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Holidays to Cuba
from as little as £844
7 nights in Vedado-Saint John's, Havana, departing London Heathrow on 24 / Jan / 2023 with Air CanadaSubject to availability, prices correct of the last 24 hours
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Cuba travel guideCuba… what to expect
The island nation of Cuba is just 150 kilometres from the coast of the United States, but it’s a world away in terms of culture and lifestyle. For visitors, Cuba has a charm all its own. Its distinctive music is famous worldwide, as is its fascinating, tempestuous history. Add a balmy tropical climate, graceful Spanish colonial buildings, picture-perfect beaches and the world’s best mojitos, and it’s clear why Cuba delights a growing number of visitors each year.
When is the best time to visit Cuba?
Tropical Cuba has two seasons, the dry season runs from November to April and the rainy season from May to October. The best time to travel to Cuba is December to April when temperatures range from 26°C to 30°C.
Cuba offers visitors the ideal blend of culturally rich, historically interesting cities and magnificent natural landscapes. These range from lush tropical plains to the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and some of the world’s most glorious beaches.
Vibrant cities and towns
Cuba’s capital, Havana, is a bustling city that’s home to over two million people. For visitors, a highlight is the historic district of Old Havana (Habana Vieja). First founded in 1519, this is the oldest part of the city. It includes Cuba’s grandest colonial buildings, such as the impressive Capitolio, as well as colourful, narrow streets and some of the city’s most famous watering holes.
In Old Havana, don’t miss the beautiful Havana Cathedral; Iglesia Parroquial del Espíritu Santo, which is Havana’s oldest cathedral or the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, which houses an impressive collection of Cuban art.
Another interesting part of Havana is the more modern district of Vedado, which is where you’ll find the seafront promenade known as the Malecón, a number of grand old hotels and the famous Coppelia ice-cream shop.
Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second largest city. With its large Afro-Caribbean population, it’s known especially for its colourful carnivals and exuberant music.
Trinidad is an amazingly well-preserved 19th Century sugar town, with cobblestone streets, colourful houses, graceful colonial buildings and an impressive central square that’s perfect for people watching and listening to street musicians. Both Trinidad and neighbouring Valle de los Ingenios have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and are well worth a visit.
Cuba’s best beaches
Playa Paraiso Beach
Located on Cayo Largo, Playa Paraiso is easily one of the most magnificent beaches in the Caribbean (and that’s saying a lot). The beach is completely unspoilt, with very soft, white sand, warm blue waters and a sand bar you can swim to. Rated number one on TripAdvisor, this is a beach worth going out of your way to visit.
Fringed with palm trees, popular Varadero Beach includes a long stretch of turquoise sea that’s safe for swimming and uninterrupted by rocks. The beach is spotlessly clean and is a good place to look for shells.
Playa Pilar on Cayo Guillermo is another of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches, with soft white sand and good opportunities for snorkelling. The beach includes a popular restaurant and a small snack bar, but there’s no nasty development to detract from the beautiful surroundings.
Other outstanding Cuban beaches include Sirena Beach on Cayo Largo, the beach on the island of Cayo Blanco, which you can reach via catamaran as part of an organised tour, Ancon Beach in Trinidad and Guardalavaca Beach in Holguin.
Lush valleys, plantations and parks
Cuba includes a total of seven national parks, in areas with highly diverse landscapes and types of ecosystems – from wetlands at Montemar to the mountains of the Sierra Maestra.
Although all the parks are of interest, one highlight is the Parque Nacional de Viñales in the Pinar del Rio province, and the incredibly picturesque Viñales Valley in which it’s set. The valley includes the rustic town of Viñales and tobacco plantations and farms, and is known for the surrounding limestone mogotes (isolated, dome-like hills). It was declared a UNESCO World Cultural and Landscape Site in 1999. The park itself is popular for walking, hiking and rock climbing.
Also well worth a visit is the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata in Matanzas province, about two hours from Havana. The park includes a vast stretch of wetlands and beautiful beaches, with excellent scuba diving. It’s also the site of the historically famous Bay of Pigs.
Top 5 things to do in Cuba
Charming cities and towns
Cuba’s cities and towns also include an eclectic mix of different architectural styles, along with amazingly well-preserved churches, palaces, castles and forts, some dating to as early as the 1600s. In Old Havana alone, there are over 900 buildings of historical significance.
Events and festivals
Cubans like to party. Exuberant carnivals and festivals, featuring music, dance, colourful costumes and plenty to eat and drink, are held around the year in different parts of the country. Topping the list is the Santiago de Cuba Carnival, held annually from 18 to 27 July.
