Visit Cuba legally now from the USA. My recent visit to Cuba proves it’s easier than you think, with or without the steps toward normalizing relations just announced by President Obama.
I flew from Miami on a chartered American Airlines plane. Half the passengers were Cuban-Americans visiting their relatives. The other half was Americans like me, with no relatives in Cuba, traveling with a humanitarian, religious or cultural group.
My luggage was stuffed with school supplies, vitamins, bandaids, toothpaste and such, to donate to the schools and clinics my group would be visiting along the way. A retired physician in my group brought stethoscopes he collected from colleagues.
If you are a vintage car enthusiast — as I am — you will love the wonderful and amazing 1940s and 1950s cars seen everywhere.
Some are junkers, held together with enthusiasm and ingenuity, others have been beautifully restored, much like the buildings in Old Havana and in Cuba’s other colonial cities, Cienfuegos and Trinidad de Cuba.
I rode in a restored ’57 Chevy convertible along the Malecon, Havana’s beach road, and snapped photos of Studebakers, Plymouths, De Sotos, and wood-paneled Ford station wagons that became known as ‘woodies’.
I visited Ernest Hemigway’s finca, or country house, where he wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls, and paid homage to the beat up manual typrewriter he wrote it on.
Even though I don’t smoke cigars, touring the historic Partegas factory, where they produce the fabled Cohiba cigars, was fascinating. No photos are allowed inside, but it’s not to protect cigar-making secrets. It’s because the workers lost so much time posing for photos that cameras are no longer allowed.
I drank a fair amount of Cuban rum, including at the original Tropicana nightclub, where the admission fee for the Las Vegas-style show and dinner includes a bottle of Havana Club rum for every four people, and at the still-elegant Hotel La Nacional in Havana, where Frank Sinatra honeymooned with Ava Gardner.
Whatever your politics, visiting the memorial and museum dedicated to Che Guevara, in Santa Clara, is a must.
Ditto the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, which traces Cuban history from the Conquistadors to Castro. It’s in the former Presidential Palace, where the office of former president Juan Battista is intact, just as he left it before escaping the revolutionary forces.
Read more about my trip to Cuba on SmarterTravel.com. Here’s the link to the slideshow and story on ten reasons to visit Cuba now.
More tips on visiting Cuba for first-timers from Rough Guides
vintage Chevrolet photo courtesy National Geographic