The largest and most populous island in the Caribbean, Cuba has been time warped by its socialist revolution of 1959, and that, combined with the decadence and corruption of earlier regimes has made it a sunshine isle of stark contrasts. Vintage American cars roar through the streets of Havana. Horses and carts carrying water and food stumble through the countryside. Graphic revolutionary insignia adorn walls yards from a decadent colonial palace. The enthralling capital Havana is the best example of this debauched luxury mixed with the dilapidated. Here, the historic and exquisite areas of the Elderly Town rub shoulders with the run down (but filled with character) districts inhabited by regular Cubans. This juxtaposition helps establish the matchless charm of Havana and with the vibrant Cubano culture of salsa rhythms, uninhibited dancing, hearty food and sparkling cocktails, it all leads to enthralling and authentic urban experience that is truly like no other.
Immaculate beaches, lush green hills, dramatic rainforests and waterfalls; imposing mountain ranges, vibrant cities steeped in history and a defiant Revolutionary chic; the island of Cuba can rightfully claim to be of the most matchless getaways on earth.
If Havana is a must-do experience for visitors then the second largest city on the island, Santiago de Cuba, is not far behind. A melting pot of Afro-Caribbean cultures and a city central to Cuba's political and artistic history, Santiago de Cuba is an amazingly lively and vibrant place. It's here that pastel covered buildings meet grand Cathedrals and eloquent cemeteries; local markets co-exist with imposing revolutionary statues; mopeds power up the steep and winding roads leading up from the ocean. At night, here and in other cities like Banes, the restaurants, clubs and open courtyards all explode in to a music and rum-fuelled fiesta. Staying at a casa particular (a private home with rooms to rent) gives the traveller a glimpse at life for the average Cubano, and opens up parts of the country – and the local psyche -that were one time off-limits.
While the world famous cocktails may surpass the hearty but occasionally limited food & the travelling around might be slightly more difficult than elsewhere in the Caribbean, Cuba over makes up for this with its stunning climate, captivating history, generous charm & swinging salsa rhythms.
The weight of history & culture is in every single place in Cuba but the cobblestone streets & pleasant houses & courtyards of Trinidad are another gem to behold, & walking around them is like taking a trip back in time. But about Cuba's cities & tiny towns; much of the island's beauty lies in its spectacular beaches & thrilling scenery. Christopher Columbus wasn't joking when they declared in 1492 the coast of Guardalavaca to be “the most stunning land I have ever seen.” The beaches there's like something out of a dream, so it ought to come as no surprise that thousands of holidaymakers head there each year to soak up the sun on the improbably white sands, dip in to the warm, turquoise waters & indulge in the star luxury that lots of of the hotels & resorts there provide.
When to Go
Cuba enjoys a warm tropical climate year round. While the best time to visit is probably the winter months, though for sport fishing, the summer presents the greatest advantages. Cuba has a profound rainy season from May to October and humidity will of course be higher during this time. While September and October are often lovely, these are the months when Cuba is most prone to a visit from a tropical storm or hurricane. Generally, Cuba can be enjoyed year round as long as you know what to expect.
- While no specific immunizations are necessary to visit Cuba, precautions should be taken to avoid Dengue Fever. This means adequate amounts of mosquito repellant, especially during the day, when Dengue is a threat.
- Bring extra prescription medications and copies of your prescriptions. While Cuban doctors are world class, their access to specialized medicines is quite limited.
- Cuba is a safe country, but pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are not terribly uncommon. Use your head. When out in Havana at night, bring what you need, no more, no less. Just like anywhere else in the world.
- Avoid buying too much on the street, especially cigars. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- If possible, learn some Spanish, which is not too difficult to pick up and will help you tremendously.