Stroll just about anywhere in Cuba, from the cobblestone streets of Trinidad to the Malecon of Havana and you’ll see that the past and present are inextricably entwined. El coche horse carts share lanes with vintage cars and young people check their text messages in 500 year-old plazas. To visit is not to go back in time so much as to be in many times at once: 16th-and 17th-century architecture reveals the influence of Spanish rule … images of Jose Marti, the spiritual father of independence from Spain, gazes out from countless murals …and the national fervor for the heroes of the 1959 Revolution is still evident from graffiti to statues and even flower beds spelling out “hasta siempre, Fidel”—a promise to remember their former leader “until forever.”
Many travelers feel the same way about Cuba itself. It’s a truly unforgettable blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. Cuba is the rolling mountains of the Escambray, the red clay earth of tobacco country in dramatic Viñales Valley, and the sparkling aquamarine waters of the Bay of Pigs and Playa Ancon. It’s a blend of elegant Spanish Colonial colonnades and vibrant Caribbean colors. The infectious rhythms of salsa and rumba float on the air as live music seems to be playing all day long. When night falls, dancers follow the music, whirling away the hours. Across the land, as a new era of openness begins, one thing remains unchanged: the resilient people of Cuba are eternally welcoming, friendly, and eager to share their land with you.
Most Popular Films
Films featuring Cuba from international, independent filmmakers
Cuba - Lost in Time
We’ve been working with independent international filmmakers to provide you with films that portray the people, culture, and lifestyles of the countries you're interested in visiting. We believe this film offers a unique perspective on Cuba.Produced by Paul Wegschaider
My City: Havana
Enjoy a local perspective on Havana—one of Cuba’s most spirited cities.
This film was produced by the BBC and Jonathan Wells, and was first published on BBC.com Travel
We’ve been working with independent international filmmakers to provide you with films that portray the people, culture, and lifestyles of the countries you're interested in visiting. We believe this film offers a unique perspective on Cuba.Produced by Diego Vivanco
Cuba Interactive Map
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Immerse yourself in Cuba with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
The feeling of living in frozen time is one of Cuba’s most frustrating realities and its most powerful allure.
As Cuba transforms, one thing remains the same: a sense of patriotism. Get a glimpse of the country’s culture here.
The streets of Cuba’s capital pulse with vintage cars that you may not be used to seeing—here are five favorites.
With its cool, refreshing taste, the mojito is a delight for the senses. Find a local Cuban recipe here.
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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
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The Cuba You Can Look Forward To
Next year in Havana
by Paul Reyes, The New York Times Magazine
Reprinted with permission from The New York Times
Cuba is the idiosyncratic sister of the Caribbean, and a large part of its idiosyncrasy stems from having watched as the last half-century passed it by. What was once a cultural hotbed moldered under Communism. Still, there is an embattled dignity in Havana’s dilapidated architecture, whether colonial style or Art Deco or even the midcentury classics; nowhere else does the traveler find this peculiar marriage between the contemporary and the antiquated, with its incongruous traces of the space age, of Spanish flair and Soviet flotsam. There is, too, a unique resilience among Cubans themselves, whose talent for improvisation, for making do with what’s at hand, is legendary. The feeling of living in frozen time is one of Cuba’s most frustrating realities and its most powerful allure. To imagine Cuba without it evokes an almost existential question
The specter of a thaw is what motivated me, back in 2009, to press my father — an exile who arrived in the United States in 1962 at age 15, along with his younger brother — to see the island sooner rather than later. For more than 40 years, he refused to send a penny in its direction, either as remittance for his cousins (as it did many others, the revolution fractured our family) or as a tourist himself. That summer, he finally acquiesced, seeking to reconcile with his family and to discover what had become of his country.
Many of us — Cubans, exiles and second-generation Cuban-Americans — admire the anachronistic surfaces while also looking past them to see something else emerging. For years, Cuba has been much more than just jerry-built Chevys with Mitsubishi engines; Audis have been gliding through the streets of Havana for some time; mobile technology is increasingly common. A tourist economy fed by visitors from around the world has fueled a slow-motion modernization. Most of those hailing from the United States have been Cuban-Americans returning to see loved ones, but an increasing number are those with no familial connection to the island, just a fascination with its culture and contraband mystique.
