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Since Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shook hands at a summit in Panama, Cuba is getting ready for a new American invasion - a peaceful one this time. It won’t be too long before the Caribbean island is flooded with American tourists. For now, Cuba is still a wonderful time capsule where progress seems to have stood still for half a century. Visit now, before it is too late.
Colourful colonial houses with peeling paint, shiny 1950s vintage cars held together by string, and old ladies who smoke cigars to the tune of swinging salsa music. These are the images that come to mind when we hear the name ‘Cuba’. Since the resignation of Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl has introduced drastic economic reforms: he is reconnecting with modern times. Until the transition is complete, you can still enjoy the following 3 experiences in old Cuba.
International hotel chains such as the Hilton and the InterContinental are eager to return to Cuba, however since the Revolution all hotels have been government-owned. The flagship hotel is the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a grand hotel from the glory days of Cuban tourism. This 5-star palace on the Malecón has provided luxury accommodations to Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn. Today the Hotel Nacional de Cuba exudes mostly faded glory, but travellers who appreciate nostalgia couldn’t find a better hotel in Havana.
Modern Chinese cars have been introduced to the island since the recent reforms, but many Cadillacs, Buicks and Chevrolets from the 1950s still dominate the Cuban street scene. The American trade embargo prevented Cubans from buying new cars, and so they had to make do with whatever cars they had. They invested their blood, sweat and tears to keep the cars going. Near the Capitolio in Havana, you can rent a pink convertible for a handful of pesos - driver included - and tour the city in style.
Capitolio, Paseo del Prado, Havana
After Fidel Castro expelled all foreign companies during the Revolution, he missed his favourite treat: ice cream. That is why he commissioned the construction of a major ice cream factory near the airport. Castro built a park with a futuristic pavilion right in the heart of Havana that is home to the largest ice cream parlour in the world. Even though Coppelia seats a thousand visitors, people often line up for hours at the various entrances to grab a spot.
Coppelia, Parque Coppelia, 2111 Calle L, Havana