other marine area on the island. He is also knowledgeable about travel around Cuba. Included in the price of these trips is one night in Havana, travel to and from Gardens of the King, six full days of fishing, and all room and board. Prices are based on double occupancy.
For all of you in the greater Seattle area, I wanted to let you know that I will be doing a Cuba presentation at Emerald Water Anglers in West Seattle, November 17th at 7:00pm. I will cover all the fishing destinations in Cuba, and what makes each of them unique. More importantly, I will also discuss the ins and outs of travel to Cuba. This will include legalities, on the ground tips while in Cuba, and recommendations on things to do, and places to visit outside of fishing. Please come and join us!
Most all of you out there have probably seen a post or two on Facebook about a new, remote Tarpon fishery in the jungles of Costa Rica. When I saw the first video of 150 pound Tarpon rolling, feeding, and being caught in a river that was 50 feet wide, I was immediately intrigued. Right away I put the word out to Fly Water, and the outfitter for Jungle Tarpon, that I needed to see it.
I was able to meet up with Brian Gies, one of the owners of Fly Water Travel, in San Jose after he had spent a few very successful days in southern Costa Rica at Tarponville Lodge. We had a beer and dinner with our friend Crister, who had just spent a week fishing and filming where we were about to go. The reports were though the roof, with him graphically telling us stories of huge Tarpon inhaling their flies, and almost jumping in to the overhanging jungle canopy when they felt the sting of the hook.
Sometimes things just don't align, and they did not for us. Heavy rains pounded the mountains where our river originated, and turned the river to mud. The Tarpon were there.....we saw them roll. Some were absolute knee knocking monsters. Unfortunately, they just couldn't see the flies we were throwing due to the water conditions.
That said, I can't wait to return! This is an adventurous trip, in a remote part of the world, with jaw-dropping potential for world class Tarpon action. It is not for everyone though. Anglers expecting plush accommodations, a chocolate on their pillow at night, and gourmet meals need not apply. Those looking for adventure, a look at life in rural Costa Rica, and chances at world class Tarpon will find Jungle Tarpon a gem.
Here are some of the details. Anglers arrive in San Jose, and are transported overland to this region. The drive is about 5 hours, and is very interesting and beautiful. Accommodations at Jungle Tarpon are simple, but comfortable. Anglers share rooms with two beds, a bathroom, and a shower supplying plentiful cool water! Meals are most often eaten in one of the small restaurants in town. They are simple, but I thought very delicious, usually consisting of fried fish or chicken, rice, beans, and salad. Days are split, with an early morning start, lunch and a siesta at midday, and fishing again in the afternoon and evening. The fishery is divided in to two very different kinds of fishing....the moving river itself, and a vast network of shallow lagoons. Boats normally trade fishing these so that pressure is light. Maximum occupancy is 4 anglers, and the season is short.....August through December with some weeks off for full moon and resting of the river. This means that there are only about 15 weeks each season available to book. Price is $3990 per person for a 6 night, 6 day fishing package.
Click on the following links to see how things should look when the fishing is normal at Jungle Tarpon. Make sure to scroll down on the second link and watch the video!
My family and I recently returned from a great trip to Turneffe Flats, Belize. I had not been here in many years, and thanks to the nice folks at the lodge my entire family was able to accompany me. You probably know Turneffe as one of the longest running, and most reputable saltwater destinations in Belize, if not the planet.
Besides having Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon all months of the year, Turneffe is almost unique in being a destination that both anglers and non-anglers can enjoy. That meant scuba diving and snorkeling for my boys, as well as looking in channels for manatees, and even going on a crocodile hunt one night. And by the way, they found LOTS of crocodiles!
Many Thanks to Craig and Karen Hayes, Jad, Nick and all the crew at Turneffe for a wonderful trip.
Due to a recent cancellation, the live-aboard yacht Georgiana now has a week of availability during the prime of Cuba's fishing season. Georgiana will moor in the shallow waters adjoining Cuba's Zapata Peninsula. Anglers joining the trip will be picked up and transported via van from Havana, and then access the yacht via flats skiff. Total transport time from Havana to Georgiana is about 4 hours. Included in the package is all transportation to and from Havana, 7 nights food and lodging, and 6 full days of fishing. Half of the days anglers fish one per skiff, and the remaining half with 2 anglers sharing.
Zapata is known for having immense flats, with Bonefish very plentiful. These fish average in size from 2-5 pounds, but larger fish are available, all the way up to double digits. There are also Permit here, as well as resident Tarpon up to about 30 pounds. Larger Tarpon are sometimes caught, especially during this time of year when Tarpon are on their migration. There are also large numbers of Cuda, Jacks, and Snapper around Zapata. This is a very pristine and intact natural environment.
Dates of Trip: May 14-21, 2017
Price: $5650 per person
Maximum Number of Guests: 8
Gardens of the King is one of the newer fishing destinations in Cuba. I fished here with the outfitter briefly last Fall and had a very good experience. Known for having a population of both resident Tarpon, and a good number of larger migratory Tarpon in season, I decided to host a trip for June of 2017.
