Havana Oh NaNa....Half of my heart is in Havana oh nana. Of all the countries I’ve visited, Cuba is my favourite (unless of course you’ve read my Greece blog). I’ve had favourite holidays, but these are usually to do with a great hotel, or lifelong friends we made or an excursion we took. With Cuba I just fell in love with the actual country.
We booked Cuba as our perfect honeymoon destination because the (limited) knowledge I had at that time informed me it had nice beaches and a bit of history (forgive me I was young!) We had married in the summer of 2006 and at the time were restricted to travelling during school holidays so headed out over the Christmas period.
The first thing that struck me on arrival into the airport was the music. It’s everywhere and it’s those Salsa beats (that weren’t cool then but certainly are now) that just make your shoulders relax and immediately you feel like you’re on holiday. Even around the swimming pool, a tune would come on and staff would look at each other and start to dance; not a rehearsed let's entertain the guests dance, but just “Salsa is in our DNA dance”. It’s just mesmerising to watch, even if it does make my own very British shuffle feel hugely inadequate.
We based ourselves in Varadero, a tourist area that offers beautiful white powder beaches and turquoise waters. It is true there is little else here but it’s perfect for honeymooners after a bit of low-key relaxation. We had pre booked a day trip to the capital of Havana for a bit of sightseeing but if I get the chance to revisit this captivating country then I would definitely make this a twin centre trip (If only I had known a Travel Counsellor then).
Havana is truly remarkable. It remains one of the only cities that matched the image I had in my head created from snapshots of movies, books and posters. Old men sit in doorways rolling cigars, vintage cars and bicycles line the roads, the architecture is stunning and colourful but crumbling and of course amongst all the day-to-day background noise is the ever present beats of Salsa. We took the walking tour of the city which is fantastic showing us sites integral to the revolution and allowing us an insight into how communism operates in the 21st century. In a far too brief 12 hours we saw The Capital building (almost an exact replica of the one in the US), Revolucion de la Cuba and the famous image of Che Guevara, the old Bacardi distillery and much more before ending with us sipping cocktails in bars made famous by the great Earnest Hemingway. To this day, I have not tasted a better mojito. Our fantastically knowledgeable guide explained how Cuba had the lowest infant mortality rate and some of the world's best hospitals because all have access to the same education and careers. We learned though how many of the brightest and most gifted often choose to work in the tourist industry as the opportunity for tips and extra income is just so enticing. Every minute of that day was a learning opportunity and I don’t think we've ever been so keen to learn.
Fast forward 13 years and I’d love to go back with the boys and take advantage of some of the unique and more authentic experiences that I now know are available. We would do a home stay with a Cuban family whose weekly shop is done with ration cards, giggle whilst having a salsa lesson and what child wouldn't love the chance to tour the capital in one of those iconic cars? Every single one of these would offer unforgettable experiences and memories made as a family before we flopped exhausted onto those glorious sands.
If Cuba is on your agenda for a trip, please don’t look at it as a beach destination with the possibility of some sightseeing, you’ll be selling the country short and most of all selling yourselves short.
NB Please excuse the poor-quality photos but they were taken with an actual camera in 2006 and so are scanned versions.