Cuba is an extraordinary, enigmatic country and strikingly different from its Caribbean neighbours. It is an island steeped in the history of Spanish colonialism and post-war revolution. Reminders of the communist revolution of Fidel Castro are everywhere – from the museum paying homage to the revolutionaries in Havana, to the party slogans painted on city walls, Cuba’s unique political system is an attraction in itself.
UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Havana is the Caribbean’s largest and most vibrant city. The crumbling facades of once grand colonial mansions line the cobbled streets. Vintage Chevies, Buicks and Cadillacs jostle for position along the Malecon. Sip Havana Club rum and listen to the sounds of salsa, mambo and samba or head to the Conde de Villanueva for a Cuban cigar as you absorb the sights and sounds of this fascinating fusion of African and Spanish cultures.
Located around two hours south-west of Havana and the heart of Cuba’s agricultural sector, the Viñales Valley offers a stunning landscape of rust red earth, rolling green farmland and dramatic limestone outcrops that conceal underground caves and river systems. Hiking or cycling through this unique landscape is a highlight of many trips to Cuba. Visit local tobacco farmers and see how Cuba’s most renowned export is grown, harvested and rolled into the famous habanero cigar.
Dubbed the Pearl of the South for its spectacular natural bay, the city is also one of Cuba’s most prosperous, with a thriving shipyard and shrimp industry. Don’t miss a visit to the Teatro Tomas for some great live music in a grand setting.
Perfectly preserved, Trinidad was built on the wealth of the 19th century sugar boom and little seems to have changed since its heyday in 1850. Horse and cart still ply the cobbled streets and groups of guajiros (Cuban cowboys) while away the heat of the day playing checkers or chess in shaded plazas. The nearby Ancon Beach provides welcome respite from the heat with fine white sand, aquamarine waters and vendors ready to quench your thirst with freshly picked coconuts.
Further east are the lesser visited central towns of Camaguey, Bayamo and Holguin where you can discover the charms of Cuba without the tourists. Santiago de Cuba is located on the east coast between the Sierra Maestra Mountain range and the Caribbean Sea. Hot and sultry, the island’s cultural capital has fantastic live music and a thriving arts and literature scene. Five hours away is the tiny fishing village of Baracoa, with a stunning natural setting and some of Cuba’s best cuisine.