Great for myself, and anyone wanting more first hand information on this fishery, Dylan Rose from FlyWater just joined a group at Gardens of the King. Many of the same anglers were with Dylan and I last year aboard the Avalon Fleet 1 at Cayo Cruz. We had a really fun trip, although the Tarpon fishing was disappointing due to warmer than normal water conditions. These guys wanted big Tarpon, and so re-booked to GOK which has a reputation for its Tarpon fishing.
Dylan is going to send out a more formal report, and when he does I will post a link to it. In the meantime though, I know that I have people interested in joining along with me to GOK in 2017. The information Dylan has passed along to me is recent and accurate. My understanding is that this group of anglers jumped around 70 Tarpon for the week. Fish ranged in size from 30-130 pounds. I like the sound of that! Unlike my experience in the Fall, Tarpon were apparently not on the flats, but instead in the channels and deeper lagoons.
I am also very happy that the group found their accommodations at the Iberostar Ensencachos quite good. The previous resort used for this fishing package was rough around the edges to say the least, and although the change had been made to Ensenachos this was my first report from anglers. They found the rooms and food very good, although I think they were surprised at how large and sprawling the resort itself was. My understanding is that the cigar bar became their haunt in the evenings after fishing.
Please let myself or Dylan Rose at FLywater know if you have any questions about Gardens of the King. I have just a couple of spots left for June 24th through July 2nd, 2017.
Last night, I gave a presentation on Cuba for the WFFC at the beautiful Seattle Tennis Club. Right on the banks of Lake Washington, this is a beautiful venue. So happy to be presenting to WFFC after so many years! The members are still as nice and accommodating as is possible.
A great highlight for me was seeing both Bob Aide and Don Barton. Bob really helped me get started as a fly angler, back in the late 1980's, lending me boxes full of dry flies for fishing Lake Chopaka, and putting me in runs to catch both my first Winter and Summer Run Steelhead. Years later, my friend John Fiskum and I taught a class on the Deschutes for Kaufmanns, and Don Barton was there. We helped him get started, and now he is an avid a fly guy as you will find anywhere. Things really do come full circle! Thanks again WFFC.
If you have been to Cuba, you might be familiar with the unusual currency situation. Cuba, has two official currencies....one is the CUC (Convertible Peso and meant mostly for tourists) and the CUP (Cuban National Peso or Moneda Nacional, and used by ordinary Cubans). The CUC (pronounced "Kook") is worth approximately $1 US, and 25 times as much as a Cuban Peso.
When you go to a nice restaurant in Havana, pay for a hotel, or ride in a regular taxi, the CUC is the payment of choice. A normal taxi ride in Havana is almost always 7-10 CUC, and a meal in a nice restaurant is 10-15 CUC. But, if you learn a little more, a taxi ride can be about $.40 and a pizza on the street the same. For food, be on the lookout for Cubans standing in line at small food stalls or for restaurants where they charge in Moneda Nacional.
As for taxis, learn how to use the "Collectivos" which are shared taxis that drive on set routes around Havana. Here are some rules you need to know:
- Learn the routes: Generally, these old American cars which serve as collectivos make routes on the major avenues in Havana
- Watch the Locals: Cubans will stand on the side of these roads, and when cars approach stick their arm out. The taxis will stop, and you lean in and tell them where you want to go. They either say "si" and you get in, or "no" and keep on going.
- Don't slam the door!: This is your intuition with these old heavy doors, but the truth is these old cars are held together by baling wire and whatever else is available. The driver will appreciate you being thoughtful of his car.
- Greet the other passengers: Cubans are very polite, and most always utter a soft "buenas tardes" or whatever is appropriate when entering the cab.
- Have your money ready: It is impolite to make everyone else wait when the cab is at your stop. Collectivos are 10 CUP per person, so have your money out and ready. You just got a cab in Havana for $.40!
During our recent time in Cuba, my son Teddy and I were able to find a few days to fish. It was quite an adventure, as we had to rent a car and drive half way across the country. Our last two hours to the lodge was on country roads, in the dark, with no street lights or signs, and every kind of vehicle and animal on the road. WIth our Spanish a little more understandable, we had to stop and ask many locals directions, and with them being so helpful finally found our way to La Casona in the little town of Brasil.
We fished in the Eastern end of the Gardens of the King Archipeligo, around the area known as Cayo Cruz. This was Teddy's first time fishing in warm salt water. Wouldn't you know, he jumped and fought a 100 pound Tarpon in his first ten minutes, landed a bunch of bones including one around 7 pounds, and then landed a nice Tarpon to end the day? Luck of the beginner. Many thanks to Boris at La Casona, and Matias at Avalon in helping us to arrange this.
I need to speak better Spanish. With time in South America, and even more time now in Cuba, it should be me speaking Spanish instead of the locals having to accommodate me in English. So, I have been hard at Rosetta Stone for the past 3 months or so. Somewhere in that time, I discovered that foreigners could register for Spanish classes at the University of Havana. Cool.
