A country that beguiles and mesmerizes in one memorable trip? It has to be Cuba. Our marketing expert Emma has just come back from holiday and shares her experience of one of the most unique countries in the world...
I’m walking down a cobblestone alley in Trinidad, one of many colourful colonial towns in Cuba, and I hear music. It breaks the somnolent near-silence, save for the clip-clop of horses trotting somewhere down the road, and erupts out of nowhere in a loud clash of melodious trumpets and drums. Naturally, I follow the sounds, until I reach the corner and see a cluster of locals wielding all manner of instruments and belting out some sort of rumba, salsa or son (despite my efforts I never really could tell the difference between these Cuban music styles!). People are gathering around and school children are parading up and down in what must be a dance show they’re putting on out here, on the street. And they are brilliant. Suddenly out of the dusty silence the streets were transformed and these kids are spinning and twirling and making me feel very ashamed of the silly old Maypole dancing I did when I was their age.
This sums up Cuba for me. There are surprises around every corner, and you never know what the next day will bring. In two weeks, it felt like a lot had happened, and we had managed to squeeze in so much on our highlights holiday. We started in the energetic capital, Havana, an absolute must for any holiday in Cuba, where streets are lined with crumbling colonial houses, and classic cars from the 1950s are ubiquitous; true to the clichés, we found out, but no less impressive than we had imagined.
On top of the colourful classic cars and beautiful architecture that make up Havana’s beguiling cityscape, the city is awash with fascinating museums and galleries. The Museo de la Revolución offers a glimpse into the country’s revolutionary history and is definitely worth a visit; adjacent to this is the Museo de Bellas Artes, brimming with contemporary art by Cuban artists from the past few decades. Of course, Havana is also famous for its nightlife, and we weren’t let down. The city is laced with salsa bars serving exquisite cocktails: we found a fantastic corner of the city in Calle Aguiar where friendly staff served $2 mango daiquiris on tranquil, leafy terraces.
Another highlight for me was Viñales Valley, a supremely lush corner of Cuba where terracotta-hued earth stretches for miles and miles, and the horizon is framed by huge rocky knolls known as mogotes. Just the sight of this landscape is breathtaking, but what you can’t see from the photos is the incredibly laidback vibe and quietness that characterises the valley – a sure contrast from the mayhem of Havana! We ventured through the valley on a horseback ride, stopping at a tobacco plantation where we learned how the farmers make cigars, and then onto a hidden cave beneath one of the mighty mogotes. We were led through by our guide for 100 metres or so in absolute darkness until we reached an icy pool – we took the plunge, swimming in the darkness with no one else around, and it was completely exhilarating.
At the end of our holiday we nipped off to the rustic island of Cayo Levisa to contemplate our Cuba experience as we lay on the beach and gazed at the stars, which shone brightly in the night sky with no unnatural light around us. Cuba was thrilling, challenging, exciting and rewarding – there really is nowhere else in the world like it.