The historic meeting between Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro in 2015 marked a turning point in diplomatic relations between the two countries, and paved the way for an influx of mass tourism that may change Cuba forever. Therefore, now is a good time to think about booking holidays to Cuba. Here are some Cuban experiences you mustn’t miss.
Try out your salsa
Music is everywhere in Cuba. You can’t walk the streets of Havana old town, or Trinidad town, without coming across buskers steeped in sounds popularised by Ry Cooder and the Buena Vista Social Club. With its combination of West African and European influences, particularly Spanish ones, Cuban music is one of the richest regional genres in the world, and in Cuba music means dance.
The rise and rise of Latin American dance classes means that many people have at least some grasp of how to salsa. Catch a live band and try out your steps at Casa de la Musica in Havana, the capital’s most popular nightclub. It features top bands such as Los Van Van and is open nightly from 10pm to 2am. Alternatively, opt for the cheaper matinee from 5pm to 9pm.
Watch the sunset from Havana’s seafront
The Malecón, the five-mile stretch of highway, esplanade and sea wall that runs east from Havana Harbour in the old town, is one of the most iconic images of Cuba.
Laid out in 1900, it’s lined with an eclectic mix of historic buildings, bars and restaurants, and it’s where many people in Havana come to hang out at the day’s end. It’s a great time to follow in the footsteps of poets, philosophers, writers and lovers and watch the sun set over the sea.
It’s also a wonderful place for an evening passeggiata. Grab a seat at a bar along the Malecón and people watch, hear some music and order a mojito, the national cocktail.
Find out more about the Cuban Revolution
Another fascinating option on your package, or all inclusive holiday in Cuba is learning more about the uprising against Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a military coup in 1952.
Fidel and Raul Castro and Che Guevara led the uprising. The latter is interred in a mausoleum just outside the town of Santa Clara. The site was chosen in remembrance of the fight Che led in 1958 to liberate the town. There is also a museum dedicated to his life.
Another historic site likely to be of interest to the mature traveller is the base Fidel Castro established during the uprising in the Sierra Madre jungle near Pico Turquino, the highest peak in Cuba. The camp from which Castro launched forays is preserved as it was.
Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway
The writer Ernest Hemingway made Cuba his home for many years and loved the island so much he considered himself a Cubano sato, or Cuban stray dog.
Visit two of the writer’s residences and several favourite bars: Hotel Ambos Mundos in the old town is where he stayed between 1932 and 1939 and his room, which overlooks the harbour where he often fished, is now a museum.
Nearby is La Bodeguito del Medio, which served Papa’s favourite mojito, while La Floridita served his favourite daiquiris.
Anyone booking hotels in Cuba ,who is interested in the author, should also consider visiting his other Cuban home, Finca la Vigia, located 10 miles west of Havana.
Hemingway lived here on and off from 1939 until he left Cuba in 1960. It was here that he wrote the novels For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea and A Movable Feast. After his death in 1961, Finca was turned into a museum by the Cuban government.
Step back in time at a stunning Havana fortress
Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana was built by King Carlos III of Spain in the 18th century on the east side of Havana Harbour to bolster the city’s defences. Here, Cuban patriots were executed in the 19th century, opposition leaders jailed under Batistsa, and former supporters of Batista executed following the success of the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s.
Che Guevara set up his headquarters here and the fort has now been restored to house two museums. You can also buy authentic Cuban cigars and rum here, and you may also enjoy the canonazo ceremony, which takes place every evening at 9pm. Actors dressed in 18th century re-enact the procession to the ramparts of the fort and the firing of a cannon over the harbour.