Cuba

Seductive, complex, and colourful

Overview

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.

Steamy Havana

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.

National Parks

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.


Major Airport

José Martí International Airport: HAV, Jardines del Rey Airport: CCC, Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport: VRA

Low Season Months

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep
26°C
70mm
9hrs
Oct
25°C
80mm
8hrs
Nov
23°C
40mm
8hrs
Dec
22°C
30mm
8hrs

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Top Experiences

Make your own Mojito

Go and see Diana at Jibaro’s, a funky little Old Havana venue, and perfect the ultimate technique for pouring a Mojito, Cuba’s national drink. Time it for around 6pm and pop into the Baroque Iglesia Merced, one of the city’s oldest convents, or the nearby famous Boxing Club Truillo.

Road trip from Havana to Trinidad

Travel south on an iconic journey with sea experiences like diving and kayaking and land based adventures such as trekking, cycling and climbing. Take in the clear waters of the Bay of Pigs and the French town of Cienfuegos before arriving in the UNESCO heritage city of Trinidad.

Join a Live Cabaret Show

Don’t miss the dazzling old-style shows of the 1950s with over the top costumes and elaborate performances. Tropicana in the beautiful setting of El Salón Bajo las Estrellas is one of the best known, while Cabaret Le Parisien at the Hotel Nacional is a smaller more intimate affair.

Insider Tips

  • Wi-fi is a little more complicated in Cuba than you’re perhaps used to. To access the internet, you’ll need to buy a wi-fi card and use your device in a designated hotspot. Some accommodation providers may offer use of their connections, but general access is limited.
  • Cuba operates under a dual currency. Visitors usually use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which has pictures of monuments; and locals the Cuban Peso (CUP) with images of people. Values are different so check carefully and be aware you can’t take CUC out of the country.
  • Low season cultural festivals to note are Havana’s biannual art fair in November and the ballet festival which sees famous dancers like Carlos Acosta come home to perform. The Latin American film festival always attracts a few great names such as Gael Garcia Bernal or Benecio De Toro.

Good To Know

  • It is totally possible to wander alone, but consider the services of a local guide. Cuba is a complicated destination that requires careful interpretation and a guide can peel back layers of the past and reveal insights into culture. You’ll also discover favourite bars and eateries.
  • Havana sunsets are even better when accompanied with a great view and sun downer. The rooftop at boutique Hotel Malecón 663 is one of the best if you want to hang with Havana’s hip crowd and enjoy the view of the Malecón, the city’s 4 mile seafront promenade.
  • If it’s a dance experience you’re after, try the historic Hotel Inglaterra roof terrace on a Thursday or Friday evening. From 8pm a live band strikes up lively salsa rhythms. Travelling alone? You’ll soon find a dance partner to teach you the steps, and resistance is futile.

Food & Drink

Grados, 562 E Street, Vedado, Havana

££££

A great place for a night out with friends or a romantic dinner, this fine dining venue was created by chef Raulito Bazuka and his artist friends in his mother’s Vedado mansion. Serves up authentic Cuban cuisine with a modern twist in a hip atmosphere. Fabulous tasting menu available.

El Floridita, Calle Obispo, Old Havana

££££

Havanan landmark, and yes it is popular with tourists, having been made famous by American writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway. He is said to have whiled away hours in this very bar over a daiquiri or many. Regardless, it serves great food and enjoys a cool old town vibe.

Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, Viñales

££

Wander Viñales’ streets lined with colourful colonial-era wooden houses before lunch at this farm to table eatery. This place serves delicious organic food overlooking picturesque terraced land growing fruit and veggies. Also fun for cocktails and amazing sunset views.

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