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Now that I’ve been to Cuba twice — and it’s even easier for other US travelers to visit to Cuba — I not only appreciate the beauty of the country, but also understand why so many different types of travelers fall in love with it. This island goes way beyond beaches and sunshine with amazing art, rich history, vintage cars and more. I bet almost any traveler could fall into one of the 10 categories of people who need to visit Cuba now!
1. History Buffs
If you’re into history, you’ll love Cuba. Ernest Hemingway spent 20 on-and-off years there, and you can enjoy visiting some of his favorite watering holes, such as La Floridita, or even travel about nine miles outside of Havana to his former home, now the Hemingway Museum at Finca Vigia, where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The Mafia also has strong ties to Cuba. As portrayed in The Godfather II, Havana’s famous Hotel Nacional was a meeting spot for the Cosa Nostra Mafia in 1946. You can even do mafia tours through the city in an old convertible vintage car.
Of course, let’s not forget the country’s own turbulent revolution, and its connection to US history, as well. Be sure to visit Havana’s Museum of the Revolution, and if you want to learn more about the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, know that I found some great insight at its museum and monument in Playa Girón. As to be expected, you’ll see propaganda for the Cuban “side,” but it’s always nice to get a different perspective on a historical event. They always say there’s three sides to every story — yours, mine and the truth!
2. Architecture Fans
The vibrant, colorful architecture is reason enough to visit Cuba. While some of the city’s buildings are left faded and crumbling, many are immaculately preserved, harking back to colonial times. It’s stunning to see the juxtaposition of both, especially in Havana. An open-air bus tour of the city is a great way to relax and see all the architecture roll on by, as I did during my first trip to Cuba. The legacy of Spanish colonial influence mixed with vibrant Caribbean-island culture makes for some fascinating man-made scenery.
3. Art Lovers
Havana hosts the Biennial Art Festival once every two years, and it attracts top artists from around the world, though Latin American and Caribbean artists get first priority. The festival (happening in late May this year) features art throughout the entire city of Havana, both indoors and outdoors. If you can’t make it for the festival, you can always visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, which features only Cuban art (from colonial times to contemporary), or visit one of the many art galleries. Many Cuban artists are extremely talented, such as my friend Damian Aquiles, who creates unique sculptures and paintings.
Every corner in Cuba is photo-worthy. The city sights, as well as various tropical weather patterns and lighting over the ocean, make Havana a visual playground for photographers. And because Cuba has been devoid of outside influence for so long, traveling outside Havana feels like stepping back in time. There’s so much to explore, and it’s all just waiting to be captured by your camera.
Cuba’s waters are largely pristine, with little pollution. The fishing and fly fishing market is untapped and not overfished in the least. The Bay of Pigs beach areas are excellent for fishing, and you can find bonefish, tarpons, jacks, barracudas and snapper here, among many other fish species. In fact, you can book a special trip to Cuba just for fishing, and Fly Fishing Dreams can help you plan and organize it.
6. Scuba Divers
Cuba has some incredible dive sites which remain relatively uncrowded and unspoiled. One of the spots I want to check out is the The Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud). It’s a marine reserve which is sheltered featuring caves, drop-offs and even shipwrecks. The Jardines de la Reina archipelago (often called Shark’s Paradise) is part of the third-longest barrier reef in the world, where you can see species such as eagle rays, giant barracuda and hog fish — and even a bull shark, if you’re lucky!
7. Kite Surfers/Surfers
Cuba seems to a be an all-around water sports paradise. Surfers and kite surfers flock to the beaches to enjoy light winds and big waves. The island actually just hosted FIT Cuba, the national tourism fair, dedicated this year to nautical sports such as surfing. Varadero is also known for kite surfing, and you can find some good surf schools along its beaches. If you like diving, surfing and kite surfing, I’d once again recommend the Jardines de la Reina archipelago, where the warm, shallow waters are perfect for all three activities.
8. LGBT Tourists
Cuba is way ahead of most other Caribbean islands when it comes to equality for LGBT people. Recently, female members of the Castro family have spoken out against discrimination due to sexual orientation, and groups such as Proyecto Arco Iris (or Rainbow) are slowly gaining popularity in Cuba for their push for equality. LGBT tourists will feel safe and comfortable in Cuba, and can book LGBT tours with guide Jose Pineda.
9. Car Buffs
Anyone who loves cars will be in heaven in Cuba. I had no idea how awed I’d be by the non-stop parade of gorgeous vintage cars in Havana. Since US imports stopped in 1960, thousands of old ’50s vehicles have been immaculately maintained, with diesel engines installed for future staying power and cheaper fuel costs. Some are employed as taxis, and some are simply privately owned. When you find yourself surrounded by them, it feels as though you’ve wandered into a bygone era.
Salsa dancing is a huge part of Cuban culture, and you can find it almost everywhere, from a woman in the street dancing as she sweeps, to a Latin beat pumping from the vintage cars cruising the streets of Havana. Famous Havana dance halls such as Casa de la Musica or cabaret clubs like Tropicana invite visitors to share in the local salsa culture. If you enjoy salsa music or simply like to dance, you’ll be swept off your feet by Cuba!
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