Famed for its colourful capital, Havana, unspoilt sandy beaches and lush rainforests, it is easy to see why Cuba is one of the world’s top destinations. However, there is so much more to this Caribbean island…
Being driven around the bustling, cobbled streets of Havana in an ancient, but beautifully preserved 1950s Cadillac, Chevrolet or Oldsmobile, you feel like you have entered a different era.
It’s not just the unusual combination of grey Soviet-era brutalist architecture juxtaposed with gems such as the Gran Teatro (lit up at night it is a marvel).
Nor is it the contrast between the seemingly endless and wide Malecon waterfront, with the blank canvas of the ocean beyond, and warren of sheltered and shady old town streets where crumbling facades defy gravity thanks to the ingenuity of the population and plenty of wooden props.
No, what really makes you feel that you are in a different time to the rest of the world — and certainly the shoving and pushing grim-faced commuters of London — are the people.
“Andale, andale,” farmer Ramon Rodriguez commands his oxen as I hold onto their reins and worry whether the enormous beasts of burden will bolt. I might not know much Spanish but I can recognize cartoon character Speedy Gonzales’ command for “hurry up.”
Later I learn a speeding ox team is unlikely since the males are castrated, which makes them easier to control. I was also clueless to the conversation happening around me as Rodriguez asked a fellow journalist if he, too, was castrated.
I missed that machismo moment while concentrating on keeping the oxen on their muddy, well-beaten path, and being caught on video saying it’s “just a typical day in Cuba.”
But for Cuba’s 4.7 million annual visitors (one-third of them Canadians) leading an ox team through a sugar cane plantation is anything but typical. Most tourists come for the sandy beaches and remain secluded in all-inclusive resorts, ignoring the local culture.
This has been the norm since Cuba began welcoming tourists again almost 30 years ago.
The tourism industry in Cuba has come a long way in the last couple of decades and currently draws more than a million visitors each year. As the largest island within the Caribbean, a visit offers a wide array of destinations, historic locations and UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Cubans themselves have been described as ‘the friendliest people in the world’.
If you need any more reasons to visit, the differences between the Caribbean’s largest island and those of nearby Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago are immediately apparent; visiting Cuba is like taking a step back in time. Beautifully preserved buildings set the scene for days of exploration and nights of live music and dancing in the cafes, restaurants and bars, while colourful classic cars drive along the streets.
Spend your afternoon fishing among the cays or Scuba diving at one of the remarkable, biodiverse dive sites. Take part in exclusive events and festivals, then host your own party on board your charter yacht at Hemmingway Marina in Havana.
Read on to find out more what Cuba has to offer on a luxury charter.
Backroads’ new bike trip in Cuba takes cyclists on a two-wheeled tour through the rural countryside and into Cubans’ homes for an up-close look at this fascinating island, simultaneously stuck in time and in the midst of unprecedented change.
In Cuba, the plan is that few things will go according to plan.
It’s essential that you arrive with an open heart, a curious mind and a supreme level of flexibility.
Expect the unexpected … it’s all part of the adventure!
These nuggets of wisdom — skeptics might call them warnings — were in the pre-departure packet that arrived in the mail a few weeks before my December bike trip in Cuba.
My husband and I, both avid fans of two-wheel travel, signed up for our cycling vacation before the Cuba situation started taking telenovela-like twists involving so-called sonic attacks, a State Department warning, confusing new travel restrictions and a hurricane named Irma.
“Are you sure you want to go?” my mom asked on more than one occasion.
Havana is a treat for any tourist that’s lucky enough to get the chance to visit here. It’s filled with all sorts of fascinating landmarks, buildings and museums. Travelers often find that they have a great time while they are in this city, but are often overwhelmed as to what to see. Here are the top 5 places that you should make a point to visit if you are in Havana, Cuba.
Old Havana Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, if tourists can only visit one area, they must make it a point to head over to Old Havana. It has cobbled squares, Baroque and Neoclassical buildings and many different sights. These include the military fortress of Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the cathedral Catedral de San Cristobal, the city museum Museo de la Ciudad and the public squares of Plaza de Armas and Plaza Vieja. You can easily spend several days in Old Havana just exploring and taking it all in.
