After many of the sanctions against America’s near neighbour were lifted, there was a fear there would soon be a McDonald’s and a Starbucks on every corner of this flamboyant tropical paradise.
Fortunately, this hasn’t happened and there is only one set of golden arches on the 600-mile island – at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base.
The Caribbean’s biggest island is still under Communist rule and just because departed leader Fidel Castro’s brother Raul has relaxed things a little since 2008, its uniqueness is still there.
Cuba’s grand capital city of Havana is home to more than two million people – and 60,000 pristine classic American cars.
Shiny Buicks, Chevrolets, Plymouths and Corvettes – all from the 1950s and 60s – are everywhere, and they’re worth an extraordinary amount of money.
No parts for them are manufactured nowadays so the resourceful islanders fashion spares themselves, welding anything together, even household objects, to keep these prize possessions in top nick.
The cars are all part of the attraction of Havana and there are many specialist tours which cruise the city streets in these now iconic automobiles.
Alternatively, take a leisurely stroll around the traffic-free plazas, the crumbling old suburbs and gaze up at the shells of former architectural riches – you’ll feel an instant connection with the past.
For a real taste of the city, restaurants such as Paladar Los Mercaderes in Old Havana serve succulent meats and seafood in exotically-spiced sauces to the sounds of live Cuban music. La Guarida, which means the refuge or hideout, is set on the third floor of a faded mansion in Havana Centro.
Head up the marble stairs, edge past the white linens drying on washing lines and you’ll find cool customers sipping cocktails and ordering tacos, octopus and spicy dishes, as well as the Cuban favourite of rice and beans. If you fancy moving on to somewhere with a little more heat, Tropicana Cabaret is a carnival of camp set in a forest packed with palms, cedar and mango trees.
Singers and dancers wearing sequinned two-pieces, feather plumed head-dresses and dripping in jewels, burst on the stage shaking their stuff to sexy rhythms. Unless you’re damn good at hiding, they will have you up on stage to join in with the show before you’ve finished your first mojito!
If you’re going all-out, Havana-style, bed down at the luxury Hotel Parque Central, one of the fi nest colonial-style hotels in the Caribbean. It has a rooftop pool, a spa and fitness suite, live Cuban music shows, three restaurants and five bars.
Most Brits visiting Cuba combine a trip to the city with time chilling on its beautiful beaches. Two hours east of Havana on a 15-mile sliver of land is the classic Caribbean-style resort of Varadero. At the end of this stretch is the five-star Iberostar Varadero hotel, built in a mock colonial style on a white sandy beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The all-inclusive resort has three pools, a swim-up bar, spa, shopping and three themed restaurants plus a nightclub.
We took a catamaran cruise to the uninhabited island of Cayo Blanco for a beach buffet and swim in the crystal waters. Evening brought a riot of cocktails and salsa lessons at nearby Mansion Xanadu, a four-star golf resort overlooking Varadero beach.
The next morning we took a self-drive aqua ray boat trip through the mangroves then out to sea.
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