The Caribbean’s largest and least commercialized island, Cuba is a place of crumbling beauty. One of the world’s last bastions of communism, this island hasn’t had nearly the same exposure as its neighbours and as a result, there are still many little-known and rarely visited retreats sprinkled in with such popular stops as Havana, Varadero and Cayo Coco.
Along with its rich coffee and smooth rum, Cuba’s greatest export by far is its music. To hear it, just head out to the streets and it won’t be long before the rhythmic sounds of salsa and son reach your ears. Follow that music and it will take you to a restaurant, a shop, even a street corner, and where there is music, there is dancing. This is an island full of people who love to dance – from east to west, north to south; from sprawling Havana to tiny country villages, music is everywhere.
Any trip to Cuba is not complete without a stop in Havana. If you can spend a few days there (or more) even better. The elegance and grandeur of this once popular playground for the rich and famous is still evident amid the crumbling buildings. Its colonial past still shines through the striking architecture and lovely boulevards. Visit Habana Vieja, the lively old part of the city, which features great little restaurants or ‘paladars’, museums including the Bellas Artes fine art museum, and the grand Capitolio building. Or just stroll along the Malécon (seawall), and explore the entire city. Cross over the harbour and visit El Morro castle, the fortress that once guarded the city against invasion.
Santiago de Cuba, located in the south east of the island, is another fine example of Cuba’s Spanish colonial past and it is rich in revolution history. Close to Caribbean Sea, with a backdrop of the Sierra Maestra mountains, this is the cradle of much of the popular Cuban music that exists today. Explore its narrow, winding streets that are bordered by large windows and crowded balconies overflowing with flowers.
Varadero’s pristine beaches made it a natural ‘hot spot’ for hotels and resorts, and there are many great ones to choose from. It is an ideal place to escape the chill of winter for crystal clear water, fine white sand, and swaying palms. And it’s only 2.5 hours from Havana, making it easy to combine a beach holiday with a cultural experience.
Or escape it all and head for the keys… Cayo Coco is an idyllic little retreat, secluded and exotic. The perfect getaway.
Sunquest’s hotels are located in nine main areas of the island, including (from west to east) Jibacoa, Varadero, Santa Clara, Cayo Coco, Camaguey, Holguin and Manzanillo. And with direct and quick flights (just 3.5 hours from Toronto) with Skyservice or CanJet, this is an easy getaway for singles, couples, groups and families alike.
Spanish is spoken in Cuba, however most also speak English fluently (among other languages) and it is fairly easy for a non-Spanish speaker to get by without too much trouble. The U.S. Dollar, which used to be the currency of choice on the island, has now been dropped and rather large surcharges (about 20%) are in place for anyone wanting to convert them into the Convertible Peso. The Canadian dollar can be exchange for less at all banks and change houses or ‘Cadecas’ (casas de cambio).
Wherever you choose to go on this unique island, the warmth of its people, the beautiful scenery, its crumbling buildings… it will call you back again and again.