Joakim Eskildsen has always felt a strong connection to Cuba. Over the last few years, the Danish photographer has produced a body of work that attempts to show the life and energy that defines the Caribbean island nation. “This country is very complex and special,” he says. “It makes you want come back and back to experience more and more.”

After President Barack Obama announced in late 2014 that the U.S. would pursue reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba, Eskildsen returned once more. His goal was to capture a country in transition, with the hope that its distinctive culture — one that continues to attract tourists from all over the world — will remain intact in the coming years. “Cuba desperately needs a change to its system so it will work better for its people,” he says. “But this does not mean they should [embrace] an American vision. I hope Cuba can stand against this, but it is difficult as the U.S. has a lot of money and possibilities, and Cuba has none.”

With President Obama on a historic trip to Cuba, the first for a sitting American president in 88 years, one thing is clear to Eskildsen: “It’s really an exiting time.”

Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior international photo editor at TIME.

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