Relations between the Cuban and U.S. governments are improving. On January 16th 2015, some restrictions preventing Americans from traveling to Cuba were lifted, in that Americans that meet at least one of 12 special categories no longer need to apply for a special license to visit the country. However, even though travel restrictrictions are no longer as strongly enforced, it is still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for the purpose of tourism only.
If you simply want to experience the best of Cuban culture but are not sure you have a legitimate reason to be granted access into the country, then you could start by experiencing Cuban culture in Miami without the need of special permission, or even a passport. A 2012 demographic revealed that the greater Miami area was home to 1.2 million Cuban-Americans at the time, and that number continues to grow. Many of Miami’s Cuban immigrants are concentrated in the city’s Cuban neighborhood, Little Havana, where you will find a fusion of Cuban as well as Central and South American culture. Calle Ocho is the nucleus of Little Havana, a roughly three-square-mile hub of activity hosting about 55,000 residents, mostly of Latin American descent.
If you plan on taking a trip to Miami’s Little Havana, you will be met with an overwhelming influence of Cuban culture. You could certainly just wander from place to place, stopping wherever strikes your fancy, but if you prefer to head into your vacations with more of a plan, be sure to add these five attractions to your itinerary.
1. Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center: This gallery is home to one of the largest private collections of Cuban art in the world and admission is free.
2. Ball & Chain dance club: A trip to Miami would not be complete without taking some time to dance! The Ball & Chain nightclub plays traditional Latin music and even offers dance lessons on select days! You can purchase drinks and tapas for about $20.
3. El Titan de Bronze cigar shop: I don’t mean to condone smoking in any way, but cigars are a Cuban tradition, so whether you plan on purchasing or simply perusing the shelves, one of the best ways to experience Cuban culture is at a cigar shop. El Titan de Bronze is a family-owned shop that employs highly-skilled tabaqueros (cigar-rollers) with extensive experience working in cigar factories in Cuba.
4. El Pub Restaurant: If you want an authentic Cuban meal at a decent price, then you’ve got to visit El Pub Restaurant. The family-style restaurant serves classic Cuban dishes such as ropa vieja (stewed beef with vegetables) and the Cubano sandwich for around $10.
5. Versailles Restaurant: This restaurant is a little more upscale slightly more pricy than the aforementioned El Pub restaurant, but it is worth a visit for its history alone. Versailles Restaurant claims to be the “Most Famous Cuban Restaurant in the World,” and that would not be an exaggeration. The restaurant became a gathering place for Cuban exiles when it opened in 1971 and has continued in that tradition, becoming a hub of political activity after President Obama announced the policy shift between the United States and Cuba in December 2014.
While these five ideas are certainly enough to get your started and provide your fix of Cuban culture in Miami, there is so much more history and culture to explore! It would definitely be worth your time to book a tour through a knowledgeable tour guide such as HistoryMiami or Corinna Moebius.