Times are changing, and nowhere is this more evident than with the surge in popularity of holidaying in Cuba. This Caribbean paradise has its own very distinct and unique culture that sets it apart from its neighboring islands. Not even its close proximity to the Florida mainland has touched the way that these islanders live their lives.
The Spanish influences of this amazing country are hard to miss, but the exotic and heady mix of French, African and even Jamaican cultures have all played their part in creating this slice of paradise, the beaches and bays supplying the perfect sun drenched location, set against the magnificent backdrop of majestic mountains, all perfectly complimented by the exuberance of colourful Havana and its nonstop swaying beat.
If you are in Cuba for the fabulous diving, then there is no doubt that the hotel to stay at is Casa Ivette y Ronel in Playa Giron, just inland from the sparkling blue seas this small but friendly and welcoming hotel will make you feel right at home, as well as having access to some of the best diving and dive school on the island.
If you do opt to stay in the capital, Hotel Nacional is most certainly the place to be seen, anybody who is anybody stays at this grand hotel, with its old world glamour that enjoys an elevated location overlooking the sea; the historic feel of the building makes you feel like you have stepped onto the set of film, whilst the amazing gardens are more tropical paradise than residential area hotel – if you are feeling particularly nostalgic, ask for the room that Sinatra stayed in.
Cuban food is reputed to be a little bit less inspiring than you might imagine, but not so if you look around, unofficial restaurants in local homes constantly spring up and serve the sort of food that excites, but as these are frequently opening and closing, the only way to find a good one is to ask around – the locals are notoriously welcoming and love for you to enjoy their hospitality and culture.
If you are lucky enough to be staying at Hotel Nacional and have an interest in authentic vintage cars then every Friday there is a club meet for car enthusiasts, the cars have to be ninety percent original to join, which is an incredibly tough ask, with only recent changes to legislation allowing any import of cars and parts. All are welcome, so staying at the Hotel only adds kudos, not exclusivity.
Head to the Vinales region to see the old agricultural methods at work, this is where the best of the tobacco is grown, and the tradition cigar making methods are still employed, breathtakingly beautiful and filled with a sense of time being forgotten as its people continue the traditions of their age old ancestors..
Cuba is a great year round destination but the summer season can bring large crowds, especially those looking for a party, a much more pleasant time of year to visit are the warm winter months, which enjoy sunny and generally dry weather without the intense summer sun or the crowds of revelers.
If you are travelling during the peak summer months, look out for the Santiago de Cuba Carnival which takes place during late July, the whole island joins in this giant party and the fun is infectious. The winter months bring the excellent annual Jazz festival which is the perfect beginning to the December holidays and the usual range of festivities.