The sultry island of Cuba sits among the crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea. A stomping ground for pirates and a fortified slave port for the Spaniards, for centuries Havana enjoyed the luxuries of being a beautiful, prosperous and renowned city.In its 30s, 40s and 50s heyday, Havana was the legendary playground for America’s rich, famous and notorious jet-setters. Mobsters like Lucky Luciano and famous celebrities the likes of Marlon Brandon and JFK would come to enjoy the Tropicana’s legendary cabaret shows and girls, high stakes gambling, premium cigars and cocktails. This celebration continued well into the night until the day the party stopped when Fidel Castro forever changed the fate of this once thriving capitol.
Today, years of socialism have turned Havana and the rest of Cuba into a shell of her former glory with most of its grand Spanish Colonial and Beaux Arts buildings in ruins. But life goes on, its energetic streets filled with rumbling old American cars, Che Guevara iconography, laundry on wrought-iron balconies, lively characters and remnants of a celebrated past. Though disheartening to see such magnificence weathering away, this is also part of its charm, and much like Cuban’s themselves, a symbol of beauty and endurance in the face of adversity.A stroll into the UNESCO protected district of Old Havana where restored buildings line its cobblestoned streets will provide you with a glimpse of what Havana must have been like in the 1500s and 1600s when it was the Western hemisphere’s most beautiful city. Sites not to miss in La Hababa Vieja as the Spanish call it, are the Castillo de la Real Fuerza castle, Plaza de Armas, the Artesanía crafts market, Santa Clara Convent, Paseo Martí and the Museum of the Revolution. In Plaza de la Catedral, colourfully dressed, cigar-chomping women fill the square and will happily pose for a picture for a tip. There are also plenty of museums, art galleries and bars.
In the evening, take a walk along the spectacular Malecón boardwalk where waves crash against the seawall and the Bay of Havana is illuminated by the setting sun.For music and drinks, head over to Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bars - El Floridita and the Bodeguita del Medio – where you can enjoy the best daiquiris and mojitos. Though filled with tourists eager to experience a piece of the literary legend’s beloved Havana, thankfully they don’t lose their appeal as a result. Hemingway found an abundance of inspiration in his adopted Cuba. It was here he wrote some of his most celebrated novels: For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Moveable Feast.
The streets of Havana echo with pulsating Rhumba, Salsa, Afro-Cuban Jazz, and native Son beats. Enjoy a live performance at Café Paris, Bar Monserrate, Café Habana, the Bodequita del Medio, or the Benny Moré Rehearsal Lounge. This infectious music will have you dancing all day long!Havana is the birthplace of premium cigars and here you will find the world’s best, along with a superb selection of rum. Take a journey back in time by visiting a Cuban cigar factory where they are expertly hand rolled. Then visit one of Havana’s cigar shops where you will be inspired to purchase at least one.
Finding the perfect accommodation in Havana is made easy with the IBEROSTAR Parque Central. Long considered the best hotel in Havana by Trip Advisor fans, this elegant Spanish colonial-style property perfectly echoes the rich beauty that surrounds it and is located in the heart of Havana within walking distance of the city’s greatest attractions.After a few days of enjoying Havana’s vibrant culture, why not end your holiday by relaxing on one of Cuba’s spectacular beaches. With more than 4000 smaller cays and islets that surround this tropical island the selection is endless. Here are two worth noting.
Located two hours east of Havana is the award winning, colonial inspired IBEROSTAR Varadero that occupies a privileged location on one of the Caribbean’s most legendary beaches where warm turquoise waters kiss the sugar-sand shore.Built on Cayo Ensenachos next to two unspoiled beaches amidst lush vegetation is the magnificent IBEROSTAR Ensenachos. This expansive colonial style paradise has two stunning white sand beaches that stretch more than 2.6 km with turquoise-green waters that will take your breath away, Playa Megano and Playa Ensenachos.
A vibrant culture, unspoiled beaches and renowned hospitality have made Cuba a preferred holiday destination. When planning your winter getaway this year, think Cuba!
Look for this article in the new issue of Whatever Vaughan Magazine on newsstands now.