The time to visit Cuba is now! President Barack Obama’s announcement in 2014 that he was reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was exhilarating. For the first time in decades every U.S. citizen can now travel to this Caribbean island of eccentricity and enigma.

With all the media attention on politics, it’s easy to overlook the sheer beauty of this place….Any U.S. citizen can qualify for group educational travel with licensed tour companies and academic institutions. Even more exciting is the possibility that new regulations may permit individuals to travel solo for educational activity—defined not as academic study but “people to people” interaction. Plus, U.S. citizens will be able to use their credit cards in Cuba and bring home cigars and rum—the ultimate mementos of a unique and long overdue travel experience.

View from above at a row of motorcycles parked at Hacienda Iznaga in Cuba.

Motorcycles at Hacienda Iznaga. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

With all the media attention on politics, it’s easy to overlook the sheer beauty of this place: diamond-dust beaches and bathtub-warm seas the color of peacock feathers; bottle-green mountains and jade valleys full of dramatic formations; colonial cities with cathedrals and cobbled plazas; and above all, the sultriness and spontaneity of the people in a place called the most emotionally involving in the Western hemisphere.

Divers are delirious over Cuba’s deep-sea treasures. Birding is the best in the Caribbean. There are crocodiles too, lurking leery-eyed in well-preserved everglades. Horseback-riding options abound. Cuba is a prime destination for fishing and bicycle touring. In the Sierra Maestra, hikers can follow revolutionary trails trod by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. There are salsa, mojitos, and cuba libres to enjoy and the world’s finest cigars, fresh from the factory.

Cuba’s most enigmatic appeal, however, is the sense that you are living inside a romantic thriller. Cuba is intoxicating, laced with the sharp edges and sinister shadows that made Ernest Hemingway wish that he could stay forever and inspired Spanish poet Federico García Lorca to write to his parents, “If I get lost, look for me in Cuba.” No other Western nation offers such sensual and surreal sensations, made more romantic by Cuba’s caught-in-a-time-warp setting. Finally, after six decades, U.S. citizens can now legally taste this forbidden fruit.

Feel inspired? Check out the latest Cuba travel maps and start planning your vacation.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Cuba.