The 2010 It List
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Fifty years after the Cuban Revolution, access to this isolated, lost-in-time island is inching closer for American citizens. A bill to lift the ironclad travel ban (rare exceptions are made for journalists, charitable groups, and Cuban-Americans visiting family) may be passed in Congress in 2010. U.S.-based hotel companies, cruise lines, and tour operators are salivating at the prospect of an open Cuba—and quietly making plans to pounce once the long-standing embargo is lifted. In the meantime, daredevil U.S. citizens have been entering clandestinely via Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean, joining European and Latin American vacationers already enjoying Cuba's old-school glamour and inexpensive beach resorts.
The dream itinerary starts in Havana, where the newly refurbished Hotel Saratoga evokes its 1930s heyday (rates hover around $200, a bargain for a five-star hotel). The hotel's rooftop bar and pool are an ideal spot for a mojito and a bird's-eye view of the city. La Habana Vieja, the historic quarter, is like Old San Juan without the cruise-ship crowds, and the rest of the city is packed with dilapidated colonial mansions, underground salsa bars, and vendors hawking the country's legendary cigars. Foodies know to make reservations at a paladar, a private residence serving home-cooked meals; these are a great way to get a glimpse of the lives of "real" Cubans (plus, the food tends to be better than at government-sanctioned restaurants). About two hours outside Havana, Varadero (pictured) is Cuba's top resort destination, a 13-mile stretch of all-inclusives that calls to mind the Riviera Maya but with prices that start at around $100 a night. Less discovered is Cayo Sabinal, an island on Cuba's north coast with secluded stretches of white sand and excellent diving.