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The Urbanist’s Havana

Alt-cigar tours, boccaccio plays, rooftop duck confit.

El Paseo del Prado in the Habana Vieja neighborhood.  

Suddenly, everything is different. On December 17, a half-­century propaganda war between the U.S. and Cuba changed course; diplomatic relations were restored, and the 90 miles of ocean separating the two countries didn’t feel quite so vast anymore. In Havana, conversation has been dominated by what might happen next. There are fears that free education and health care could fade away and that the city will be overrun with Starbucks, but the general feeling is measured excitement. Change has already been rippling across the island since 2008, when Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raúl: With less state control, small businesses (boutiques, restaurants, cooking-oil factories turned nightclubs) have opened at a dizzying pace. But the city has a long way to go. While Netflix is coming to Cuba, only the super-wealthy can afford internet access. Cubans can now buy new cars, but given the 400 percent markup, few can pay $262,000 for a Peugeot. The divide can also be seen in the dual currency: the peso, used by locals for basic necessities, and the CUC, pegged to the dollar and in the pockets of tourists and the emerging middle class. It’s a city in the process of a historical transformation. And that’s why now—in March, there will be direct flights from JFK offered by Cuba Travel Services—is the time to go.