Captivating Cuba

From the crystal clear waters of Varadero’s beaches to the smoking lounges of famed cigar factories, Cuba offers vibrant culture, incredible music and an air of nostalgia for visitors to enjoy.

Havana

While there are many beautiful cities to see in Cuba, perhaps none is more famous than the capital city of Havana. The heart of the island’s culture and notoriety, taking a tour of the city is like stepping onto the set of an old movie. With brightly coloured classic cars and plenty to see and do, touring Havana is one of the best ways to truly feel the pulse of Cuba.   

No matter how “touristy” it may seem, being driven by a local guide in a vintage Oldsmobile or Buick for a tour of Old Havana is a truly memorable experience. Visit the Plaza de la Revolucion and the iconic Capitol building.

In the heart of the city, Hotel Nacional has more than 450 rooms and has everyone, including Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra. Tucked away in the basement is reportedly one of the best cigar shops in the city. Sip a daiquiri at Floridita, where the drink was invented, or enjoy a classic mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio, where Hemingway supposedly enjoyed the cocktail.

Food

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Cubans know that food is life, and they certainly know how to celebrate life! From fried pork masitas and plantain tostones, Cuban dishes are simple yet full of flavour. Rice and beans are a staple, but every good Cuban cook knows how to make a mean ropa vieja. Translated literally as “old clothes”, meat – traditionally beef or lamb – is braised in a tomato sauce and shredded when tender. If a late-night bite is what you’re craving, look for the medianoche sandwich (often called a Cuban sandwich in other parts of the world). Ham, pork and pickles on toasty bread slathered with mustard is just what the doctor ordered after an evening of dancing in Havana’s nightclubs.

The street food is also not to be missed! From churros and guava milkshakes to pork burgers and pizza, it’s not hard to find a delicious on the cheap.

Art

The Teatro Nacional hosts many great performances, including the annual ballet festival. Live performance art is easy to find, and worth taking in a show, be it dance, theatre, or especially live music. Latin music, jazz and plenty of other live music venues can be found all over Havana, but the bustling pedestrian mall Calle Obispo is bursting at the seams with sounds of Cuba

Fusterlandia is a public art wonderland created by artist José Fuster. By using small, brightly-coloured mosaic tiles, Fuster has covered nearly every surface of the neighbourhood – including mailboxes and gates. A fun walk through the spectacle presents many Instagram-worthy moments!

Beaches

If snorkelling in warm, clear water is your idea of a perfect vacation, head to Punta Perdiz. A limestone overlooks a 1961 invasion landing craft and gun swivel that creates a natural aquarium for growing coral and a variety of fish. Maybe a beach party is more your style; Playa Manglito is great for gathering with friends and family and enjoying the day with toes in the sand or swaying hips to a bachata beat.

More to see and do

For adventurous travellers, the highest point of the island, Pico Turquino, offers great views and a challenging hike. The 16th-century fortress at El Morro offers great sunset views and a ceremonial cannon firing at 9 p.m. Don’t leave without visiting a cigar factory. Partagás has been hand-making cigars since 1845 and is one of the sentinels of the Cuban cigar industry.

Whether you want to learn to salsa, enjoy the architecture in Vedado or stay out all night on the five-mile Malecon along the water, the heart of Cuba is pulsing, and it’s calling your name.

Sara Sherman
Sara Sherman is a former St. Thomas resident and the editor of Virgin Islands Property & Yacht.
Sara Sherman

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