In light of Obama's landmark plans to rebuild relations between the US and Cuba, we ask: should we go now before it changes forever?
December 2014 was a landmark month. Barack Obama finally released details about the relaxation of US travel restrictions to Cuba, meaning that soon Americans will discover the delights of this communist Caribbean nation for themselves. While it’s great news for North American travellers, many tour operators are now reporting a sudden increase in bookings from others who are worried that its time-warp charm – a confection of vintage muscle cars, colourful squares and vibrant culture – will disappear in favour of chain hotels, shops and cafés.
“The demand is already starting to outstrip availability,” confirms Stuart Whittington, head of product at Journey Latin America. His advice is to book early with a bonded tour operator and to go soon – before it changes: “Cuba has a real buzz about it, experience it while it’s intact and share this moment of history with the people,” he adds.
But not everyone thinks the rush is necessary. Sarah Cameron, author of the Footprint Cuba Handbook
, believes any changes will be slow: “The socio-political structure is unlikely to change anytime soon,” she says. “There may be fewer old American gas guzzlers on the streets and more modern SUVs, there may be a McDonald’s, there may be advertising billboards, but that hardly constitutes a loss of cultural identity.” Old ladies with Cuban cigars: soon to be a thing of the past? (Shutterstock)
So will new flights – like Air China’s Beijing to Havana route, rumoured to be launching in September – mean more touristy, Disneyland-like attractions?
Of course not, reckons Cuba aficionado and The Independent’s senior travel editor Simon Calder. “In 2015 it is a country resurrected,” he says. “It is confident, energetic and proud of a rich and multifaceted culture that has withstood austerity and will be strong enough to resist easy Americanisation.
“With the US as a friend, not foe, Cuba can begin a new chapter as a regional power. The other Caribbean islands are probably trembling in their flip-flops, but competition is good and should sharpen them up,” he adds.
Whether it’s going to transform slowly or rapidly, a little or a lot, the advice is still abundantly clear: 2015 is a great time to experience Cuba in all its glory.
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