Beautiful Cuban beaches
If lying on a beach listening to the gentle lapping of waves and sipping a rum-laced cocktail from a coconut is your idea of paradise, Cuba won’t disappoint. The country includes a number of gorgeous white-sand beaches, with outrageously blue, warm water that’s ideal for swimming, snorkelling and diving. Don't miss: Playa Paraiso Beach.
Gorgeous Cuban countryside
Thanks to its tropical climate, Cuba includes incredibly green, lush plantations, valleys and national parks. Most of the country consists of rolling plains, but the southeast is dominated by the Sierra Maestra, with dramatic mountains, dense forests, rivers and waterfalls.
Take the dive
Stunning clear Caribbean waters make Cuba the perfect place for snorkelling and diving. Virgin reefs and sheltered waters teeming with fish make for an amazing underwater adventure.
Cuba food and drink
Cuban food and drink
Rice, black beans, fried plantain and various root vegetables, such as yuca, are staples in the Cuban diet. In addition, common dishes include slow-cooked meat stews, often flavoured with garlic, onion, green pepper and oregano, ropa vieja (stewed, shredded beef), grilled chicken and ceviche (sliced raw fish, marinated in lime juice). A widely used marinade or sauce is called mojo and includes lemon, oil, raw onion, cumin and garlic.
At restaurants, popular snacks and lunch-time foods include empanadas and hearty sandwiches, often containing pork, ham, cheese or a combination of these. Widely eaten desserts are mostly of Spanish origin and include the Cuban version of leche flan (crème caramel), various pastries and rice or bread puddings. In addition, tropical fruit such as guava is commonly cooked in syrup with citrus peel and cinnamon and served with white cheese.
When it comes to drinks, Cuba is, of course, famous for its rum and rum-based cocktails, including the refreshing mojito and daiquiri. Beer is also popular throughout the country.
Across Cuba, larger cities and towns include a wide range of excellent restaurants, cafés and bars, serving everything from lobster to pizza, sushi, pasta and traditional Cuban dishes. A few highlights are:
- Dona Eutimia Restaurant, Havana - for excellent Cuban food in relaxed surroundings, near the Plaza de Catedral
- San Cristobal Paladar Restaurant, Havana - for good food in opulent surroundings, in a converted house full of antiques
- Restaurant Aurora, Santiago de Cuba - for magnificently presented food in a beautiful courtyard
- Restaurante San Jose, Trinidad - for a lovely atmosphere and good service; both the lobster and pizza are highly rated
- The Restaurant Maite La Qbana, Morón, central Cuba - for highly rated breakfasts, outstanding lobster and a range of well-presented Cuban dishes
Cuba is world-famous for its live music and vibrant nightlife. Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad all boast a range of popular bars, clubs, discos and live music venues.
Top choices in Havana include:
- La Zorra y el Cuervo - for jazz lovers
- La Casa del Son - where you can learn to salsa
- El Gato Tuerto - popular for excellent live music and a steady stream of inexpensive mojitos
- Cabaret Parisien - to take in a show
Among the most popular nightlife venues in Santiago de Cuba are the Casa de las Tradiciones and the Casa de la Musica, both featuring great Cuban music, dancing and drinks.
In Trinidad, try the open-air Casa de la Musica or the hugely popular Disco Ayala, which is located in an underground cave.
Cuba lifestyle and culture
Cuba boasts a unique culture, forged through its roller-coaster history – from Spanish colonisation, African slaves and swashbuckling pirates, to American influence and socialist revolution – and as a result of its ethnically diverse population. Spanish, African, American and Caribbean influences are all clear in the country’s music, cuisine, art and architecture. In addition, Cuba’s unique socialist system has helped shape people’s cultures and lifestyles. Average Cubans are less wealthy than their neighbours in America, and are subject to a form of food rationing for staple foods. At the same time, they enjoy the tenth highest literacy rate in the world, impressive health statistics and much lower unemployment and crime rates than in the United States.
Cuba events - what's on when?
Festival de la Trova Longina
Held early in January in Santa Clara - Villa Clara, the Festival de la Trova Longina commemorates one of Cuba’s most famous and best-loved trova musicians, Manuel Corona, and his song “Longina”. The festival includes performances by musicians, as well as a traditional walk to Corona’s home town, Caibarién.
Havana International Book Fair
In February, Havana’s San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress hosts a 10-day book fair, celebrating the best of Cuban and international writing. The festival, which attracts thousands of people, includes book launches, talks by authors, poetry readings and book exhibits where you can browse books of every description. It also includes concerts and a craft fair. Once the festival finishes in Havana, it moves to other cities and towns throughout Cuba.
