Defying all logic, the world’s 105th-largest country is also one of its most instantly recognizable. Think psychedelic Che Guevara murals and antediluvian American Buicks, dudes with bongos and old men slapping down dominoes, queues outside ration shops and communist cadres smoking chunky Montecristos. Cuba has a way of going against the grain. It’s all part of its historical make-up, part of its dynamism, part of its intrinsic beauty.
Travel here not only requires a passport, money and a good sturdy rucksack; it also requires flexibility, creativity, good humor, patience and a healthy sense of adventure. Speaking Spanish, though not a prerequisite, is undoubtedly a huge advantage, and will allow you to travel further and dig deeper than the average tourist.
Linguistic dexterity aside, Cuba remains an easy country to travel in and there are few barriers stopping you from wandering around pretty much how and as you choose. A slight loosening of the screws since Raúl Castro took office in February 2008 has allowed Cubans access to cell phones and entry into tourist hotels, meaning interaction with the locals is now simpler and often surprisingly candid.