Have you been to Cuba? It’s one of April’s top holiday destinations, and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s gorgeous to look at, yet unmistakably worn down by the years. It’s not glossy, but it’s managed to maintain an air of subtle glamour. It’s where you’ll have the best fun of your life - but you’ve got to be willing to take the rough with the smooth. Welcome to Cuba, the country which embraces polar opposites.
Cuba’s the place to go if you’d like to take a break from Westernisation. Evidence of the country’s economic embargo remains; proud colonial cities stand side by side with dilapidated houses and streets. Cuban folklore and music is steeped in history and shot through with high drama, and evidence of former grandeur remains - just look closely. It’s up to you to discover it for yourself.
Keen jetsetter and solo traveller Alex spent two weeks in Cuba after booking a package deal. She shared her top tips on making the most of her trip; here’s how to discover Cuba with confidence.
Transport and getting around:
"There's little infrastructure in terms of public transport, so you’ll be taking taxis, coco taxis or rickshaws, but they're pretty cheap. Try to negotiate price your fare at the start of the journey.
"Don't be afraid to use airports other than Havana - the flights can be cheaper. Oh, and don't bother coupling Havana with Varadero. They're both fairly close to each other, and Varadero is pretty much all resort, so there’s not much to see or do."
Learn some basic Spanish:
"It’s a good idea to learn some Spanish before you leave. A few small phrases will work wonders and help you, as lots of Cubans don’t speak English very well. Cuba isn't really somewhere you can ‘backpack’ like the Far East, so bear this in mind – and come prepared."
Remember the country’s history:
"It’s worth remembering that this place isn’t a ‘normal’ holiday destination! This is a communist country making the most of what they have against a 50-year blockade. Things run out, but tourists have access to the best of what there is and there will always be a substitute for whatever you want/need. People do beg on the streets, but it’s no worse than back in the UK. It's also really safe, so as a female travelling alone I never felt at risk."
Entertain yourself easily:
"Visit the Museum of the Revolution and Main Square. If you're into the literary history, do the Hemingway tours. But also see places like Fusterlandia, which is a neighbourhood in Havana covered in a Gaudiesque tile mosaic. It's out of the way, but the locals all know what and where this is.
"Most importantly - go for a wander and get lost a bit. If you're going from west to east, (from Vedado, Central Havana or Old Havana), use the dome of the Capital building or the sea front. They're great homing beacons if you stray too far, or get disoriented. Also, take a stroll down the sea front. It's a beautiful walk, and if you can stray, you can find your bearings easily enough.
"I stayed in Guardalavaca for the latter half of my trip, which is a beach resort on the other side of the island. The immediate area is much like Varadero, but you are closer to lesser-known places of interest. Excursions will be sold to you at your hotel, and they're fairly reasonable. There are some that are quite local; for these, I'd say just order a taxi and do it at your own pace. I think you can book a driver for the day and go exploring. It’s a good idea to speak to resort staff about the smaller ‘unofficial’ excursions they provide. They tend to be hidden gems that are usually quite inexpensive."
What else do you need to know?
"There are plenty of exotic drinks you can bring home as presents – or as a treat for yourself! Rums such as Havana Club are sold at UK prices. If you’re going to splurge at Duty Free, make sure it’s on something you can’t get elsewhere.
"Make sure that you do your research! There are so many hidden gems in Havana that you can miss out on. Make sure that you talk to the locals, too. Havana is changing all the time so they'll have the best information.
"My favourite place to eat was Nazdarovie, a ‘retro Soviet restaurant’ on the sea front in Havana. My drink of choice was a Bloody Masha, which was their Slavic twist on a Bloody Mary.
"Finally, don’t be put off by booking a package deal. I had never done the all-inclusive thing before, but I imagine they're all quite similar. Regardless, it was lovely, and I had a great time."
If you land in Havana and you discover that your bags haven’t arrived with you, you can turn to us. If you buy a Columbus Direct holiday insurance policy, you’ll be able to get up to £2,500 to cover some holiday essentials. The fun can continue as planned; now, go and enjoy your holiday!