We’re all keen to visit Cuba, so I thought I’d take a look at the best things to do on the Caribbean Island. With such a fascinating history you’ll have to check out the 265 museums, 120 art galleries and 70 theatres just to scratch the surface. When that’s done, you can grab a Mojito and embark on the top 10 coolest things to do in Cuba…
1. Dance in the street
Might seem crazy to us, but dancing down at the Callejon de Hemel is just a normal day in the life of a Cuban. Spontaneous live music is the norm and the pounding Afro-Cuban rumba is a hypnotic draw for passing tourists. Get sucked in to the raw Cuban culture and crack out those night club moves – you’ll soon get knocked down and shown how to do it properly by a friendly Cuban. Callejon de Hemel is where many of Cuba’s famous musicians cut their teeth in the 40s and 50s. The area is also a great photo opportunity with bold African murals adorning the walls and artists’ studios popping up. The peak time to be here is Sundays at noon. Make sure you warm your hips up beforehand.
2. Learn how to roll your own cigar
Of all the must dos in all the world, a cigar in Cuba is up there on the list – if only for the photographic evidence. The fine grade tobacco comes from the holdings in the nearby Cuban countryside. It’s then transported into Havana and into the factories, known as habanos, where Cuba’s most famous export is then rolled. While you’re in Havana you can take a look around a habano on an organised tour. Check out the Partagos factory for the best one – entry costs 10CUC.
3. Look at Havana through a convex lens
Check out Da Vinci’s Camera Obscura perched above the city. It’s a super cool convex lens that warps your view of the Havana streets, yet lets you view it all in one go too. He was recorded to have said: ‘Here the figures, here the colours, here all the images of every part of the universe are contracted to a point, what a point is so marvelous’. For onlu CUC2 you can while away an hour seeing the city change on the corner of Plaza Vieja, Havana. It’s a strange experience that’s difficult to explain, but don’t look it up, just do it!
4. Dress head to toe in Che Guevera gear
‘I’m really having trouble finding a Che souvenir,’ said no one in Santa Clara, ever. This is the best place for some Che worshipping and where the most significant moment of the Revolution occurred – the battle that ended Batista’s rule in Cuba. Statues adorn the streets, with the biggest the Monumento a Che Guevara towering over the entrance to the city at Avenida de los Desfiles on Plaza de la Revolucion. You’ll find the mausoleum beneath, which also houses the remains of the other Latin American guerrillas who died with him. Check out the nearby museum to learn more.
5. Pop round to Hemingway’s for a drink
Given that he died in 1961 you might have to get your own drink, but you can still go round and see his house as he left it. Hemingway’s white colonial Havana home has been preserved as Ernest last saw it for all tourists to see. Sadly, thanks to a number of theieving tourists the doors have been locked, but you can still have a nose through the windows of the Musea Hemingway finca vigia and imagine the great man sat at his typewriter penning The Old Man and the Sea, or For Whom the Bell Tolls.
6. Drink more Mojitos than you ever have
And make sure they contain the authentic Havana Club Rum for a true experience. Top places to enjoy a Mojito include the Hotel Nacional de Cuba – where the likes of Churchill, Al Capone, Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Nat King Cole supped the good stuff with a beautiful view of the harbour, the sea wall and the city – La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita. Although these venues are mostly for tourists now, as inflated prices and questionable quality has pushed the locals out. To drink like a modern day local get yourself down to Bar Monserrate or Lluvia de Oro, keep an ear out for a band playing and you’re in for a top night.
If you do want to carry on the party into the early hours bring those snake hips down to El Gato Tuerto. First rate artists play here and it’s a popular spot for bolero. Or you could experience the real old-time spirit at the Salón 1930 ”Compay Segundo’ at the Hotel Nacional. At one time it was the place to see the original Buena Vista Social Club – today’s musicians play with the same enthusiasm and skill, but just not the same level of fame.
7. Party in Santiago de Cuba
As the second city to Havana, Santiago de Cuba can get overlooked, but the relaxed party atmosphere here is one all gappers will fall in love with. Cespedes Park is the centre of the action and is flanked by the beautiful Cathedral Church. The nearby Revolution Square is filled with history and also makes for some great photos. For day and evening parties check out the Tropicana Santiago and the Casa de la Trova. The morning after the night before is a great time to visit Turquino National Park and climb Cuba’s highest peak up into the Sierra Mastra Mountains. There are a few options for getting from Havana to Santiago de Cuba – plane, bus, train or taxi. I’d opt for the train, quick, easy and complete with beautiful scenery.
8. Watersports in Trinidad de Cuba
Some would say Trinidad was frozen in time. Whether that’s a plus or a minus, it definitely makes for an interesting visit. The preserved old palaces and colonial architecture create a fascinating atmosphere. Even more fascinating, for some, are the Caribbean beaches. The best ones are found in Casilda Bay, where the clear waters offer excellent snorkelling and diving. And if you need to relax after all your crazy adventures in Cuba the pristine, powdered sand beaches are perfect for lazing around, and supping on Mojitos of course.
9. Hang out at the Christopher Columbus Cemetery
An odd suggestion I know, but the amount of work that’s gone into creating the Cemetario de Colon (as it’s known locally) makes it well worth a look. The eclectic mix of beautiful tombs make for incredible viewing. To get the most of the experience see if you can hire a guide to take you through the rich history of today’s inhabitants. It’ll be one of your stranger days out in Havana, but definitely a memorable one.
10. Explore the city in a classic ’50s car
Cruising around Havana in an open top ’50s relic would have to be the highlight of any trip to Cuba. It’s the way to take in the sights and think of yourself as just one of the locals. Coast along the atmospheric Malecon and take in the dilapidated yet beautiful colonial buildings. You can hire a car and do it yourself, or hire a driver to do the hard work for you.