Travel in Cuba and experience crumbling Cuban cool, coloured by 500 years of rollercoaster history
Stretching 1,250km east to west, Cuba is the Caribbean's largest island, and ringed by beautiful beaches and idyllic waters just like its neighbours Jamaica and the Caymans. But Cuba also has a political past that sets it quite apart from, well, anywhere else in the world.
Its people have resisted both Spanish and US attempts at domination, but since the fall of the Soviet Union Communist Cuba has been out on its own. This has created a country with economic woes but a strong cultural identity, and an appealing time-warp feel: old Buicks rust on Havana's crumbling streets, expert musicians play traditional tunes, the landscapes are undeveloped and spectacular.
Times are changing here – modernisation is creeping in – but the island will always dance to its own rhythm.
Old Havana. It’s a name that conjures up images of fat cigars, irresistible music and faded colonial charm, and after reading Brendan Sainsbury’s guide to Cuba’s number one travel icon, you’ll know where to find it all in spades. Make sure your check out Lizzie Matthews’ piece on historic Havana to get a bit more perspective on what shaped this vibrant city.
Chances are you’re going to want to hear Cuban music – and not just a sanitised version of Buena Vista Social Club either. Why not follow Paul Morrison’s lead and go in search of where the local musos hang out?
Of course, there’s more to Cuba than Havana. Lizzie Matthews reckons to really get under the skin of the country you need to head into the countryside, preferably on a bike. Stunning scenery and friendly locals await.
For something completely different, Polly Evans recommends Guantánamo Bay. No need to pack an orange jumpsuit though. At Caimanera, the nearest Cuban town to the US naval base, locals while away weekend afternoons with cans of Bucanero beer in a beach bar, while their children swim in the bay’s warm waters. You can too.
Travel icon: Old Havana – Brendan Sainsbury
Historic Havana – Lizzie Matthews
Havana, Cuba and the local musicians – Paul Morrison
Cycle through Cuba – Lizzie Matthews
The other Guantánamo Bay – Polly Evans
With its fertile forests, azure seas, foot-tapping tunes and delicious desserts, the quirky eastern city of Baracoa is Cuba’s best-kept secret. Not many tourists get there, but they will soon. Go now.
Finally, Claire Boobbyer reveals the five things they don’t tell you in guide books but you really need to know before going.
Why Baracoa is Cuba's best-kept secret – Claire Boobbyer
3 hidden wonders of Cuba – Rebecca Allen
5 things I wish I'd known before visiting Cuba – Claire Boobbyer
Cuba is a gift to photographers: ochre-washed colonial homes, the azure Caribbean Sea, and life lived on the streets and in the large open windows and doorways. Old men, cigars perched in their sun-creased mouths, slouch on steps in slithers of shade, smoking their cares away, looking for all the world that they were put in place by central casting.
Having said that, there are a few things you need to know – and a few rules you should follow before hitting the streets with your camera. Clair Boobbyer joined the Julio Muñoz’s street photography boot camp and shares what she learned.
If it’s inspiration you’re after though, look no further than the images captured by our readers on their travels to Cuba.
Capturing Cuba on camera – Claire Boobbyer
Ready to start planning your trip? Our Cuba Travel Guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by our Cuba Essential Info page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from Cuba too.
Chances are, your first port of call in Cuba will be Havana. Our guide to your first 24 hours there is essential reading.
If you have a particular question about Cuba, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about Cuba. The answer to yours might already be there.
Cuba Travel Guide – Wanderlust Team
Cuba Essential Info – Wanderlust Team
First 24 hours in Havana, Cuba – Philip Sweeney
Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From special New Year's tours to celebrate the anniversary of the Revolution, to cycling tours through the east of the country, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.