With news of an end to the US Embargo of Cuba, this fascinating island nation is once again on the radar for Americans looking for a gorgeous getaway in the middle of winter.
A trip to Cuba is like taking a step back in time since the nation hasn’t progressed the way other Caribbean countries have. That’s part of the allure, however, and the beaches are as beautiful, the people as friendly and the handmade cigars as aromatic as they were in the 1940s and ‘50s when Cuba was a premier vacation destination from the US.
Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, just 90 miles from Key West at its closest point. The best time to visit Cuba is November through April, after the hurricane season and before the summer weather turns uncomfortably hot and humid.
Life is Old World Charming in Cuba
Colonial architecture on buildings in cities like Trinidad and Havana, often decorated with colorful flags, with possibly a vintage Chevy or Ford parked out front, creates an interesting blend for the visitor. The official language of Cuba is Spanish, and many also speak conversational English. The Cuban peso is the currency.
- Cuban Cuisine: The Taíno people, a seafaring people from South America, were early inhabitants of this island, and their influence remains in the staples such as rice, beans, fruits and root vegetables Cubans most enjoy. The Spanish left their mark on the menu to, as did freed African slaves and other Caribbean peoples. While Cuban restaurants seek to cater to the palates of tourists, you can also enjoy local recipes from the menu.
- Cuban Music: Music is an important part of Cuban culture. The folk music has African and Caribbean roots and has become popular throughout the world. Other favorite genres, all influenced by Cuban music, include rhumba, salsa, Afro-Cuban jazz and flamenco. The large cities of Cuba feature many venues, mostly small and intimate, where live music can be enjoyed.
- Cuban Sport: Favorite spectator sports start with baseball, but Cubans also enjoy football (soccer), basketball, volleyball, cricket and track.
Things to Do in Cuba
With so many top attractions in Cuba, you’ll have to schedule your time wisely, especially if you’re there for just a week or so. Here are your options of the best things to do in Cuba.
- Tour Historic Buildings and Museums: Architecture fans will appreciate many of the structures in Old Havana along with the Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, El Morro Castle, San Francisco de Asis and Cemetario de Colon – just for starters! Many of the churches are especially beautiful, including El Cobre Basilica, described by a recent tourist as having, “a very spiritual and peaceful atmosphere.” Among the museums visitors favor are the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Romance Museum and the Casa del Ron (House of Rum).
- Take a Walk on the Havana Malecon: This boardwalk is a wonderful place to mingle with Cubans and visitors from around the world. It’s ideal for people watching.
- Try an Authentic Cuban Cigar: Cuban stogies haven’t been legal in the US in more than 50 years. Pick up a genuine Cohiba, Partagas or Montecristo, and compare them to the Dominican or Nicaraguan varieties you enjoy at home.
- Tuck your Toes in the Sand of Terrific Beach: Top beaches in Cuba include Playa Paraiso, Varadero, Pillar, Sirena, Cayo Blanco and Cayo Guillermo, which a recent reviewed called, “relaxing and picture-perfect.”
- Tango the Night Away: Whether you tango or not, the nightlife in Havana and Trinidad is varied and exciting. If you want to sample the local talent, the Casa de las Tradiciones in Santiago has been called, “the best place to hear the traditional sounds of Cuba.”
Who Should Consider Visiting Cuba?
The US Embargo of Cuba covers visiting the nation for tourism. You’ll have to declare one of 12 acceptable reasons including visiting relatives, doing academic research, participation in performances or journalistic or religious activities. Or, you can skirt the embargo by traveling elsewhere first and then hopping over to Cuba.
If you’re fascinated by the eclectic mix of cultures, the country’s old-world charm or want to sip locally distilled rum while smoking a handmade Cuban cigar, a visit will be richly rewarded by experience.
Cuba Tourism: http://www.cubatravel.tur.cu/en
Cuban Government: http://www.cubagob.cu/