When Stephan Van Dam began designing two detailed tourist maps of Cuba in 2014, he couldn’t have known that one year later, the prospect of renewed relations between the country and the U.S. could effectively create a whole new market for them. At the time Van Dam, the founder of VanDam’s StreetSmart maps, was catering to a smaller audience: the Americans who could only visit the country if they were Cuban-American or embarking on a “people-to-people” tour run by a licensed guide, and the 1.1 million Canadians and hundreds of thousands of European travelers who visited last year.
In 2015, the country offers jaded American travelers something different from the usual tourist trappings. According to Van Dam, the country is experiencing a brief moment “free of advertising before global corporate luxe flattens the island.” With highly legible cartography and engaging photographic covers, his StreetSmart Cuba and StreetSmart Havana maps highlight local business colorfully. They're guides to the latest hotels, resorts, restaurants and paladares (private family-run restaurants) that appeal to the pioneering tourist eager to experience the country before the inevitable onslaught of development.
Van Dam’s Cuban maps culled their information from both federal data and his team’s personal experience. The relief and terrain data come courtesy of the CIA; the cultural and urban information was provided by Havana’s Office of the City Historian; the restaurant and paladares recommendations from his team’s “ground trothing and testing,” as well as recommendations by Cubans and American friends. Walking Havana from one end to the other gave Van Dam a sense of the urban fabric, which is, by his description, frozen in time and brimming with period-specific architectural jewels—buildings that reflect Plateresque, Cuban baroque, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, Mid-century modern, and Soviet Brutalist architectures. Cuba, he says, "avoided the 1960s Corbusian redevelopment schemes that destroyed so many world cities throughout the Americas."