It’s official! Together Barack Obama and Raúl Castro have restored US-Cuban diplomatic ties and opened up the communist Caribbean island nation to an influx of foreign visitors. Infatuated with colourful images of Che Guevara, the velvety sounds of Benny Moré, laid back locals sporting Panama hats and a refreshing lack of chain coffee stores, high rises and Coca Cola billboards, Cuba is pegged as the hottest up and coming holiday destination on the planet.
Under a series of 12 “educational programmes” tourists will be able to immerse themselves in a country that has captured the world’s imagination for decades. Cruising will be a part of the carefully controlled tourism revival, with Carnival Cruise Line one of the latest companies to add Cuba to its itineraries. From May 2016 710 passenger ship The Adonia will call at Cuba operating under the line’s socially oriented “Fathom” brand. Designed to bring a social impact to travel, the concept offers passengers a chance to volunteer while in port, then spend the night on-board a luxury cruise ship.
“We’re humbled and excited to be the first in the industry to offer an experience from the U.S.,” says Tara Russell, Fathom president and global impact lead for Carnival Corp. “We see this as the beginning of what we imagine will be a beautiful relationship.”
To celebrate all things Cuban we’ve put together a curated list of must have experiences in the fascinating Caribbean nation.
Traipsing around Trinidad
Celebrated as the “museum of Cuba” this beautiful area is brimming with restored colonial mansions, perfectly preened plazas, pastel houses and grand neoclassical palaces. Spend the day exploring the cobblestone streets on a horse drawn carriage while soaking in the centuries of historical architecture.
Tuning in to Cuban sounds
Cuban culture is underpinned by an intrinsic love for music. From the rumba and the mambo to the chachachá and jazz jams, live music can be found everywhere!
Conquering La Cabana Fortress
By day this imposing stronghold boasts spectacular views over Havana. By night it transforms into an exhilarating military re-enactment venue. Don’t miss the ceremonial cannon fire over the Havana harbour!
Cubans have a huge amount of cultural pride and love to celebrate with countless festivals throughout the year. From the famous Havana Cigar Festival to the lesser known Remedios fireworks competition, it’s always party time somewhere!
Exploring Old Havana
Locally referred to as La Habana Vieja, Old Havana is the heart and soul of the Cuban capital. Expect to encounter crumbling historical buildings, ultra-suave vintage muscle cars, towering sixteenth-century fortresses, leafy courtyards and a vibrant nightlife scene that wold make Manhattan swoon.
Embrace Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway was one of Cuba’s most famous fans, and for literature lovers the island nation holds a myriad of intrigue. Visit his favourite haunts such as La Floridita and check out Finca Vigia, the San Francisco de Paula lookout house where he lived for two decades.
Puff on a cigar
A trip to Cuba simply wouldn’t be complete without sampling its finest export – cigars. Cuban smokes are the epitome of luxury for many tobacco aficionados, and Havana’s Partagas Cigar Factory is the perfect place to get a first-hand glimpse at the traditional hand-rolling process that makes its products so incredibly coveted.
Blissing out on the beach
As the largest island in the Caribbean Cuba is blessed with powdery white sand, palm tree fringed shores and crystal clear waters. Cosmopolitan passengers will love the resort style vibes of Varadero while the picturesque Playa Sirena is ideal for those in search of peace and tranquillity.
Checking out Cienfuegos
While Cuba is heavily influenced by Spanish colonialism the bay side city of Cienfuegos is a refreshing change. The metropolis was colonised by the French which has given it a chic Parisian feel complemented by stunning neoclassical architecture.
Nothing embodies the spirit of Cuba quite like the nation’s controversial hero, Che Guevara. The Havana memorial is a wonderful place to delve into the island’s recent revolutionary history.
Sip on Havana rum
Cuba’s national drink is strong, ubiquitous and amazingly affordable. Spend your time here sampling the plethora of different varieties on offer, be it on the rocks with a squeeze of lime of middle into a refreshing mojito.
Valle de Vinales
Nature lovers will swoon over this unique landscape made up of soaring rocky outcrops and lush agricultural plantations. It’s the perfect day trip for travellers wanting to experience a sneak peek at the way Cubans experience everyday life.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: Robert Easton, Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith, Franck Vervial, Jeanne Menj