Don’t Wait: Now’s the time for Cuba

February 6, 2015 Cate Lorimer

Cuba has been on the travel industry’s radar a lot lately, especially since US President Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic ties with the country. Although the relationship of the two countries won’t change overnight, it is for certain that this island’s economic, social, and political future is shifting. It could take five, ten, or twenty years to see a real difference, but Cuba is on the cusp of being reborn. So if you’re someone who has always dreamt about seeing Cuba in that 1950s freeze-frame, then pack your bags and grab your passport, because there is really no better time to go.

Experience a 1950s classic

1950s classic American cars are a claim to fame.

1950s classic American cars are a claim to fame.

Once upon a time, Cuba was the playground for America’s wealthy. The sun-worshippers would flock to Havana to spend the weekend gambling and lounging by the pools at one of the city’s fabulous five-star resorts and casinos. Following the Cuban Revolution however, the island was closed off from the US. Memories of that once glamorous time can still be seen throughout the streets of Havana. Sun-washed art nouveau and colonial buildings line the city streets, close to ruins, mildewed yet still providing a magnificent subject for photographers.

What really grabs your attention, however, are the 1950s classic American cars that found their way here, and still remain on the road today. If you look under the hood of one of these cars, you’ll see that the owners will use a collection of makeshift parts to keep them running. It pays to be handy as it is nearly impossible to get a new car on the island. That’s why so much time and effort goes into maintaining these beauties. With the promise of new trading laws, however, people are predicting that these one-of-a-kind rides will gradually be taken off the roads and more efficient cars will be brought in. In fact, many overseas companies have been waiting patiently to re-invest in Cuba. And although this is exciting, this once isolated island will change. So make sure you see old Havana before it becomes new.

Related reading: Cuba’s Iconic ‘Yank Tanks’

World-class wildlife

A female bee hummingbird.

A female bee hummingbird.

Compared with the rest of the Caribbean, Cuba has an abundance of wildlife that would leave Darwin jealous. I was shocked to learn that Cuba has the largest untouched rainforest and unspoiled coral reefs in the Caribbean. A specific few travellers will make their way over to Cuba to get face-to-face with the island’s unique species like the bee hummingbird or the Cuban crocodile. But why does this one island boast more healthy wildlife than its neighbours? Well you can thank the Cuban government as good chunk of the country’s environment is protected. However, there is fear that once borders open up, more foreign resort investment will also come along, which could cause stress on Cuba’s wetland habitats and pristine coastlines.

Related reading: Visual Adventure: Cuba 

Off the beaten path

There ain't no WIFI here.

There ain’t no WIFI here. Photo courtesy Evert L.

This term gets thrown around a lot in the travel industry, but when you vacation outside the resorts of Cuba, you are really stepping into a world like no other. One of the best things about getting away is the chance to disconnect from your everyday life, and in Cuba you’ll definitely experience it, as it is hard to find a Wi-Fi connection (Seriously, it it’s estimated that only 25% of the population is connected to internet.) Although this statistic might seem a little nerve-wracking (How am I supposed to post my Instagram photos?), it also keeps some of the best places a hidden secret, which can’t be scouted on Google or reviewed on Yelp. Instead, these warm and vibrant people will be more than happy to share with you their island’s hidden secrets.

Related reading: ¡Vamos! Two Wheels to Freedom in Cuba

Landmarks without the lineups

The Viñales landscape of western Cuba – the hills in the background are called Mogotes, and they’re typical of the region.

The Viñales landscape of western Cuba – the hills in the background are called Mogotes,
and they’re typical of the region.

Adventure tourism is rising steadily in Cuba, as more and more travellers are curious to get to know this mysterious island. This island is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. That number might not mean much now, but to put it in perspective, Canada only has 17 sites.  Cuba’s also a country that strives in the arts. You can see for yourself by exploring several wonderful museums and art galleries, which showcase the country’s unique culture.

So if you want to go an explore Cuba’s unique history, you can rest assured that you can experience it without the crowds and mobs of tourists. At times, it might just seem like you have Viñales Valley or San Pedro de la Roca Castle all to yourself. Get there now, because there are plenty of eager travellers waiting to visit Cuba once tourism restrictions ease.

Related reading: Colours of Cuba

More bang for your buck

Architecture in Cuba is phenomenal. Photo courtesy Casey M.

Architecture in Cuba is phenomenal. Photo courtesy Casey M.

Now you’re probably asking what’s in store for those interested travellers holding a Canadian, European, Scandinavian, (or insert other “non-American “nationality here)? It means there really isn’t a better time to see Cuba. Once the border opens up, a rise in prices is inevitable, as demand for this incredible location increases. And as previously mentioned, Cuba doesn’t have enough tourist infrastructure to handle this tourist boom, so expect more expensive accommodations, flights, and food. So do yourself a favour and get there now!

Related reading: Top 5 Reasons to go to Cuba Now 

But wait—what about Americans?

Although things have changed since US President Obama’s December announcement, if you’re an American citizen, you can only visit Cuba if your trip falls under one of the twelve authorized categories including: athletic competitions, public performances or a people-to-people trip. This might seem like bad news for US leisure travellers, but there is a bright side—Cuban travel rules and regulations are changing. It’s only a matter of time before our American friends can rediscover what the rest of the world’s known for decades: Cuba’s magnificent, exuberant and ripe for exploration.

Getting There

Venture beyond the beach. The island of Cuba—with its vibrant rhythms, varied landscape, and rich heritage of literature and dance (and also classic cars)—wins over many travellers, who return again and again. Cuba’s travel opportunities differ from those in other Latin American countries, and though the country has been a magnet for sun-seeking tourists for some time, it is only slowly opening up to less-traditional travel. A Cuba trip provides an opportunity to explore this uniquely beautiful and captivating land and meet its friendly and open people. Check out our small group trips to Cuba here.

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