Cuba is the tall-ship of the Caribbean. Times are changing now it’s the 21st century, however. Surrounding this vessel is a world of motorboats and cruise liners ready to tow her back to port. But Cuba isn’t going anywhere yet. Rather, she powers through the currents with the vigour of youth, and although her paintwork is waterworn, she’s yet to spring a leak.
With tensions thawing with the USA, and a predicted tourist armada set to arrive within the year, Cuban holidays are on the agenda. The mosaicked façades may soon crumble in favour of West-centric promenades, and the increased tourism could raise prices. But authentic corner shops aren’t lodged between chain stores yet, so let’s not get carried away; Cuba’s charms won’t disappear completely.
Instead of travelling back in time, a holiday to Cuba sees you step sideways into a dimension of sun kissed shores, crumbly buildings, and vintage American cars puttering alongside horse-carts. Take the Spanish colonial façades and line them up beside dusty roads and vibrant markets. Throw in constant Carlos Santana serenades, fruit juice and cigars, and you’ve got a personality unique to the Caribbean. Cuba is not a place simply to admire; she needs to be absorbed. And once you’re back home on the British streets, she does; her dynamism is already part of you.
Regardless of the predicted tourist onslaught, walking through the streets of Havana will always be an attraction. An otherworldly essence drips from the fringes of the Almendares River to Havana’s heart. Afterwards, meander through the Paseo del Prado to lose yourself in a time largely forgotten. Lined with trees and authentic architecture, it’s a beautiful area to admire the Cuban way of life. Meet Jose Marti, or at least his statue at Plaza de la Revolución, and do it early in the day to avoid crowds. Definitely check out the Museum of the Revolution and the Capitol Building, which offer looks at Cuba’s turbulent 20th century history. Finally, the Malecón is where locals come to kick-back and party. It’s a great experience to take a beer along and join in. For retiring at night, Parque Central is a fantastic place to blend with Havana’s architecture, and it’s Kenwood Travel’s top pick for a Havana based hotel, giving you the authentic Cuba at your doorstep.
But let’s put Havana aside and journey from the winding city streets towards the postcard-perfect side of Cuba. A two-hour taxi along the northern coast takes us to stretches of land where sea tickles each side of the Hicacos Peninsula. The area moves from rustic Cuban life to paradisal sun-washed splendour. Here we’ll find Varadero, a resort town catering for tourists. It’s for a good reason. Elbow-to elbow with the crystalline sands that exemplify a Caribbean holiday, Varadero has plopped itself not on, but amidst some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. The dusty roads swerve backstage here, letting the limelight shine on luxury and convenience instead. This is a town for indulgence with turquoise sea and magnificent beaches as the backdrop, so why not? Melia Varadero and Paradisus Varadero are amongst a fantastic choice of Varadero resorts that make luxurious base camps for exploring Cuba whilst letting you return to a world of comfort at the end of the day.
The rest of Cuba is yet another dimension. These lands sport carpets of rainforest, plains and mountains. You’ll find oodles of colourful houses riddled throughout tropical pastures, and even more colourful people. Viñales, to the West of Havana is home to the most jaw-dropping landscapes in the Caribbean, and a treat for any photographer wanting that perfect tropical-shot. It’s because it’s real. There’s no performances here, where tobacco farmers travel by horse-cart, and sleepy shop-owners aren’t stocked to the ceiling with cigar magnets and Che Guevara berets. This is what a Cuban holiday should be. Visit, sit back, relax, and take a photo of authentic Cuban country life before it too is taken by the wave of time.
A holiday to Cuba this year is boarding our tall-ship as she takes a voyage into new territories. Once harboured and refurbished, she’ll return as a cruise liner, a sparkling wonder with all the modern conveniences to keep up with her Caribbean counterparts. But we at Kenwood Travel know that a part of that unique authenticity will always remain.
Maybe that’s not so bad.