Locals pose for a reporter’s camera in Havana on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Pictured on far right: World Affairs Council President Charles Shapiro. (KATIE LESLIE / KLESLIE@AJC.COM)

CUBA: A trip from Atlanta to Havana in detail

Reflections on a country in the midst of change

For many Americans, Cuba is seen through a limited lens: Classic cars and the world’s best cigars; the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs.

Hollywood often depicts the country in its commercial heyday, when, for the first half of the 20th century, American mafiosos and government officials transformed Havana into a gambling and tourism mecca. That period of corruption led to the rise of the Communist Castro regime and the demise of the country’s relationship with the United States.

Americans know less about the Cuba of today, but that may soon change amid renewed diplomatic relations with the United States.

» For an in-depth look at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s recent visit to Cuba, told through photos and videos, visit MyAJC.com

Against this backdrop a group of Atlantans traveled to Cuba’s capital in late June, more than five decades after Fidel Castro seized power. Organized by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, the trip enabled Mayor Kasim Reed and others to tour Havana and explore future business opportunities in the event a longstanding trade embargo is lifted.

They found a place rich with contradictions. A capital that is beautiful, but in dire need of repair. A citizenry that has great pride in the gains won during the Revolution, but eager for economic change. A country that is ripe with opportunity, but riddled with challenges.

» Want to know more about Cuba? Here's a brief history of the country

Their trip coincided with the announcement that the U.S. plans to re-open its long-shuttered embassy in Havana, a moment that Charles Shapiro, president of the World Affairs group, said is hugely important for a renewed relationship with the island country.

Each Georgian’s reason for traveling to Havana differed — some came for business, others to experience this moment in history. By the end, they had one thing in common: They had never experienced anything quite like it.

» DID YOU KNOW? Fidel Castro went on a "charm offensive" in April 1959 following the January overthrow of the Cuban president Fulgencio Batista. While visiting the United States he met with then-Vice President Richard Nixon and was given a ten-gallon hat as a welcoming gift during a stay in Houston. SEE THE PHOTO HERE

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