Head for Cuba and you’ll find yourself in a bit of a time warp. The elaborate architecture and pastel-coloured building fronts, not to mention the old school Cadillacs zooming by, are everything you’ve heard about and more.
Wandering the cobbled lanes of Cuba’s historic districts is a feast for the senses. Move in any direction and you’re bound to encounter the sultry sounds of salsa music and the scent of Spanish spices wafting in from nearby cafes. It’s a blend that has attracted holidaymakers, novelists and musicians alike. Now it’s your turn.
Cuba at a glance
Found just south of the US state of Florida and within the Antilles archipelago, Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. It was a Spanish colony up until the Spanish-American War of 1898, and is still heavily influenced by Spanish culture to this day. Spanish is the country’s official language.
Cuba’s centre of operations is undoubtedly in its capital city, Havana. That’s where you’ll find the majority of activity, with staggering cathedrals, theatres and museums whose architectural styles are staggeringly diverse, ranging from Colonial to Baroque and Art Deco.
Fan out a little wider and you’ll bump into the country’s coastlines, where white sand beaches and luxury hotels reign supreme. Cuba is also home to a number of UNESCO Heritage Sites that encompass whole cities, like the older sections of Havana and Camaguey, Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
5 fun facts about Cuba
- Cuban food is a blend of Spanish and Caribbean cuisine. In a traditional Cuban meal, the food is served all at once instead of in courses.
- Baseball is by far the most popular sport in Cuba.
- Renowned American novelist Ernest Hemingway lived just outside Havana for many years with his wife, even after relations between Cuba and the United States began to deteriorate. Today, his home has been transformed into a museum where visitors can view his work space and personal artefacts.
- From up in the air – way, way up – the shape of Cuba resembles a crocodile, and the island is often referred to in Spanish as ‘El Cocodrilo’.
- The music and dance style known as Son originated in Cuba. It’s known for providing the basis for other popular music styles like salsa, mambo and cha-cha-cha.
Things to do
Not only the top draw in the town of Varadero, the beach here is a site that attracts visitors from near and far. Varadero Beach stretches an incredible 20 kilometres – that’s essentially the entire length of the town. Here, you can lounge around the white sand shores with beach bars and top-star hotels behind you.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises everything from the gorgeous Havana Cathedral to the Plaza Vieja, lined with restaurants and coffee shops whose diners lounge in the tropical climate al fresco. Touring here, you can drink in the sights and sounds on foot or enlist the help of a tour guide in a sporty classic car and cruise down the seaside strip known as El Malecon.
Necropolis Cristobal Colon
Okay, so wandering through a gargantuan cemetery might seem a little morbid, but stick with us. The Necropolis Cristobal Colon is a mega cemetery, one of the biggest and most important in Latin America. Covering a massive 140 acres, it’s comprised of more than 500 architecturally elaborate mausoleums, vaults and chapels where many famous Cubans are interred.
The Morro Castle is a 16th-century fortress that guards the entrance to Havana Bay. Built right into the cliffside, it’s a large stone building crowned with a lighthouse. Inside are prison cells and working canons, plus some seriously gorgeous views of the Havana coastline.
Here are some of our top money-saving deals on holidays to Cuba.
Starfish Cayo Santa Maria
7 nights, All Inclusive
With a location tucked up right alongside a white sand beach and a pool that’s big enough to be its own sea, the Starfish Cayo Santa Maria knows a thing or two about holidays in the sun. There are six restaurants on offer here, plus three bars, dancing and language lessons, a disco and live entertainment and a whole host of sports and watersports.
Grand Memories Varadero
7 nights, All Inclusive
The Grand Memories Varadero is anchored by its incredible pool scene, featuring two pools and swim-up bars. There are six restaurants plus a buffet, as well as an adults-only section, which gives you exclusive access to yet another pool and a cigar lounge. On top of this, a short bus ride gets you to the shops and markets of Varadero.
7 nights, All Inclusive
At the Brisas Guardalavaca, you’ll have your pick of staying in the hotel or the nearby bungalows, but that’s not where the choices end. There are two pools, six restaurants and a mind-blowing nine bars to wander between, not to mention the wide range of outdoor activities, which typically include snorkelling, volleyball and windsurfing.
Look out for more blog posts on this fascinating destination later in the month, including the best Instagram pictures of Cuba and how to spend the perfect weekend in Havana.