Beach holiday or culture-filled city break – it’s a well-known dilemma. Luckily, Cuba has both options covered. We pit Varadero, with its 20km stretch of sand, against buzzing Havana…
Cuban beaches come with all the usual Caribbean qualities, but its capital is a bit of a one-off. Havana dances to its own beat, with revving vintage Chevrolets, salsa bars and over-the-top cabaret clubs. Luckily, you can take in both with our twin centre trips to Varadero and Havana. Here’s what each has to offer…
Varadero has earned its stripes as the country’s number one beach resort. Its long, white ribbon basically melts into the warm waters. You don’t need to stroll far to get an adrenaline fix, either. You can hire jet-skis, kayaks and windsurfing boards from the centres and hotels along the sand. If that’s not thrilling enough, there’s a skydive centre – and you can land on the beach.
In true Caribbean style, Varadero Beach is lined with thatched beach huts. Here, they’re known as ranchóns, and they specialise in freshly-caught fish. Things are kept simple and the lightly-grilled lobster, squid and prawns are served with a side of sea view.
Hop in a cab and head downtown to Varadero’s famous street market. It’s the place to stock up on souvenirs and any holiday mementos. Stalls come loaded with wood carvings, photo frames and oil paintings. Plus, if you’ve got the gift of the gab, then now’s your chance – swap your old jeans and phones for homemade goods.
Hicacos Point Natural Park isn’t your usual nature reserve – it’s got ruins, reptiles and a bat-filled cave. You can spot birds and butterflies around Magon Lake. But, the place to swim is Ambrosio Cave, which is made up of 5 different galleries, decorated with centuries-old cave paintings. And, don’t miss the El Patriarca cactus – at 500-years-old it’s said to be the oldest living thing in Cuba.
Hardcore sightseers will be in their element in Havana’s old town. Stroll its cobbled streets and you’ll find Spanish mansions, old churches and squares full of lively cafés and bars. It’s basically like an open-air museum – hence why the whole place was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eighties.
Havana’s food scene is up-and-coming, but the bars have been buzzing for decades. Famous writer Ernest Hemingway wrote a lot of For Whom the Bell Tolls at the Hotel Ambos Mundos in the old town. And his other hangout, El Floridita bar, has preserved his stool as a sort-of shrine. Park yourself on one of the other bar stools and make sure to order one of their famous daiquiris.
Find out the history behind all those Che Guevara t-shirts at the Museum of the Revolution. It’ll fill you in on everything that went on during the Fifties revolt. Some highlights include the yacht used by the rebels to sail to Cuba and kick-start the revolution, as well as the jacket worn by Che in his iconic photo.
At night, the city really comes into its own. And, there’s one place you can’t miss – Tropicana Club. The multi-coloured cabaret show – made up of 200 dancers, musicians and acrobats – has been going since 1939. Shimmying showgirls and singers take to the open-air stage for a 2-hour extravaganza. And your ticket comes with plenty of rum, too.
A country of contrasts. Find medieval cities, chocolate-box villages and rugged mountains...
Sip and savour. You're never far from a local tipple in Europe....
Local food, leisurely strolls and endless views. Everything you need to know...
Author: Annabel Langley
Published: August 4, 2015
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