Colonial technicolour architecture; vivid vintage cars; unique homestays; and undoubtedly the best rum around: Cuba is a veritable feast for the senses. It ticks all those boxes that make the Caribbean completely irresistible – white, silica beaches, crystal-clear seas and mouth-watering cocktails, to name a few – but also has an unusual dose of funk, flair and artistry that truly sets it apart from the rest.
Culture-rich and an utterly thrilling travel experience, this time-warp paradise boasts one of the most renowned histories in the world, not to mention one of the most iconic cultural heroes – Che Guevara. It’s not all about politics and revolution though.
Cuba is a country that really knows how to let loose. It’s so much more than a beach flop and drop and nowhere is that more obvious than in UNESCO-listed Havana. This intoxicatingly sensual city is one that marches to the beat of its own drum; a place where the rhythmic sounds of salsa emanate from the streets. It’s easy to see why Cuba remains one of the most enticing islands in the Caribbean.
No visit to Cuba is complete without a few days in its soulful capital – Havana. Charming, crumbling architecture, abundant plazas and laidback locals: no surprise that its inhabitants, Habaneros, are fiercely proud of this lively city. It almost doesn’t feel real, like a film set stuck in the fifties… but therein lays the appeal. Embrace this feeling as you stroll around Havana’s three hubs: Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Centro Habana and Vedado.
Old Havana is the most popular, boasting a confounding maze of streets overlooking the historic harbour (the largest in the Caribbean), while Vedado is perhaps best-loved for its close proximity to Plaza de la Revolución – home to Che and José Marti monuments. To really get wrapped up in the politics, head for the Fidel Castro-focused Museum of the Revolution, which recounts the communist leader’s rise from rebel commander to victorious revolutionary. Automobile aficionados will fall head over heels for the Museum of Classic Cars, and it’d be rude not to take a peek at the Tropicana Club, world-famous for its colourful cabaret show.
Eat and Drink
Cuban fare relies heavily on its Spanish influence – so indulge in dishes like boliche, tamales and stew. Havana is overflowing with casual eateries and fine restaurants, so you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere authentic to chow down; El Aljibe or La Bodeguita del Medio are just two great places you can go for a traditional meal.
As for drink, rum (we’re talking Havana Club of course) is one of the country’s biggest exports and, unsurprisingly, it’s a lot cheaper here than back home. Lighter in body, fresher and crispier than most, Cuban rum is best enjoyed straight, in a mojito or tangy daiquiri, and served at great bars like the ambient El Floridita and Vista al Golfo. Finish off the evening with a spot of dancing and live music at Café Cantante Mi Habana.
Where to Stay
Cuban accommodation is incredibly varied, from five-star beach resorts to local homestays. What’s most important though is picking the area that suits you. History buffs will love bedding down in retro Old Havana. With its fifties cars, boutique colonial hotels and Soviet-era design, it offers a postcard-perfect snapshot of the Cuba most travellers visualise when they think of this Caribbean gem.
Those who’d rather spend their time on the beach or by the pool, indulging in water sports or grabbing a cocktail, will feel right at home in Varadero – around 80 miles from the capital and boasting some of the most enviable beaches in the Caribbean.
Get Your Salsa On
No, we’re not talking about that chunky, tomato-based dip you eat with nachos; we’re talking about the sexy music and dance that pulsates from Cuba’s very soul. Learn the moves at the closest matinee (afternoon dancing sessions that take place all over the city), from a tutor, or on a two-week dancing holiday.
Alternatively you can ‘feel the rhythm’ and teach yourself at one of Havana’s many salsa clubs and discos – Club Salseando Chevere in Havana’s residential Miramar district is our favourite spot.
Cuba Like a Local
The easiest way to feel like a Cuban is to live like a Cuban – which is where casa particulares come in. There aren’t many destinations where homestays have really taken off, but in Cuba they’re part of daily life. In fact, they’re omnipresent in Havana, with locals hiring out rooms in their homes, apartments or whole properties in order to give visitors a more authentic, not to mention more affordable, experience.