“Havana captures the imagination like no other,” says travel website TripAdvisor.com. “Faded glamour meets careful colonial-era reconstruction with a backdrop of irresistible color.”
This year, TripAdvisor.com’s users rated Havana their number-one on-the-rise travel destination. Hardly surprising, given Cuba’s temperate weather, proximity to the U.S. and the fact that few Americans have set foot in the country over the past fifty years. For many, curiosity about our near neighbor contributes to the mystique of this once-forbidden land.
“After 50 years of American travel restrictions to Cuba as part of the U.S. embargo against the country, it’s no surprise that travelers are flocking to Cuba to finally see it for themselves”, says Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, the leading provider of licensed people-to-people travel to Cuba. (Americans who wish to visit Cuba must do so with a licensed company providing authorized educational programming, known as “people-to-people travel,” to comply with U.S. government regulations.)
What can visitors expect from Cuba? Welcoming people and a cultural fabric woven together by music, art, and Cuban ingenuity. They can see Cuba’s famous pre-1959 automobiles, Spanish colonial architecture, and streets “unchanged by time.”
“On an Insight Cuba program, travelers gain unique access to people and places the average tourist rarely sees,” says Alison Coelho, director of Cuba operations for longstanding Cuba travel provider Insight Cuba.
Havana edged out several perennially popular destinations, including Costa Rica, Jerusalem, Katmandu and Belize. About 98,000 Americans of non-Cuban descent visited Cuba in 2012. That’s more than twice the number of visitors the island nation welcomed in 2007. Relaxed travel restrictions deserve some of the credit. The rest may belong to Cuba’s “cultural renaissance.”
“Whether you prefer to hot-step it in a salsa club, tour a cigar factory or sip a mojito in one of Hemingway’s haunts, energy buzzes in and around Havana’s historic city centre, a designated Unesco World Heritage Site,” says TripAdvisor.
In TripAdvisor’s most-recent survey, users named these their top-10 on-the-rise foreign travel destinations:
1. Havana, Cuba
2. La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica
3. Kathmandu, Nepal
4. Jerusalem, Israel
5. Cusco, Peru
6. Ambergris Caye, Belize
7. Sapporo, Japan
8. Hanoi, Vietnam
9. Corralejo, Spain
10. Fortaleza, Brazil
By Chelsea Lowe