Every time I visit Cuba, even as I come across sights I must have seen a thousand times — the channels of Habana Vieja, the breathtaking vistas of Viñales — I’m compelled to dive back in and work my way through the country. To be clear, this is what you do there: Work your way through it. Leisure left long ago. Instead, the sublime is found in the haggling and hustling and negotiations, in the aesthetic overabundance of color and music and traffic and weather and strays ...
Congress is not likely to lift the calcified embargo against Cuba any time soon; but by itself, President Obama’s executive order to normalize diplomatic relations is expected to have a profound effect on how the two countries engage each other, simply by allowing more Americans to immerse themselves in Cuba’s culture. In doing so, the thinking goes, Americans will begin to empower Cubans by doing what tourists do best: hiring drivers, renting rooms, buying meals and souvenirs — spending money. Through these practical transactions, Obama said, American tourists will inevitably do the diplomatic work of sharing their values while “making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.”
Actual prosperity is still a long way off, but with an influx of American visitors spending money with fewer restrictions, it seems reasonable to imagine that the Cuban talent for improvisation will evolve beyond just having to make do, to seizing the opportunity at hand.
From The New York Times, January 11, 2015 ©2015 The New York Times. All rights reserved. Used by permission and protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States. The printing, copying, redistribution, or retransmission of this Content without express written permission is prohibited.
Cuba: A Culture in Transition
How the Cuba of today will not be the same in years to come
Due to the Caribbean nation’s decades-long isolation, Cuban culture remains a mystery to most Americans. What we think we know about Cuban people and their culture is almost exclusively shaped by politics.
When Fidel Castro and his band of guerrilla fighters emerged from the Cuban jungle in 1959 to overthrow the Batista dictatorship, the U.S. government initially wished the rebels well. But when Revolution turned to Communism, relations between the U.S. and our Caribbean neighbor quickly soured—and have remained hostile ever since.
Yet the people of Cuba have always been so much more than its controversial system of government. Just like the tropical island’s undulating landscapes and forested hills, Cuba’s cultural vibrancy was firmly in place long before the 1959 Revolution—and is certain to outlive it. But Cuban culture is changing.
Cuba’s culture is shaped by its past
In order to truly understand Cuban culture—or any unfamiliar culture—consider this advice from Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy: “To travel in ignorance of a region’s history,” she writes, “leaves you unable to understand the ‘why’ of anything and anyone.” And she chooses the perfect example to illustrate her point: “Castro’s Cuba must baffle visitors uninformed about the five-hundred-year lead-up to Fidel’s revolution.” Murphy understood that Cuban culture is inextricably bound to its past …
Cuba is one of the few countries in the world to have cast off three imperial powers from its shores over its lengthy history—Spain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. And it was only with the collapse of the Soviet bloc that Cuba became completely independent of foreign influence.
In the ensuing years, Cuba has seen a legalization of the U.S. dollar, the advent of limited private enterprise, Fidel Castro’s withdrawal from politics, and cautious overtures to capitalism. And with Cuba’s doors opening to global tourism, Cuban culture is in the midst of an unprecedented transformation.
A passion for patriotism, community, and music
Throughout their nation’s embattled history—perhaps as a direct result of it—Cubans have been a deeply patriotic people. Their love of country (even for many living in exile) transcends political viewpoints. Feelings of nationalism have always run deeper than loyalty for socialistic ideals—yet there remains great pride in the achievements of the Revolution. While it is a poor nation, Cuba can boast one of the world’s best health care systems, as well as almost 100% literacy. A melting pot of races, Cubans’ sense of community, neighborhood spirit, and egalitarianism is without equal—and their friendliness unfailingly extends to foreign visitors.
The resilience and inventiveness of the Cuban people in the face of austerity is mind-boggling (look no further than how they have managed to preserve antique American cars for half a century!). Museums are ubiquitous throughout the country, and Cuba’s most popular sports are baseball and boxing. And to anyone walking the streets of Havana, the lifeblood of Cuban culture quickly becomes apparent—music and dance. Passion, pride, and general ebullience for life are traits of the Cuban people that long predate the Revolution. And with any luck, they should survive this transitional time in Cuban history.
While it is much too early to predict the long-term effects of 21st-century global capitalism on Cuba, there is no question that it is a land and culture at a crossroads. To experience this rapidly-changing island nation through the eyes of the proud Cuban people—to engage with them directly in discussions about their lives, work, traditions, and vibrant culture—is an opportunity we are proud to be able to offer today.
