Cuba is certainly on the top of our list, as I imagine it is for many of the US residents as well now. Thanks for this post, Anita, I can't wait to go.
March 2016 was a game-changer for Cuba in terms of its international profile: the country hosted President Barack Obama, major league baseball and none other than those tireless stalwarts of rock’n’roll, the Rolling Stones. After five decades of a notoriously frosty relationship with the U.S., tensions have been very publicly thawed and Cuba, for so long a famously secluded island, has now opened up and is well on its way to becoming a full-fledged tourist destination.
Under the stifling influence of an economic embargo for so long, Cuba has been its own unique time warp and, ironically, this isolation has helped to give the country its dichotomous charm. Long considered a forbidden fruit, this complex country has a robust culture, a beautifully preserved history and a lust for life that are both baffling and intriguing.
There are countless hidden treasures behind Cuba’s often-shabby façade that make it a fascinating destination, all the more so because it’s likely to morph into something else entirely once the inevitable hordes of holidaymakers descend. Below are just a few of the reasons why Cuba should be considered for a holiday sooner rather than later.
It’s a cliché but it’s true: arriving in Havana feels like stepping back in time. Classic American cars cruise through neighbourhoods that are a mishmash of colonial and Art Deco, and especially prominent among them is the locals’ vehicle of choice, baby-blue 1950s Buicks. What better place to watch the cars, and the world, go by than the Malecon, eight glorious kilometres along the sea front which has long been a meeting point for the creative and lovestruck. There are also plenty of flashy and flamboyant clubs, including Club Tropicana and Hemingway’s favourite, El Floridita, to soak up the ambiance of the Caribbean’s most evocative city.
With an abundance of startling visual contrast that veer between meticulously preserved and neglected and crumbling, Cuba’s colonial cities haven’t evolved much since pirates patrolled the surrounding seas. Grand squares and cobbled streets are evidence of the opulence that was once commonplace but they’re often flanked by dilapidated buildings that offer a faint glimpse of their former beauty. But despite the state of the individual buildings, they all lend to the undeniable historical significance of the island, particularly in the UNESCO-listed Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
A spectacular mix of styles often described as a love affair between the Spanish guitar and the African drum, Cuba is all about music. Walking down any street in any town or city you’re liable to hear music filtering out of every window and door that echoes sounds - in addition to Spain and Africa - of Haiti, France, Jamaica, and even China. It’s this eclectic melting pot of influences that makes up the basis for Cuba’s unique music scene, with its intricate sound drawing from the global influences that have shaped the island nation's multifaceted past.
The northern coast of Cuba is lined with swathes of sandy beaches that attract sun-worshippers but there’s much more to explore beyond the sparkling Caribbean shoreline. For those more intrepid travellers willing to leave the beach behind and head inland, another world awaits, including rugged mountains and crocodile-infested swamps.
There’s no doubt that Cuba has been discovered and more than three million tourists visited the island in 2016. While this new accessibility is good for both the Cubans and those wanting to discover this magical island, it’s bound to have an effect on its distinctive and long-preserved personality. Because of this inevitability of change, be sure to put Cuba at the top of your holiday list sooner rather than later.
Anita González is a Cuban/Irish travel blogger. When she's not jetting off to the Caribbean she spends her time at home in Dublin with her two dogs.