Don’t wait on planning a trip to Cuba. Now that Americans have the green light to travel to Cuba, thousands, if not millions, of U.S. citizens will travel to the Caribbean island over the next several years. But symbols of Old Havana, like classic cars, might not be there for long, so go soon.
For more than half a century, U.S./Cuba relations were fractured by a trade embargo that began during the Cold War. That means U.S. citizens could not legally fly to Cuba for recreational travel or buy authentic Cuban products like cigars and rum. While citizens of other major countries like Canada and England could travel freely to Cuba, this tempting island was off limits to Americans – and the embargo remained in place all the way until 2015 (1).
The embargo worked both ways, so Cubans were also forbidden from traveling to the United States and buying American-made products – most notably cars. And since there was no way to get a new Ford, GM, or Chrysler in Cuba, the people of Havana became experts in restoring and maintaining their 1950’s-era cars. Consequently, Havana is now the greatest classic car show on the planet. What started as a necessity is now a selling point for tourism in the city.
Unfortunately for Americans during the embargo, there was no way to visit Cuba without permission from the US State Department. People bold enough to see this forbidden country found workarounds with “education visas” and other sketchy methods, but Cuba remained off limits for most Americans. But in 2015, the US re-opened its embassy in Havana, ending the 54-year-long embargo and starting to repair relations between Cuba and the United States. While major airlines and booking companies are just now starting to arrange flights between Havana and Miami (2), open travel is back.
There is a catch, however, with restored travel to Havana. The city lost in time won’t stay that way for long now that the embargo has ended. While tourism is sure to keep around many of the old cars and buildings around Old Havana, brand new GMs, Fords, and Chryslers are sure to pop up on the streets and the magic may fade over time. That cool local coffee shop? It could very well become a Starbucks. Big brands like Starwood Hotels are already planning their move in the new gold rush for Cuban tourism.
So, if you’ve been dreaming about a trip to Cuba – go now. The classic cars are still abundant and it’s a sight every auto enthusiast should experience.