How the Cuba of today will not be the same in years to come
Car-spotting in Cuba
A field guide to finding 5 vintage beauties
by David Valdes Greenwood, for O.A.T.
A flash of pink tailfin catches your eye as a Cadillac worthy of Elvis rounds the corner … a lemon-yellow ’57 Chevy glides by, chrome details gleaming … and nobody blinks at the scene. It’s just another day in sunny Havana.
The streets of Cuba’s capital pulse with vintage cars that we’re not used to seeing in the wild. But in Havana, these rare birds are easy to find if you know where to look—and this field guide will help you spot five of our favorites.
1959 Cadillac Convertible
Just about the most iconic convertible of the late 1950s, this beauty is famous for its dramatic space-age tailfins and double-bullet taillights resembling rocket thrusters. The pink version—several of which still cruise the Malecón in Havana—is associated with Elvis (even though his first love was a 1955 model), and has been immortalized in TV, film, and song. See it in the 1989 Clint Eastwood movie Pink Cadillac and then watch for it in Cuba.
1955-57 Chevy Bel Air
Chevy enthusiasts swoon over the 1955-1957 Bel Airs, nicknamed “tri-fives” for each year of their release. In Cuba, their hues have a tropical palette—from vivid lime to sherbet orange—and feature a thin strip of a complementary color running along the frame, widening into the tail and swooping downward toward the rear tire. Check out James Bond’s car in Dr. No for a sneak peek.
1955-56 Ford Fairlane
Among the easiest cars to spot in Cuba, you can’t miss the mid-1950s Ford Fairlanes’ signature swoosh. Whether two doors or four, convertible or hardtop, you can tell a Fairlane by the way its frame’s decorative stripe dives to a notched point before leveling off. The car is so beloved that when a red and white model was used in the 1990 film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, filmmakers had to reassure enthusiasts that the vehicle wasn’t actually blown up in an explosion sequence.
1952-54 Buick Special
The lowest-priced Buick of its time was a hit, jazzed up with three orbs on each of its front fenders; called VentiPorts, they were intended to make drivers feel like they were at the wheels of a fighter plane. Seek out that detail, and then look for the Sweepspear—a line of trim that runs the length of the frame and plunges toward the rear tire. You may recognize Specials from TV shows like Andy Griffith and Highway Patrol, both of which used them as police car models.
1925 Chevrolet Superior K
If you want to find the quetzal of Cuban cars—the rarest of the rare—keep your eyes peeled for the oldest car on the road: the Superior K. If you happen to catch this ivory-colored stunner, it’ll likely be in Havana. Resident Francisco Rodriguez still drives his soft-topped, two-door Superior to run errands, and once a month, he joins a brigade of enthusiasts from his classic car club. It’s incredible to see a relic from Charlie Chaplin’s era on the road.
A field guide to finding 5 vintage beauties
Recreate the Best Mojito in Cuba
Trip Leader Raul Izquierdo shares the Hotel Nacional’s famous recipe
Maryclaire Dugre, for O.A.T.
U.S.-Cuba relations are at an all-time high—and that calls for a celebratory drink. Mojito, anyone? OAT Trip Leader Raul Izquierdo let us in on the recipe from the Hotel Nacional, where bartender Angel has been mixing the minty cocktail for 25 years. Follow Angel’s simple steps to stir up a taste of Havana at home.
Hotel Nacional Mojito
Makes 1 drink
1 tbsp. sugar
Juice of half a lime
2 mint sprigs
2 oz. Havana Club Añejo 3 Años (3-year-old) rum
Handful of ice cubes
- Pour lime juice and sugar into a Collins glass.
- Pick leaves from mint sprigs, add to glass
- Fill glass halfway with sparkling water and muddle.
- Pour in the rum, stir.
- Add ice and top with sparkling water. Salud!
Raul’s picks: Where to sip a mojito in Havana
Along with the Hotel Nacional’s glamorous terrace, Raul recommends these mojito hot spots:
La Bodeguita del Medio, Old Havana
Spend cocktail hour at one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts.
Hotel Ambo Mundos, Old Havana
Enjoy a drink with a view at the rooftop bar.