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The visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba, and the worldwide headlines that accompany a Papal visit, may encourage more of us to add Cuba to our "bucket list" of must visit destinations, if it's not already there.
Cuba has been forbidden fruit for most Americans since the 1960s. But it's easier to visit Cuba with a US Passport than you think, and part of the reason the New York Times named Cuba, especially Havana, one of the 45 places to visit in 2012.
I was in Cuba last year, flying legally on a chartered American Airlines plane from the Miami Airport. The plane was half filled with Cuban-Americans visiting their relatives, and the other half was Americans like me, with no relatives in Cuba, traveling with a humanitarian, religious or cultural group. That's how I traveled -- with my luggage stuffed with school supplies, vitamins, toothpaste, even socks, to donate to the schools and clinics my group would be visiting along the way.
If you are a vintage car enthusiast -- as I am -- visit soon, before Cuba opens up wider and the wonderful 1940s and 1950s cars disappear, now that Raoul Castro's regime is allowing Cubans to sell their cars, something brother Fidel did not allow. Some of these golden oldies are truly junkers, held together with little more than ingenuity, while others have been beautifully restored -- much like the buildings in Old Havana and Cuba's other colonial cities, Cienfuegos and Trinidad de Cuba, a UNESCO Heritage city.
I rode in a restored '57 Chevy convertible along the Malecon, Havana's beach road, and snapped photos of Studebakers, Plymouths, De Sotos, and wood-paneled Ford station wagons that became known as 'woodies'.
I visited Ernest Hemiway's finca, or country house, where he wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls, and paid homage to the beat up manual typrewriter he wrote it on.
Even though I don't smoke cigars, touring the historic Partegas factory, where they make the fabled Cohiba cigars, was fascinating. No photos are allowed inside, but it's not to protect cigar-making secrets -- it's because the workers lost so much time posing for photos that cameras are no longer allowed. Visitors yes, cameras no.
Whatever your politics, visiting the memorial and museum dedicated to Che Guevara, in Santa Clara, is a must. Ditto the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, which traces Cuban history from the Conquistadors to Castro. It's in the former Presidential Palace, where the office of former president Juan Battista is intact, just as he left it before escaping the revolutionary forces.
You can read more about my trip to Cuba on SmarterTravel.com. Here's the link to the slideshow and story on ten reasons to visit Cuba now.
This article was published originally on my green travel and green cars website, EcoXplorer.