HAVANA -- With its tart lime daiquiris, salty plantain chips and pulsing salsa music, El Floridita, a cocktail bar in Old Havana once frequented by writer Ernest Hemingway, can always draw a crowd. Every day, as the tavern doors open around noon, European, Canadian and American tourists file in from the dusty streets and cram behind the small round tables scattered about, or slink up to the long, wood bar flanked by a bronze statue of a middle-aged Papa Hemingway.
Near the door, a live band plays classic Cuban salsa music. The ceiling is painted a soothing powder blue. A picture of Hemingway chatting with Fidel Castro, the leader of the 1959 Communist Revolution that transformed Cuba, adorns the wall. On most days, El Floridita is so packed with tourists looking to drink in Hemingway's name, it's hard to find a free seat.
And the crowds are only poised to get bigger. More Americans than ever are traveling to Cuba since President Barack Obama announced in November new relations with the island nation despite a decades-long embargo that restricts trade and tourism between the two countries. Since January, more than 51,000 Americans visited Cuba, compared with 37,459 over that period last year, the Associated Press reported.
But anyone visiting Cuba shouldn't expect the same kind of all-inclusive experience many U.S. travelers are accustomed to in other Caribbean nations. Sure, Cuba is warm and sunny, and there are beaches. But even the best restaurants in Havana are vulnerable to the island's notorious food shortages, meaning the cuisine is unpredictable and not always tasty. There are no ATMs, so tourists must bring cash and convert it to the local currency once on the island. Widespread poverty and economic stagnation are visible at nearly every turn, from the rusted classic cars to the lack of easy internet access.
Still, there is plenty of charm to Cuba, including the friendly natives, the hypnotic beats of the local music, and the stunningly blue waters that hug the Malecon, or Havana's seawall. Below are 15 rare pictures of life and tourism in Cuba under the Castro regime. As the Cubans say, "¡Viva Cuba!"