For many Americans, the allure of Cuba is not just its tropical climate, vibrant architecture, and classic cars, but also the mystery surrounding the flamboyant destination. It’s the thrill of going somewhere you were told you couldn’t; a forbidden fruit that, after one bite, becomes wonderfully addicting.
Canadians, however, have enjoyed the splendours of Cuba and are acutely aware of why Americans should visit this unique destination – despite the hoops they need to jump through. Read on to discover 10 unique highlights you’ll experience on both of our Cuba tours.
10. The Locals
Cuban people seem to be made from the finest cloth, however no one will make as positive an impact as our local guide, Willmar. His enthusiasm for Cuba’s vast history is extraordinary, and his vulnerability as a gay Cuban is sobering. Above all, his zesty personality, optimism, and humour will keep us entertained throughout the journey.
Not only can you see, hear, and feel the soul of Cuba, but take a whiff, and you’ll smell it too. The musky scent of Cuban cigars is so thick it may as well be the island’s unofficial cologne.
8. Casa Particulares
Unexpected yet greatly appreciated were the incredible Casa Particulares (Bed & Breakfasts) on our gay Cuba tour and New Year Fiesta tour. These authentically Cuban homestays provide an opportunity to meet and interact with locals in a casual environment. They are, for lack of a better mojito pun, the sugar rim on top of this incredible journey.
While Cuban food is far from spectacular, the liquid lunches are world-class. A fresh piña colada blitzed with real coconut milk, pineapple, freshly grated cinnamon, and a generous glug of Cuba’s Finest is sure to remain a favourite memory of the trip.
6. Vintage cars
Few experiences feel as authentically Cuban as hailing a bright, vintage taxi to navigate Havana’s narrow streets. Our recommendation: ask the driver to lower his sunroof and cruise the Malecón. Nothing is quite as romantic as the spray of the Caribbean while taking in the best views of New Havana.
Stephen Spielberg strongly considered this sweeping stretch of the countryside as the major filming location for Jurassic Park. After an evening spent dining above this lush locale, it’ll be clear how Viñales transported the distinguished director’s imagination to a bygone Mesozoic Era.
4. Mi Cayito
To most Canadians, nothing says Cuba more than powdery beaches that are so soft and white they might as well be made of confectioner’s sugar. Our favourite is Mi Cayito – a gay beach located 30 minutes from downtown Havana. Slather on your highest SPF, don your most stylish sunglasses, and head here for an afternoon of speedos and mojitos.
3. Afro-Cuban Culture
When writers reference Cuba’s “soul”, they’re often talking about the Afro-Cuban Culture. Brass players performing rumba in every plaza, women’s hips swivelling in new and exotic ways, and local art so erotic and colourful it would make Warhol blush. As tourists, the island’s soul is so palpable it seeps into your skin – and perhaps even your hips.
Cuba’s still-standing colonial architecture has weathered dictators, revolutionaries, drug lords and activists. It’s seen days of excess and poverty, capitalism, and communism. International names like Castro and Che are synonymous with the island. And lest we forget the guerrilla revolution, missile crisis or countless waves of homophobic law the country has seen. Read, listen and ask questions – Cuban history is as dense as it is fascinating and as exciting as it is frustrating.
Salsa floods every street. Rum flows in every restaurant. Under-construction houses are painted in brilliant pastels. And the streets rumble and clunk with the sounds of cars so old they prelude the Kennedy era. As we wander Havana, we’ll be struck by the distinctive melange of old-world, timeless, and modern characteristics that create a singular vibe unlike any other.
If you’re ready to feel the rhythm of Cuba, check out all our tours here. And for Americans who are Cuba-curious but unsure of the legalities of travelling to Cuba, check out our blog about Cuba Travel for Americans.
Photos from top to bottom by Carl Hiehn, Intrepid Travel, Jamey Thompson, Shutterstock, Robert Sharp x 4, Kristopher Kelly x 2, Shutterstock, Robert Sharp, Carl Hiehn x 2.
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