The Best Beaches in the World. The Island of Youth.
To take a trip to Cuba is to experience a universe both surprising and challenging. The long, pearly beaches are as famous as the musical rhythms are recognizable. Visiting Cuba is like a dream where images of majestic beauty blur into one. Cuban politics does not interfere in the least with the opportunity to discover the charms of the country and its welcoming local population. Take advantage of a travel discount to visit the island and walk in the footsteps of the Amerindian peoples, the explorer Christopher Columbus, and the conquistador Hernan Cortes.
The vacation destinations are replete with the island's diverse heritage. Cuba draws upon what is best in its roots, history, and culture from Spain to Africa. The Iberian colonial architecture is a great example of this principle. This is not to say that the island is a haven of riches and tranquility. The majority of Cubans live in misery even if the school and health systems appear to suggest otherwise. There is no point in trying to talk politics with the locals, they carefully avoid the subject while keeping the conversation going. However, hospitality and welcome are at the core of the Cuban character. Cubans are happiest when presenting their traditions through music, dance, and singing.
Cuba has an area of about 109,980 km², which makes it the largest island in the Caribbean Sea. This also explains why it was so attractive to colonists. The current population stands at 11.5 million, of which more than three million live in the capital of Havana and its suburbs. The main urban areas are Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Holgin, Santa Clara, Guantanamo, Bayamo, Las Tunas, and Cienfuegos.
The language is Spanish. The island has two currencies: the Cuban National Peso used by the locals, and the Cuban Convertible Peso, commonly called “chavito,” which is convertible for tourists. The latter currency replaced foreign currencies, such as the US dollar and Euro, in 1994. A Canadian dollar equals roughly 0.98 peso, depending on the fluctuations of currency exchange rates.
Cuba is under the direction of Raul Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel Castro. The country is socialist, with one political party. This dictatorial regime based on communism was strongly rejected by the United States after the revolution of 1959. In fact, Cuba has been subject to an American embargo since 1962. Many Cubans have also found refuge in the United States, particularly in nearby Florida where they constitute a significant minority.
The Cuban population is relatively young and appreciates the tourist trade for the financial support it offers them. It must be said that Cuba has everything necessary to expand its attractiveness as a tourist destination. It has a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites: Old Havana and its fortifications, the San Pedro de la Roca castle in Santiago de Cuba, Viñales Valley, the city of Trinidad and the Valle de los Ingenios, the archaeological landscape shaped by the old coffee plantations in southeastern Cuba, the historical city centre of Cienfuegos, the Desembarco del Granma National Park, the old city of Camagüey, and, finally, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. Note also that the Tumba Francesa de Santiago dance and music group is listed by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. These sites are all preferred tourist destinations.
Cuba is the supreme vacation destination! This island in the Caribbean Sea is over 1,250 kilometres long. For all of its length, the island is quite narrow, never exceeding 200 km! In fact, Cuba is not just one island, but rather an archipelago. It includes, for example, the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud) and a multitude of islands, called keys, that look like confetti sprinkled on the sea. Among them are Cayo Largo, Cayo Coco, Cayo Levisa, and Cayo Guillermo, etc. These keys are veritable slices of paradise. On them, you will discover clear water, an abundant seabed, all kissed warmly by the sun. The accommodation is assured by Cuba's comfortable hotels.
While Cuba is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, a low mountain range runs through its centre. Some sierras west of Santiago, including Sierra Maestra, are famous for having served as the base of the revolutionaries.
Cuba's prevailing climate is tropical, although there are local differences. The island has only two seasons, a dry winter and a humid summer. The dry season lasts from November to May with temperatures consistently around 25°C. The wet season, from June to October, is marked by fairly short but heavy rainfalls. Warm water triggers hurricanes that can affect Cuba during the wet season. Nevertheless, civil security can anticipate these events to effectively protect the entire population.
To book a hotel in Cuba is to create the opportunity to experience the local culture through the sound of music and the rhythm of dance. And there are choices to make even after you've chosen the legendary rumba. Based on percussion and singing, there are three different styles. The first is physical and is a favourite among men, the second is the slowest and is preferred by couples, while the last is more fiery. Bodies close together are the benchmark of Latin dancing, and Cuba is no exception. Another classic is the mambo and the cha-cha-cha, imported from Mexico in the 1940s. Drums, jazz, and wind instruments serve up a feast for the ears.
Other more or less contemporary musical styles are heard during evenings in Cuba: batanga, bolero, guajira, tonada, reggaeton, etc. Don't forget to try out the salsa, but remember that, while the term is Cuban, these famous sounds were born in New York, among the Cuban-Puerto Rican community.
This inexpensive trip to Cuba also offers you the chance to taste the culinary specialties of the country. Dare to savour the Guama crocodile, a meat similar to veal. Try out the lobsters and crabs, accompanied by the staples, rice and black beans. In terms of meat, cochinito comes grilled, roasted, and even fried! Finally, enjoy the ubiquitous fruits, such as guavas, plantain bananas, papayas, and mangoes. Don't forget to taste the rum and its many cocktail versions ... in moderation, of course!
From your hotel in Cuba, you can partake in many sporting activities. The Caribbean Sea makes scuba diving a very attractive option. There are also sea kayaking, boating, and deep-sea fishing outings. Hikers will want to go to Viñales in the Zapata Peninsula, the Humboldt National Park, or the mountainous centre of the island. On the famous keys, you can enjoy endless sessions of sun bathing interspersed with swimming and snacks.
Those interested in history and Cuban heritage will have lots to keep them busy. From the Bay of Pigs in Havana to Trinidad in Santiago de Cuba, walk the streets of the old towns and dive into the past.
The capital of Havana is a must with its wonderful Spanish colonial architecture. The magnificent 17th century forts and ramparts add a touch of historical gravity to the city's coastline. Follow in the footsteps of the Spanish colonizers as you explore the historic city centre called Old Havana. The splendours from the colonial era have been renovated and given new life. Time stands still and history comes alive at the Plaza de la Catedral. Then take up the trail of cigar factories and the Museum of the Revolution.
Accessibility to hotels in Cuba is quite simple thanks to bookings made in advance to make your life easy once there. Make use of Lonely Planet Cuba that offers addresses for all budgets. Besides the hotel establishments that are owned by five large Cuban chains, there are campsites. These are actually rooms in bungalows in residential areas. Since recently, it has been possible to sleep in guest houses to get close to the daily life of Cubans. Finally, the coastal regions host establishments run by foreigners that offer comfort and luxury service.