In the land where time stood still, our man in Havana discovers the hypnotic allure of the new Cuba.
For decades, the only way for Americans to visit Cuba was by enduring the stuffiness of government-sanctioned tours or risk-ing the illegality of going through another country. But thanks to the recent thaw in relations, seeing this forbidden tropical wonderland has never been easier. Several airlines, such as American and JetBlue, now offer hassle-free charter flights direct from the States— including practically hourly from Miami—while companies like Cuba Travel Network can book expedited VIP entry and JetSuite can fly you in privately. All you need is a passport, tourist visa, and qualification in one of 12 preapproved travel categories (including the helpfully vague “professional research,” wink, wink) and you’ll be sipping Cuba libres to the sound of thumping salsa in no time.
The only catch is that Cuba’s tourist infrastructure hasn’t quite caught up with the boom in demand. For now, this is still a place you go for the experience, not the extravagance. During high season (November through March), hotels are often booked months ahead, and the same is true of car rentals, so advance planning is crucial. Bring plenty of cash— even more than you think you’ll need—because American credit cards don’t work and there’s no way to get more paper dollars. It also doesn’t hurt to brush up on a little español. And while you won’t have cell-phone service and the wi-fi is practically nonexistent, the digital detachment is all part of the experience—combined with the 17th-century architecture, ’30sera Hemingway mystique, and those famous 1950s American cars, Cuba feels like a trip not just back in time but to a place outside of time itself. Wander down picturesquely crumbled streets, fall into conversations with kind and curious locals, and get swept up in the thrall of the country’s seductive rhythm. You can post it all to Instagram when you get back.
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