Miami — closer to Cuba than ever

Vantage Travel Team July 20, 2017

Product curator Ignacio “Nacho” Eiras shares why you shouldn’t miss out on our new trip extension.

What’s the most intriguing city in the United States? My vote goes to Miami. For the past few months, I’ve been shuttling between Miami and Cuba, putting final touches on Vantage’s Cuba adventures for 2018. It’s given me time to get a fresh perspective on this amazing metropolis on Biscayne Bay. In fact, as Vantage’s Regional Manager for Central and South America, I found Miami so interesting, particularly with respect to Cuba, that for 2018 we’ve made it a pre-trip extension to both of our Cuba adventures, Cuba: The People & Culture and Across Cuba: From Santiago de Cuba to Havana.

If your image of Miami is of a sleepy, somewhat-past-its-prime vacation spot where retirees snooze in the sun, then think again. That Miami is long gone. Today you’ll find a hip and stylish destination with international cachet. It attracts more foreign visitors than any U.S. city except New York, and by some measures is the wealthiest city in the country. It’s also got a world-class cultural life, a thriving arts scene, tree-shaded historic districts, and a dynamic downtown of sparkling high rises. As to the setting, the palm-fringed boulevards, celebrity homes, miles of white sand beaches, and beautifully restored Art Deco buildings say “tropical paradise” in any language. I should mention that I’m Argentinian, and, like every South American, I give Miami a special place in my heart as the unofficial, almost mythical, “Capital of Latin America.” Sure, it’s quintessentially American — less than 125 years ago, Miami was swampland; now it’s one of the world’s wealthiest cities — and exudes all the enthusiasm, dynamism, and generosity of the United States. But comfortably nestled with that all-American attitude is a Latin flair that makes me feel right at home.

The prosperous Cuban-exile community occupies an important role in Miami’s business and cultural community. Spend time in Miami’s colorful Little Havana neighborhood, with its coffee shops offering cafecito and cortadito, parks with domino players arguing politics in Cuban-accented Spanish, and restaurants serving vaca frita and picadillo, and you’re halfway to Havana already. In fact, I found it fascinating to compare the interplay between Miami’s Cuban community, founded by landowners, professionals, and business owners who fled the revolution almost 60 years ago, and the Cubans who live on the island today. Miami’s Cuban exiles, particularly the older generation, are staunchly anti-Castro and opposed to any reconciliation with the regime. The younger generation, while still opposed to the Castro government, is decidedly ambiguous, with some more than ready to move on, and others, like their parents and grandparents, taking a hard line. Nonetheless, young and old feel strong ties to the island through family, land, and culture. Island Cubans, on the other hand, seem to vacillate between envy and resentment of their cousins on the mainland. But there’s no denying that a little piece of Cuba lives in Florida. Join us on our Miami extension, and you take a stroll down vibrant Calle Ocho, eat lunch at a superb Cuban restaurant, look over the shoulders of some spirited dominoes players, and learn about the revolution and its aftermath from a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Little Havana is without a doubt one of the most interesting neighborhoods in an interesting city, but it’s just one slice. We’ve also arranged a panoramic tour to give you an overview of the city as a whole. You’ll skirt the white sand beaches, sparkling waves, and groundbreaking architecture of Miami Beach, as you travel past the curving white facade of the Fontainebleau hotel, one of the most significant buildings of the 1950s, and head for the tropical pastels of South Beach, one of the world’s most notable Art Deco neighborhoods. Along the way, we’ll see the mansions of some of the stars of sports, fashion, and film that have succumbed to Miami’s charms. You’ll also visit Coral Gables, a product of Miami’s 1920s boom years, one of the first planned communities in the United States. We’ll head down the famed “Miracle Mile,” and view the Biltmore Hotel. The Biltmore was the tallest building in Florida when it was built, and has served as hospital during World War II and part of the University of Miami’s medical school campus. It’s been recently restored to its luxury hotel status, but it’s no wonder they say it’s haunted!

Experience for yourself the flair and cultural vibrancy that draws tourists, sun seekers, and business people to Miami from all over the world. When you land in Cuba after the brief flight from Miami, you may be struck, as I was, that two places, separated by less than a hundred miles of water, have followed such different trajectories. But, making those discoveries is why we travel, isn’t it?