Summer Hotspot: Havana, Cuba

Havana‘s crumbling mansions, cobblestoned streets and vibrant salsa beats have long been a mystery to Americans kept off Cuba‘s shores by historic trade bans.

But in the past year, travel to Cuba has become much easier, starting with the lifting of certain restrictions by the Obama administration last January. That move was followed in April by a new set of Treasury Department guidelines, which makes travel easier for journalists, religious and educational groups and people-to-people exchanges. And now, even non-affiliated Americans can visit Cuba through new authorized tours from companies like National Geographic Expeditions and Friendly Planet Travel.

But with the loosened restrictions come the traveler’s fear that Cuba’s unique atmosphere will become distilled (read: ruined) with the inevitable onslaught of American tourists. If the Havana you envision doesn’t include a McDonald’s in the Plaza des Armas, this summer is the time to plan a visit. And with new, chartered flights from 12 US cities, travel to Cuba has never been easier.

Art lovers will particularly be drawn by the 11th Havana Biennial, which runs from May 11 to June 11. With a focus on “non-Western art,” the Biennial will bring together more than 115 artists from 43 countries. The festival has traditionally aimed to represent concerns and conflicts in the developing world, and this year’s event will explore the relationship between visual productions and the social imaginary – that is, the way artists imagine their surroundings and express themselves through cultural and historical references. With Cuba in such a state of transition, the Biennial will offer a unique opportunity to explore the country’s rich history, conflicted present and unforeseen future through art. Who knows what Cuba will be like for the next one?

[Flickr image via Anton Novoselov]