Cuba's best-loved attraction? Those gleaming, vintage cars.
Vintage cars in Cuba
There’s really nothing more enchanting about Cuba—that time-capsule of an island off the coast of Florida—than its antique cars, which dot the street like colorful reminders of an era long gone.
Travel + Leisure’s 2015 Destination of the Year has enchanted travelers with its vintage postcard-vibe, and people are as excited to see its four-wheel artifacts as they are to sip a mojito in Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering hole.
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Havana’s cobblestone streets are lined with everything from pristine Ford Fairlanes to rickety, smoke-belching Studebakers. After the U.S. embargo in 1962, it became impossible for Cubans to get new cars from America—or parts for the vehicles that remained after the revolution. And Castro’s socialism prohibited Cubans from purchasing new cars of their own until 2011.
In an effort to keep their relics from the 50s and 60s running, Cubans have learned to improvise: hand-built parts and mismatched innards. That Chevy? It’s likely to be rolling down the street on the power of a German or Japanese engine.
These forces have kept Cuba’s parking spaces full of old-fashioned vehicles, and provided the country with one of it’s greatest tourism draws. After all, you can’t visit without finding yourself in a 1955 Cadillac taxi.
As travel restrictions ease, however, it’s becoming easier than ever to make that once-forbidden journey to Cuba—and people fear that those beautiful Bel-Airs and Buick Specials will be systematically replaced by crappy, used American cars from the 90s. While we keep our fingers crossed that Cubans remain as attached to their family heirlooms as, apparently, the rest of us are, there's no better time to go than now: before the modern car dealerships pop up everywhere from downtown Havana to colonial Trinidad. And in the meantime? Here's a little automotive eye candy.