Visit Cuba Before It Changes Forever

What's New — By sroxborough on February 28, 2011 at 9:15 pm

So You Want to Travel to Cuba. Join the Club!

Think of Cuba and certain images come to mind: men in Guayabera shirts and Panama hats, tropical breezes and cool drinks, steamy Latin rhythms and hand-rolled cigars. Long seen as a threatening but enticing land ruled by a dictator, Cuba is a place that is likely to change — and change quickly.

Up until the mid-20th century, Havana was the sin capital of the Americas, a wild haunt of mobsters, corrupt politicians, prostitutes, and petty thieves. Its casinos and glamorous aura also attracted high rollers and some of Hollywood’s biggest names (such as Spencer Tracy and Ava Gardner), as well as a flood of tourists eager to indulge in its many carnal pleasures.

Courtesy of André Pipa

But then came 1959 and Fidel Castro, who put an end to the party. The U.S. embargo followed Castro’s rise to power, making the one-time international playground off-limits for the vast majority of Americans.

In January 2011, President Barack Obama eased long-standing restrictions on travel to Cuba, allowing students and religious groups to visit the nation for “people-to-people” contact. The most significant policy shift in decades, many hope this move will be the first step toward normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. If this happens, expect tourism to explode.

Cuba remains forbidden fruit for most, tantalizingly close — just 90 miles from the tip of Florida — yet frustratingly out of reach. Trapped in a time warp for half a century, the island is a must-see destination with warm, hospitable people, faded colonial architecture, unspoiled beaches, pristine tropical forests, and unheard-of Caribbean prices.

Courtesy of Enrique Romero

Must-Dos in Havana:

Situated on the seaside Malecón road offering breathtaking ocean views, Hotel Nacional where Frank Sinatra stayed in its heyday, is a Spanish colonial architectural gem patterned after the Breakers in Palm Beach.

For some of the best nightlife in Cuba, visit the Habana Café at the Hotel Meliá Cohiba. With live dance music, classic decor and stiff drinks (never watered down), it is a throwback to the Golden Era of the 1930s and 40s.

Want a meal to remember? Try dining at La Cocina de Lilliam, a perennial favorite of locals and tourists offering great food in an alfresco setting (if you reserve ahead).

Part of a NileGuide Special Report: 25 Destinations to See Before They Change Forever.

Tags: Cuba Tourism, Cuba Travel, cuban, Fidel Castro, Habana Café, Havan Travel, Havana, Hotel Meliá Cohiba, Hotel Nacional, La Cocina de Lilliam, Raul Castro