Cuba is only 90 miles from Key West in Florida, but it has been the forbidden fruit for Americans for more than 50 years. Most Americans still need authorization to go, and there are as yet no scheduled air or ferry services from the U.S., but don’t let that put you off. A cruise is an even better way to get a real feel for the island.
Greek company Variety Voyager has cruises between Havana and Cienfuegos that stay two nights in the capital. Cuba Cruise by Celestyal Cruises has seven-night voyages that circumnavigate the island and an alternative embarkation in Montego Bay, Jamaica, which is a much easier access point for Americans.
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Here are six things not to miss when you’re there:
1.Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway by visiting his former home, Finca Vigia, 10 miles east of Havana and now a museum (you’re not allowed in, but you can peek through the windows). Back in the capital, toast the famed author with a mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and a daiquiri in the Floridita. They were his favorite drinks and watering holes.
2.A Coco taxi (yellow, round, and great fun) is the only way to travel in Havana — apart from the classic American cars that adorn the roads and also serve as cabs. Remember to agree to a price before starting.
3.Old Havana has an alluring mix of neoclassical architecture — don’t miss the grand El Capitolio, modeled on the Capitol in Washington — and faded elegance. You can learn the art of cigar rolling and rum-making on factory visits, shop for locally made crafts and round off the day at the Tropicana, a colorful Las Vegas-style show of song, dance and skimpy costumes.
4.Trinidad, on the south coast, was built on the proceeds of slavery and sugar and is packed with museums that portray life during colonial times. Cantero Palace on elegant Plaza Mayor is the best, but leave time to stroll and admire the city’s fabulous colonial architecture.
5.Cemetery Santa Efigenia in Santiago de Cuba is the final resting place of Jose Marti, a hero who he led Cuba’s fight to oust the Spanish in the late 1800s. Every 30 minutes between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., they change the guard at his mausoleum to the sound of the Cuban national anthem.
6.Cienfuegos was the only Cuban city founded by the French. Make your way to the Parque Josw Marti, which is surrounded by a 1870-built neoclassical cathedral, the grand Teatro Tomás Terry and a mini-Arc de Triomphe.
For more Cuba travel tips, go to www.insigthguides.com.