Cigars, rum and Fidel Castro. If ever there was a country associated with a political leader it is Cuba. The Castro regime has run Cuba for decades but with the decline of Fidel's health and his relinquishing of power, the future of Cuba is a great mystery. Will it continue on as it has, defiant of its neighbor 90 miles to the north or will it take a new route?
No one knows, but there is one thing that is certain. If you travel to Cuba today you will feel like you have been transported back to another era. Old American cars from the 1950s that have been magically kept alive cruise by buildings that look and, in fact, are dated. Stores offer meager goods, restaurants are specially set up for foreigners and you can't spend a night at a hotel without being solicited by a prostitute.
While Cuba still remains a forbidden land for all but those Americans who fly there illegally via Mexico, Canada or elsewhere, it has become increasingly popular as a destination for European and Canadian tourists. With its warm weather, pleasant beaches, friendly people and the intrigue of thumbing its nose at the United States for all these years, it is little wonder that more and more people are flocking to the country to check it out.
The best place to start your search for information about travel in Cuba is to learn from others who have already made the trip. Our member message boards have all kinds of helpful information about circumnavigating the rules and other useful tidbits. You can also get some handy tips by reading our member submitted travel stories about Cuba.
What to do
The capital of Havana, as mentioned above, is fascinating for several reasons. The colonial architecture is legendary and much of it is surprisingly well preserved. And the fact that the whole city feels like an anachronism with this old cars and older buildings really adds to its charm. The nightlife is excellent as well, and the party goes all night.
Not surprisingly for a Caribbean Island, Cuba has its fair share of beach resorts. Varadero is the most famous of these, and the most popular for foreign tourists. It's got the country's only golf course and quite a few international-class hotels. The area is somewhat controversial though as Cubans themselves are generally not allowed to stay at the resorts.
As you might guess, the US travel embargo against Cuba doesn't make things easier for anyone. The lack of demand and competition helps keep prices high, but you can certainly book a flight into Cuba from Mexico, Canada, or Europe. Cancun is the cheapest place from which to begin, and the most popular among Americans trying to skirt the strict rules. There is a major airport in Havana, but the one near Varadero also handles international flights.
Where to stay
There are obviously many hotels in Cuba. There are some good budget choices in Havana and the other cities, and also some posh beach resorts in Varadero and a few other areas. There are a few places that call themselves hostels in Cuba as well, that are well aimed at the budget traveler.