International Cigar Festival
Held in Havana in late February, the International Cigar Festival focuses on Cuba’s most famous cigars, with a trade fair, Habanosommelier contest and tours of cigar factories and tobacco plantations. The festival also includes concerts and musical performances.
International Pepe Sanchez Trova Festival
In March, the city of Santiago hosts a celebration of Cuban trova (or troubadour) music, with performances of traditional trova, “filin” – which has evolved from both trova and bolero – and the more modern nueva trova. The festival commemorates the birth of famous trova musician, Jose (Pepe) Sanchez.
Trinidad Cross Procession
On Good Friday, a historical procession makes its way through the attractive town of Trinidad, following a route marked by crosses. The original procession is said to have been designed to foil looting pirates, with crosses throughout the town marking false routes.
May Day is celebrated across Cuba with marches, speeches by prominent leaders and a range of cultural and musical events. In Havana, upwards of a million people congregate at the Plaza de la Revolucion, with its huge statue of Cuban patriot and writer, Jose Marti.
Gibara Low-Budget Film Festival
In late April or early May, the town of Gibara hosts Cuba’s equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival, with a festival that promotes and celebrates low-budget but high quality filmmaking; in Cuba and worldwide. As well as film showings, the festival includes concerts and art exhibitions.
International Ernest Hemingway Needlefish Tournament
Ernest Hemingway himself began the annual Needlefish Tournament, which today is hosted by the Hemingway International Nautical Club and attracts anglers from around the world. Competition is fierce as fishing enthusiasts attempt to catch the biggest marlin, tuna and wahoo.
Starting in late May and running through the first three weeks of June, the Havana Biennial is one of the most significant art festivals in Latin America. It features exhibits of works from over 200 international artists, with special events held throughout the city. It’s said that during the Biennial, Havana becomes the largest gallery in the world.
Festival del Caribe
Near the start of July, Santiago de Cuba hosts a week-long celebration of Caribbean music and dance. Highlights include concerts, parades of dancers and decorated vehicles alongside stalls selling Cuban food and beer. The festival also features goat-drawn cart rides for children.
26 July / Revolution Day
The 26th of July is one of Cuba’s most important and patriotic national holidays. It marks Fidel Castro’s assault on Santiago de Cuba's Moncada Barracks and is a celebration of the country’s revolutionary history. It also marks the birth of Cuban writer and patriot, Jose Marti, on the 26th of July 1853.
Santiago de Cuba Carnival
The biggest and best-known of all Cuba’s festivals is the Santiago de Cuba Carnival, held every year from the 18th to the 27th of July. The festival period incorporates the saint day of Santiago (or St. James) on the 25th of July, as well as Revolution Day on the 26th. As well as celebrating Cuban history and culture, the Carnival is an excellent excuse for a mid-summer party, with parades and street performances by comparsas (conga-playing bands), dancing, costumes, good food and no shortage of beer and rum. The Carnival attracts visitors from around the globe.
Carnival de la Habana
In late July and early August, Havana celebrates its own carnival. Enjoy a colourful parade and conga performances along the Malécon promenade, music, fireworks and performances by bands in old Havana. Amidst the colour and charm, you may see Muñecones, which are giant satirical figures of politicians.
Matamoros Son Festival
From the 10th to the 14th of September, Cuban and international musicians converge in Santiago de Cuba for a celebration of Cuban music and dance. The festival is named after one of the country’s most famous composers, Miguel Matamoros. Concerts, lectures and workshops are held throughout the city, and the festival includes a national dance competition that focuses on the Latin American dances cha-cha-cha, son, salsa, casino, mambo and danzon.
International Havana Ballet Festival
Started in 1960 by legendary ballerina Alicia Alonso, Havana’s ballet festival attracts leading dance companies from around the world. Performances are held at the Gran Teatro de La Habana and Teatro America, alongside other Havana venues. The festival includes exhibitions, lectures and film screenings.
Havana Theatre Festival
The annual Havana Theatre Festival features theatrical and dance performances, as well as exhibitions, workshops and conferences.
New Latin American International Film Festival
Each year since 1979, Havana has hosted the immensely popular “Nuevo Cine Latino Americano”, featuring films from throughout Latin America. It’s here that many famous Latin American films made their debut.
Parrandas de Remedios
The town of Remedios, which is one of the oldest in Cuba, is known for its traditional Christmas festival, dating back to the 1800s. The festival is known for its wild street parades, fireworks, colourful floats and rumba percussion ensembles.
Key facts about Cuba be in the know
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