A charismatic mix of Spanish, Caribbean, African and native Indian cultures that combine to create an exciting, passionate, colourful and lively way of life.
One of the last bastions of communism, fascinating Cuba has an antiquated charm thanks to its relative isolation from the modern world. A charismatic mix of Spanish, Caribbean, African and native Indian cultures combine to create a way of life that is exciting, passionate, colourful and lively. Cuba is enjoying resurgence, with tourists eager to visit the country and delight in its charms before the US inevitably infiltrates and “Americanises” the unique country that has, to date, managed to escape its impending fate.
Cuba is bursting at the seams with astonishing sights. Prepare to be enchanted by the colourful city of Havana with its multihued buildings; enthralled with the magical atmosphere of Trinidad where bicycles and horse-drawn carriages travel down cobblestone streets; captivated by the vintage American cars trawling the streets and seduced by the intoxicating rhythm of the music that fills the air. Beyond cigars and cars, mojitos and murals, revolutionaries and notoriety – you’ll discover a photographer’s delight, a population of outgoing, passionate and hospitable locals and an intriguing country on the cusp of something huge. A place that is ready and waiting to be discovered.
Havana’s streets, resembling something between Paris and Buenos Aires, are lined with extravagantly decorated, ornate buildings in varying states of disrepair while its roads are filled with colourful Chevrolets, Buicks and other pre-revolution makes. The result is a beautiful big time warp. Havana’s oldest square, Plaza de Armas, has been a social hub of the city for over five centuries. Surrounded by cafés and restaurants, the square’s shady gardens provide respite from the heat and a great place to people watch. See the elegant baroque Catedral de San Cristobal and the equally magnificent Palacio de los Capitanes which now houses the city’s museum. The Plaza Vieja is one of Havana’s most vibrant spots; restored to its former beauty, it is now an eclectic mix of architecture from Art Nouveau to Cuban Baroque. A culturally rich city, it is the spectacular displays of street art that can be found all over the city that have provided Havana’s inhabitants with the opportunity to express themselves in a highly respected and courageous way.
The Viñales Valley in the Pinar del Rio province is encircled by mountains, its landscape pocked with dramatic rocky outcrops known as mogotes. Traditional techniques are still in use for agricultural production, notably tobacco. Cigar chewing farmers can be spotted driving their oxen through fields of the finest tobacco in the world. To learn about the tobacco process, just outside Viñales on the road to Los Jazmines are tobacco plantations aplenty. Fully operating secaderos (drying houses) in which tobacco leaves are cured from February to March are on show to visitors. Loose cigars are available at lowered prices, and boxed quantities of fine brands can be purchased in many hotels at prices greatly lower than in the West.
Cienfuegos, Cuba’s UNESCO-listed “la Perla del Sur” (Pearl of the South) has long seduced travellers with its French spirit, elegance and colourful Caribbean panache. A bit Parisian, Cienfuegos is draped across a natural bay sitting enviably on its shores. Founded in 1819, it is split into two distinct parts – a colonnaded central zone with its elegant Prado and Parque Marti; and Punta Gorda, a narrow slice of land lined with a bevy of eclectic early 20th century residences. At the far end is an architectural jewel – the Palacio de Valle, an outrageously ornate turreted and stuccoed structure. Destined, at the hands of Dictator Fulgencio Batista, to have become an exclusive casino; as the hammer of the Cuban Revolution fell, so did his dreams and it’s now used as a restaurant, bar and place of cultural events.
Situated below the Escambray Mountains and not far from Playa Ancon, Trinidad is a perfectly preserved colonial town built on the wealth of huge sugar fortunes, amassed in the neighbouring Valle de los Ingenios during the 19th century. Some 70 historic sugar cane mills remain in situ. The Plaza Mayor is Trinidad’s central square and a stunning open-air museum of Spanish colonial architecture. Delightful coloured homes line cobbled streets, keeping their inhabitants hidden behind charming wooden-louvered windows and wrought iron grilles. As you wander the streets, be sure to admire Santisima Trinidad Cathedral and Convento de San Francisco.
Right in the geographic heart of Cuba sits Santa Clara, a university city also at the heart of the Cuban Revolution. It was here that Argentine guerrilla Ernest ‘Che’ Guevara and Castro’s troops liberated Santa Clara in the last revolutionary battle. December 1958 marked the end of the dictatorial regime, with Fulgencio Batista fleeing Cuba less than 12 hours later. In reverence to Guevara, Santa Clara is home to a simple mausoleum and contained museum which houses the remains of Che Guevara and sixteen of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during the Bolivia campaign. There is also a reconstruction of Guevara derailing the train during the Battle of Santa Clara.
Cultural capital of Cuba, Santiago de Cuba is actually situated closer to Haiti than Havana. Birthplace of Fidel Castro, it was here that he and his small contingent of rebels launched an ill-prepared attack on the Moncada Barracks. Don Facundo Bacardi threw open his first-ever rum factory here, and almost every Cuban music genre from salsa to son sprung from somewhere in Santiago’s de Cuba’s soulful streets. Wedged between the Sierra Maestra Mountains and the Caribbean Sea, the city’s historic centre beckons visitors with its ramshackle charm.
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