Seductive, complex, and colourful
“I forgot I had hips until I went to Cuba”. That was the recommendation of an uptight, over-stressed, stiff-as-a-board friend after a recent visit to this, the largest of Caribbean islands. Known for revolution, controversy and iconic figureheads as much as for cigars, rum and addictive rumba beats, Cuba is increasingly opening to travellers wanting to encounter an authentic, richly textured, and genuinely sexy destination.
It’s worth noting that the tropical climate experiences two distinct seasons, the dry period from December to May and the rains June to November. As interest has grown in this stunning island, the summer months are now seeing more tourists prepared to dodge the showers and possible hurricanes in return for an opportunity to experience Cuba’s magic. So, if you want to catch the best prices and avoid the crowds, September to early December is your best option. During this time, flight costs are lower, temperatures are still hot, and even when it rains, it’s usually short downpours which dry up quickly. Venues remain open and it is wonderful to visit the squares of Old Havana when they are practically empty and enjoy UNESCO sites to yourself. The November and early December period, in particular, offer an ideal window with relatively drier weather plus a pre-festive lull in tourism, promising a blast of Caribbean sun, an enviable winter tan and a chance to find your own hips.
The renowned city at the island’s heart is a great place to explore Cuba’s faded colonial elegance, revolutionary history, and great nightlife. You may wonder why the streets are filled with so many vintage cars. Well, it’s due to no new vehicles being imported from the US due to the 1959 embargo. Now the colourful classic motors are a way of life and available for visitors to take a tour in style. Top spots are the iconic coastal esplanade of the Malecón, the eclectic architectural mix in Old Havana, the Revolution Museum and Hemingway’s former home Finca la Vigia.
Low Season Beach Life
Cuba’s stunning sands can be rammed during the popular dry period, but are perfect come low season. The beach provides the ideal escape from humidity, the water’s warm and there are plenty are blue skies between the raindrops. Look out for dark clouds warning of a storm and enjoy a beachside mojito while you wait for it to pass. Low rates mean excellent bargains are to be had at top beach properties such as the serene Kempinski in beautiful Cayo Guillermo.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a land rich in biodiversity, passionately protected national parks, and an absolute abundance of nature. Topes de Collantes National Park is about 25 minutes from Trinidad on the southern coast. It’s a mountainous place with underground caves and swimming holes idyllically set by spectacular waterfalls. Back in the north, Caguanes National Park covers 10 small islands and is a haven for birdwatchers with more than 200 species. Parque Nacional El Bagá on Cayo Coco occupies a former airfield and is a truly stunning spot with a butterfly garden, crocodiles and an impressive mangrove forest.