Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest island, located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Cuba is approximately 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, and lies between the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, to the west of Haiti, and northwest of Jamaica.
Cuba was a popular tourist destination for U.S. citizens prior to the 1959 Revolution. Since then Cuba has been subjected to a trade and economic embargo by the United States. Travel between the two neighbors is restricted, although it’s still possible for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. Since 2009, U.S. citizens with relatives in Cuba may visit the country of Cuba for a period of time, but only once every year.
Today many European, Canadian and some American visitors come to the island. In the typical tourist regions like Varadero and Holguin, there are modern three- to five-star hotels, while residents in less popular tourist regions visitors rent rooms in Cuban homes (called casas particulares). There will generally be few problems with either power or water in Cuba’s tourist areas, although such outages may occur. Electricity outages have been common in Cuba, with the exception of tourist facilities that feature generators. Since Venezuela began providing Cuba with cheap oil and the refinery in Cienfuegos was re-launched, the energy situation has improved. Many tourist accommodations offer 220V and 110V power sources.
Havana is the Caribbean’s largest and most vivacious city, with vintage American cars running off Russian Lada engines, ration shops juxtaposed against gleaming colonial palaces, and revolutionary sloganeering drowned out by all-night parties. Havana’s history includes long periods as a haven for buccaneers, a heavily fortified Spanish slave port, and lucrative gambling capital. Havana has spawned salsa and mambo music and dance styles, rum- and cigar-making, and mural painting featuring Che Guevara iconography.
Havana offers large colonial buildings and a dramatic coastline, however, a large part of its attraction lies in the visceral and abstract experiences to be found there. Guests can take a guided tour around Havana Vieja’s magnificent colonial monuments, experience the verve of a late-night cabaret show, stroll languidly along the broad Malecón (Avenue de Maceo) while waves crash over the sidewalk or admire the skillful reconstruction of streamlined 1950s-era Cadillac and Oldsmobile sedans. Havana also offers museums, beautifully preserved palaces, top hotels, and many restaurants.
Cienfuegos is a city of cool colonnaded buildings recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here the serene Bahía de Cienfuegos opens onto the Caribbean Sea, and Punta Gorda, a sliver of land that slices into its southern waters, offers some of Cuba’s prettiest casas particulares. Cienfuegos can be reached by car or bus from Havana and today exhibits a palpable French flavor, with touched-up buildings and congenial hustle-free street-life. The city’s 19th-century architecture and tranquil seaside setting create a pleasant atmosphere.