The Malecon This seafront boulevard provides some of the most amazing views in Havana.
Not climbing back on the bike after breakfast can be a bit disorienting, but Trinidad is not a place you fly in and out of.
It is one of only 5 original Spanish colonial towns in Cuba, and it is by far and away the best preserved. Mostly colourfully painted single storey buildings, it’s heritage is further confirmed by its rough cobbled streets, not very comfortable for either walking or cycling.
Founded in the early 16th century, it was a staging post for expeditions to South America and it was from here that Hernán Cortés launched his invasion of Mexico.
You can spend hours wandering the streets, negotiating the tour groups and touters, and be surprised by something interesting round every corner. I was waylaid my a museum called The battle against the bandits.
The island’s third-largest city is home to a spectacular ballet theatre, an eclectic music scene and multiple UNESCO world heritage sites.
CAMAGUEY, CUBA — The dancers are covered in a sheen of sweat as commands fly from the balcony of the storied Teatro Principal. “Maria, you have to keep your arm lower,” barks Aurora Bosch, a former prima ballerina with the Cuban National Ballet. “Baja, baja, baja.”
The members of the Camaguey Ballet tremble from the exertion of holding poses as the guest critic makes minute adjustments to tilted heads, fluttering arms, and elongated feet in handmade pointe shoes. It is at least 30 C outside the three-storey, neoclassical-style theatre, and it is not much cooler inside.
Bosch has been invited to critique rehearsals of the ballet’s 50th anniversary program, which includes this dance choreographed to “Cabalgando con Fidel”, a song released upon Castro’s death.
There’s been plenty of change in Cuba since 2014’s ‘Cuban thaw’. Under President Obama, relations between the Caribbean island and the United States started to warm up, after 54 years of famously stormy relations between the two countries.
Tourists have flocked to the country since then. Although there’s been some uncertainty and a drop in numbers under President Trump, many travelers are still coming to Cuba and, in particular, the capital, Havana, to experience streets filled with colorful classic cars, rum, cigars, lively Afro-Cuban music and plenty more.
One of the more recent changes is the opening in June 2017 of Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, a new 5-star luxury hotel right in the heart of Havana’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. It’s around a 20-minute drive from Havana’s international airport to the hotel, but the city starts making an impression immediately.
A look at our time ashore in Trinidad Cuba with Viking Cruises, as part of Viking’s new voyages Cuba cruises from Miami, Florida.
At first glance, it’s hard to know exactly what to do with your time in Cuba. Sailing aboard Viking Cruises’ Viking Sun on Viking’s weeklong Cultural Cuba itinerary from Miami, guests have two-and-a-half full days to explore this fascinating island nation.
Unlike other cruise ships, Viking Sun doesn’t dock in Havana. Instead, it sits at anchor off Cienfuegos, Cuba – a pretty little town on the southern coast of the island. Viking has always been particularly adept at crafting unique itineraries, and what at first seems like a disadvantage is actually a massive win for the line on many fronts.
From Cienfuegos, Viking offers nine different shore excursion options – all of them complimentary.
JAZZ PERCUSSION STUDENTS TAKE AN IMMERSIVE TRIP INTO SOME OF THE WORLD’S MOST INFLUENTIAL REGIONAL MUSIC
Music is everywhere in Cuba. You hear it emanating from the densely packed apartment buildings, from the open-air restaurants and bars, from the never-ending stream of candy-colored vintage American cars that zip through the broad cosmopolitan boulevards of Havana and snake through the narrow cobblestone lanes of Trinidad.
But most memorable is the live music, performed day and night in cities large and small. On a single street in Havana, you might encounter several solo buskers—perhaps a trumpeter, a guitarist, and a flutist—each staking out their own small piece of real estate. And in parks and squares throughout the country you’ll find ensembles entertaining mixed crowds of tourists and Cubans, with all ages and ethnicities dancing, swaying, clapping, and singing along.