Cuba, renowned for its classic cars and famous cigars, can be found where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet. It is the largest Caribbean island and represents centuries of fascinating yet tumultuous history.
Due to an embargo imposed against it by the United States of America, much of the country’s infrastructure has remained unchanged. Visitors are drawn from all over the world to experience authentic Cuba, with its crumbling, pastel-coloured buildings and vintage American cars.
We chatted to Claudia from My Adventures Across The World, they told us: “Cuba is a gorgeous country; incredibly colourful, musical, decadent and crumbly. There’s a lot to see in Cuba but travelling independently means facing the truth of the transportation and mentality. Cuba calls for a spontaneous kind of trip. This is the place to let go of plans completely and just go with the flow. After all, that’s how the Cuban’s live.”
Top things to do in Cuba
Drink a daiquiri at Hemingway’s favourite hangout
El Floridita first opened its doors in 1817 and has since served its legendary daiquiris to many prominent figures, including American writer Ernest Hemingway. It is said that Hemingway spent many hours sitting at the bar, listening to the regulars and seeking inspiration for his stories. Here, according to El Floridita, he penned his draft of For Whom The Bell Tolls. Today, you can enjoy a selection of delicious traditional daiquiris including Pope Hemingway which is made with Ron Havana Club rum, grapefruit juice, frappe ice, lemon juice and maraschino.
Eat at La Guarida in Havana
Considered to be Havana’s most legendary private restaurant, La Guarida is certainly one of Cuba’s most authentic experiences. The traditional eatery first rose to fame when it was featured in the Oscar-nominated film Fresa y Chocolate. Inside, La Guarida is opulent. The tables are adorned with fine linen and silverware and there is a prominent Cuban feel with intricate artwork and live music. Dine by candlelight at this historic restaurant for a true taste of Cuba.
Ride in a classic Cuban car
Spectacular American cars dating back to the 1950s line the streets of Cuba. This is because the United States of America enforced an embargo against Cuba which ended the importation of cars and car parts, leaving approximately 60,000 now classic cars in the country. Although most of Cuba’s antique cars are owned for everyday use, you can also ride in them as taxis or hire them privately to explore the city. Drivers can often be found waiting outside hotels. Alternatively, you can hire a classic car and a driver to show you around.
Sip on some Havana rum
Rum is an integral part of Cuba’s identity. Having fuelled the country’s economy for decades, along with cigars, Cuban rum is precious to locals. The spirit is made from sugarcane, a crop that explorer Christopher Columbus introduced to the Americas in the 1400s. However, it is believed that the finest comes from the Caribbean, which has the most suitable climate. Cuba’s fertile soil and stick climate offer the perfect conditions for growing crops such as sugarcane and tobacco.
Spend an afternoon at Havana’s Hotel Nacional de Cuba
In the centre of Havana, Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a grand building with a fascinating history. The hotel opened its doors over 85 years ago and has welcomed many prominent figures throughout the decades including Fred Astair, Frank Sinatra and Walt Disney. Hotel Nacional’s traditional 1930s decor has been retained, giving guests an overwhelming sense of time and culture when they step into the building.
As well as walking in the footsteps of historic figures, you can indulge in a luxurious meal or a traditional Cuban rum at one of the hotel’s many bars and restaurants. On the grounds of the hotel, you’ll find a more sinister part of the local history. A small museum reveals the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis wherein 1962, during the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union kept 36 nuclear missiles in Cuba pointing at the United States. This was in response to US missiles in Turkey pointing at the Soviet Union. The museum can be accessed via a system of underground tunnels beneath the hotel gardens.
Visit a cigar factory
Cigars are unanimous with Cuba. Along with rum, tobacco is one of Cuba’s main agricultural products. It’s believed Spanish and European sailors began smoking rolls of tobacco leaves as early as the 1400s. By the mid 16th century, smoking became popular throughout Europe and many used pipes. In 1542, tobacco started to be grown commercially in North America. Today, cigar rolling is still very much an art associated with Cuba. They can be purchased from stalls in Havana and tourists can even visit cigar factories to learn more about the history and the process.
Walk along the Malecón in Havana
Havana’s bustling esplanade, the Malecón, is the place to be in the evening. Stretching for five miles along the coast, you can stroll along the promenade, stop for a delicious rum cocktail and watch the world go by. On stormy days, the waves crash up against the seawall, making the promenade all the more spectacular.
“Do take a walk along the Malecón at sunset,” Claudia advised. “This is where all the locals go for a stroll and it is just nice to spot them talking, dancing to the tune of the radio they may be carrying and even relaxing.”
Wander through Old Havana
Havana Vieja, also known as Old Havana, is the historic downtown of the city centre. Dating back to 1513, this part of the city has retained its character through its magnificent architecture. UNESCO World Heritage Convention say, “Its overall sense of architectural, historical and environmental continuity makes it the most impressive historical city centre in the Caribbean and one of the most notable in the American continent as a whole.”
Historically, Havana Vieja was founded by the Spanish and it became a stopping point for the Spanish Galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World. The city was built in baroque and neoclassic style, resembling the Spanish city of Cadiz. Today, this is where you’ll step off your cruise ship to explore the sights.