Back in December, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced that their countries, the United States and Cuba, would restore a diplomatic relationship. Ties between the two counties had been severed in 1961, when the U.S. closed its Cuban embassy and strengthened its embargo against the Caribbean nation. Restrictions on banking, remittances, and, most importantly, travel, have now eased. So where do you want to go first?
Most people have their sights set on Havana, the vibrant capital where you’ll feel like you’re stepping back into the 1950s. But you’ve been dreaming about the practically deserted islands and beaches. The Colorados Archipelago is a chain of isles and cays off the northwestern coast. Ernest Hemingway had a fishing camp here in the 1940s. Snorkelers, scuba divers, and beach bums now rush to the barrier islands.
From Palma Rubia, it’s a 30-minute boat ride to Cayo Levisa. A swampy mangrove forest covers much of the small island; fish breed in the exposed roots that twist into the water. A perfect beach—three kilometers long with pure white sand—lines the northern coast. Crabs patrol the sand. Sea turtles, spiny lobsters, and mollusks live in the warm water at the edge of the beach. While spectacular dive sites lie just offshore.
Start by snorkeling in the shallow water. Star corals, brain corals, and sea fans are visible as soon as you lower your head. Then join a group getting ready to board a boat at the dive center. Eagle rays, stingrays, and sharks circle La Corona de San Carlos dive site. Parrotfish and barracudas glide along the slope at La Cadena Misteriosa. Sponges cover the vertical wall at El Infierno. Garden eels and schools of colorful fish surround you at La Espada del Pirata. While 17th- and 18th-century shipwrecks are just a little farther away.
After a long day in the water, a seafood dinner, a strong rum drink, and a simple bungalow await you on the beach at Hotel Cayo Levisa. You share your highlights of the day and plans for the rest of your trip with the other travelers. You stare at the stars and listen to the waves. Plus, you keep taking deep breaths to soak it all in. You’re finally in Cuba.