In October 1959, Fidel Castro spoke to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) convention, held in Havana. “We have sea,” said Castro. “We have bays, we have beautiful beaches, we have medicinal waters in our hotels, we have mountains, we have game and we have fish in the sea and the rivers, and we have sun. Our people are noble, hospitable, and most important, they hate no one. They love visitors, so much in fact that our visitors feel completely at home.”
Nothing has changed but the politics. Five decades after Castro closed the doors to outsiders, Cuba is enjoying cult status again. Every year, more than two million visitors arrive.
With all the hoopla about politics, it’s easy to overlook the sheer beauty of the place: the diamond-dust beaches and bathtub-warm seas the color of peacock feathers; the bottle-green mountains and jade valleys full of dramatic formations; the ancient cities, with their cobbled colonial plazas and castles evocative of the once mighty power of Spain; and, above all, the sultriness and spontaneity of a people and place called the most emotionally involving in the Western hemisphere.
Divers are delirious over Cuba’s deep-sea treasures. Birding is the best in the Caribbean. There are crocodiles, too, lurking leery-eyed in well-preserved everglades. Horseback-riding options abound.
Cuba is a prime destination for fishing and bicycle touring, and hikers can head for the Sierra Maestra to tread revolutionary trails trod by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. There is santería and salsa, sunny days on talcum beaches, mojitos and Cuba libres to enjoy, and the world’s finest cigars to smoke fresh from the factory. Deluxe all-inclusive resorts are well-established, as are urbane boutique hotels.
Cuba’s most enigmatic appeal, however, is the sense that you are living inside a romantic thriller. Cuba is still intoxicating, still laced with the sharp edges and sinister shadows that made Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet, write to his parents, “If I get lost, look for me in Cuba,” and that made Ernest Hemingway want “to stay here forever.”
No other Western nation offers such sensual and surreal sensations, made more poignant by Cuba’s romantic caught-in-a-time-warp setting. You don’t want to sleep for fear of missing a vital experience. Before the Revolution, Cuba had a reputation as a place of intrigue and tawdry romance. The whiff of conspiracy, the intimation of liaison, is still in the air. For foreign visitors, it is heady stuff.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition