Dogs sleep on the motorway as a Russian Lada roars past, brightly painted in the incongruous colors of the tropics. Behind it a 1954 Cadillac belches black from its impossibly large and beautifully contoured frame. The two Cold War classics coexist here so naturally that it’s curious to imagine that this is the motoring equivalent of seeing a penguin and a polar bear on the same ice floe. After a century split evenly between US and Russian influence, and with Fidel having shuffled off stage left, Cuba is slowly rousing itself as the Cuban Revolution moves on to its next stage.
As well as having the usual Caribbean attractions in abundance – from the white sand and palm-fringed beaches of Varadero and Playas del Este to the lush scenery of Isla de la Juventud – Cuba has one of the world’s most exciting (and bloody) histories, extraordinary musical and dance traditions all of its own and a rich national architecture that never ceases to astound. Its vibrant capital, Havana, is famous for its kicking Caribbean nightlife, exuberant residents and beautifully restored old city; colonial gem Trinidad will enchant you with its intimacy and relaxed vibe. Perched improbably on the island's eastern tip, isolated and intriguing Baracoa is Cuba's very own Shangri-La.
Yes, it’s harder work than most of its neighbors, and yes, the government is cashing in on every penny you spend, but the reason people come to Cuba again and again, rife as it is with contradictions and intrigue, is that there’s simply nowhere else like it on earth.
Travel Alert: Travellers should be aware that parts of Cuba are still recovering from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike that struck the island in August-September 2008. Check out Safe Travel or the Thorn Tree forum for advice from travellers.