It’s only 93 miles from Florida, and just 13 from the Bahamas, but like the smoke that coils from its legendary cigars, The Republic of Cuba exists in a time and space all its own. Few cities can stir the imagination like Cuba’s capital, Havana, a city preserved by forts, a five-mile seawall, and an imposed embargo, which held back the excesses of the 20th century for over 50 years. Havana’s lure can be hard to resist, but Cuba offers so much more beyond the seductive lights of its capital. In Cuba, a long sandy beach is never far away. Just 12 miles from Havana’s downtown, the Eastern Beaches unroll toward the town of Matanzas, the birthplace of the rumba, and Cárdenas, where the Cuban Flag flew for the very first time. From here, follow the scent of fresh lime, rum and suntan lotion north to Varadero. After exploring the northern coastline, turn south towards Cuba’s most revolutionary city, Santa Clara, and Trinidad, once the sugar capital of the world. Don’t miss elegant Cienfuegos, the only Cuban city founded by the French. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether Cuba is awakening to the world, or if the world is awakening to Cuba. Whatever your politics, it's easy to admire this island nation that has proudly gone its own way. Cuba may still have one foot firmly in the past, but as the world tumbles towards tomorrow, we can be thankful for the many things it has not let go.
Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating – Cuba is a country of indefinable magic. Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat: behind the sometimes shabby facades, gold dust lingers. It’s these rich dichotomies that make travel here the exciting, exhilarating roller-coaster ride it is. Trapped in a time warp and reeling from an economic embargo that has grated for more than half a century, this is a country where you can wave goodbye to everyday assumptions and expect the unexpected. If Cuba were a book, it would be James Joyce's Ulysses: layered, hard to grasp, frequently misunderstood, but – above all – a classic. Bereft of modern interference, Cuba’s colonial cities haven’t changed much since musket-toting pirates stalked the Caribbean. The atmosphere and architecture is particularly stirring in Havana, Trinidad, Remedios and Camagüey where grandiose squares and cobbled streets tell erstwhile tales of opulence and intrigue. Yet, despite pockets of preservation, many buildings still lie ruined like aging dowagers waiting for a face-lift. With more funds, these heirlooms may yet rise again. Indeed, thanks to private investment, many of them have already been partially renovated, morphing into spectacular private homestays or retro-themed restaurants proudly showing off their weighty historical heritage.
Cuba Picture Gallery.