My 15 year old son Teddy is taking Spanish at High School, so we decided to take this adventure together. It was great. We had Spanish classes and tutoring every day during our 9 days in Havana, and we really explored the city. Here are a few photos.....
1 SPOT OPEN AT GARDENS OF THE KING CUBA: April 30th-May 8th 2016. We have a recent opening for 1 person to be the final spot in a group of 8 going to Gardens of the King at the end of April. This is one of the best Tarpon Destinations in all of the Caribbean, and this week was specifically chosen by the group for its dark moon phase. According to the outfitter, this may be the best Tarpon week of the entire season. There is only 1 spot available. Skiff and accommodations are double occupancy. The price is $4670, and includes 1 night in Havana, transport to and from GOK, 6 full days fishing, all meals, drinks, and accommodations.
This is pretty big news, although we knew that it was in the making. The article below from ABC news outlines how this process will unfold. The three things I took from it that were most interesting were:
- There will a substantial number of daily commercial flights to Cuba (up to 100!), and will include other cities besides Havana. This could help with getting anglers to their fishing destinations more easily.
- These flights are not expected to be in service until at least Fall of 2016
- And, most interestingly, this quote which was already obvious to those of us dealing with travel to Cuba currently: "U.S. visitors to Cuba will still have to qualify under one of the travel categories legally authorized by the U.S. government. Tourism is still barred by law, but the number of legal reasons to go to Cuba — from organizing professional meetings to distributing information to Cubans — has grown so large and loosely enforced that the distinction from tourism has blurred significantly."
The United States and Cuba signed a deal Tuesday restoring commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades, allowing dozens of new daily flights to bring hundreds of thousands more American travelers a year to the island as early as this fall.
Immediately after the signing, the U.S. Department of Transportation opened bidding by American air carriers on as many as 110 U.S.-Cuba flights a day — more than five times the current number. All flights operating between the two countries today are charters.
Barring other major announcements, the restart of commercial flights will be the most significant development in U.S.-Cuba trade since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties after a half-century of Cold War opposition. The Obama administration is eager to make rapid progress on building trade and diplomatic ties with Cuba before the president leaves office. The coming weeks are seen as particularly crucial to building momentum ahead of a trip he hopes to make to Havana by the end of March.
"Today is a historic day in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S.," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said after he and Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez signed the deal in a ceremony at Havana's Hotel Nacional. "It represents a critically important milestone in the U.S. effort to engage with Cuba."
The U.S. Department of Transportation expects to award the new routes by the summer. The winning airlines then must negotiate their own deals with Cuba.
Yzquierdo declined an interview request but Foxx said after meeting with the Cuban minister that he believed Cuba was eager to restore commercial air service as quickly as possible.
"Every indication I have in the conversations we've had today is that the Cubans want to move as fast as we're able to move," Foxx said. "People will actually be able to go buy a ticket and fly to Cuba on a commercial airline. That's a pretty big step. We haven't been able to do that in 50 years."
The agreement allows 20 regular daily U.S. flights to Havana, in addition to the current 10-15 charter flights a day. The rest would be to other Cuban cities.
Nearly 160,000 U.S. leisure travelers flew to Cuba last year, along with hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visiting family, mostly on expensive, frequently chaotic charter flights out of Florida.
"The adoption of this memorandum is an important step that will soon permit the establishment of regular flights between the United States and Cuba," Yzquierdo Rodriguez at the signing ceremony.
Commercial flights make travel to Cuba far easier for U.S. travelers, with features such as online booking and 24-hour customer service that are largely absent in the charter industry.
U.S. visitors to Cuba will still have to qualify under one of the travel categories legally authorized by the U.S. government. Tourism is still barred by law, but the number of legal reasons to go to Cuba — from organizing professional meetings to distributing information to Cubans — has grown so large and loosely enforced that the distinction from tourism has blurred significantly.
Commercial travel will give travelers the ability to simply check an online box on a long list of authorized categories.
The deal does not contemplate flights by Cuba's national airline to the United States, where lawyers for families and businesses that have sued Havana over decades-old property confiscations are eager to freeze any of its assets that they can get their hands on.
American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the company plans to bid on routes from Miami and other unspecified "American hubs."
"We applaud the Administration for making commercial air service a priority," American chairman Doug Parker said in a written statement. "American looks forward to submitting a Cuba service proposal to the Department of Transportation in the coming weeks."
United Airlines is also looking to serve Havana from some of its hubs, spokesman Luke Punzenberger said. The carrier's major hubs include Chicago, Houston, Washington and Newark, New Jersey. It currently does not fly charters to Cuba.
"Assuming service is approved, United customers will benefit from United's expanded global route network and new opportunities for leisure and business travel to Cuba," the airline said.
JetBlue Airways said it was eager to offer service between "multiple" cities in the United States and the island, with spokesman Doug McGraw saying that "interest in Cuba has reached levels not seen for a generation."
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
Thought I would send a more concise list of the trips we have on the books for Cuba. The first trip is late this Fall, and they go all the way through early Summer 2017.