Only a couple of hours by road from Varadero on the northwestern shore is legendary Havana, the national capital. Browse the bookstalls of Plaza de Armas, feel the sea spray from your vantage on the great seaside boulevard, the Malecón, and dance to the driving beat of the nightlife. La Habana Vieja [Old Havana] is filled with colourful colonial, baroque and art deco architectural gems, many of which now house boutique hotels and museums. The salt-air constantly bathes the blues and golds and greens of painted façades, enhancing the patina of the centuries. No wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Culture and History
In fact, Cuba is rich in historical and cultural treasures, with eight UNESCO-designated sites that take you on a tour of the centuries. Here, you can explore the castles, cathedrals and distinctive character of the New World’s oldest cities. From the south coast of central Cuba, Cienfuegos expresses neoclassical elegance with a decidedly French flair; while Trinidad is the perfectly preserved colonial city, complete with cobbled streets and rejas – grated windows, through which passersby may chat with those within. On the southeastern coast of the island, Santiago de Cuba – second only to Havana in size and cultural influence – charms visitors with its strong Afro-Caribbean traditions, vital music scene and renowned summer Carnaval.
The love affair between the Spanish guitar and the African drum (according to Cuban folklorist Fernando Ortiz) can be heard at a Casa de la Trova or Casa Musica in almost every town or city in Cuba. Here you can find the traditional beat of the conga and bongo underscoring the claves (two sticks of cocabola wood that are struck together and keep the rhythm), the tres, or Cuban guitar, and the distinct tone of the cencero [cowbell] or marimbula. Savour the soul of the country in the music of son, rumba, mambo or nueva trova. Nightclubs may offer up the sounds of Cuba’s salsa fusion (known as timba), traditional jazz, or a Cuban version of hip-hop called reggaetón. Whether the music is accompanied by a coradito coffee, minty rum mojito, or Cuban beer like Hatuey, the true music lover is always more than satisfied.