As relations warm, the Caribbean island is within reach.
Cuba has long been the forbidden island, a tropical upholder of communism whose mystique was augmented by the fact it was largely off-limits to Americans. Now, as part of the agreement between the United States and Cuba, Americans wishing to go there will face fewer limitations, provided their visit is “purposeful” (strictly sun-and-sand holidays are still forbidden). The opening comes as life on the island is slowly changing — not fast enough for many Cubans, but gradually enough that those wanting to glance at a collapsing socialist system, see the miles of undeveloped, scintillating coastline and strike up a conversation in the back of a beaten Oldsmobile still have time.
While the topic of travel there is still politically polarizing in the United States, the travel industry is accepting this potential new Caribbean destination with full force. The good news, for Cubans and their visitors, is that the economic reforms, however limited, have created a collection of privately-run restaurants and bars in Havana and provincial towns, many of them in beautiful, restored homes. An attempt by the government to inject life into Havana’s cultural scene has generated energetic new venues like the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, where the young, hip and better-off line up on weekends. Given the sharp rise expected in the number of Americans visiting, travelers should book early if they want somewhere to sleep during the 12th Havana Biennial, May 22 to June 22, an event that — as if to prove Cuba still functions at its own pace — rarely happens at two year intervals.