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Wanderlust series: Cuba

Captivating Cuba

Mesmerising, intoxicating and seductive. Cuba’s capital, Havana, offers a cornucopia of decadent delights for the adventurous traveller. Take a walk through the colourful streets of Old Havana and revel in the crumbling grandeur of early 20th century and colonial architecture as vintage American gas-guzzlers cruise by. Be drawn into bars by the hypnotic beat of conga music and follow the tune of Hemingway by ordering a Daquiri. Venture further afield to coconut palm-lined white-sand beaches and discover the rich biodiversity of the Caribbean country’s natural history in UNESCO World Heritage-listed National Parks.

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Dance the Salsa

Conga music and salsa dancing are ingrained in Cuban culture. There are plenty of dance studios and teachers in Havana who will have you swivelling your hips and moving your feet in the right direction as the seductive rhythm of the salsa takes over. The streets of Old Havana are a haven for street musicians, who perform every day for free. You’ll also hear the beat of the conga and find live music in most of the bars and restaurants.

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Take a Drive in a Vintage Car

Liberally imported during the boom times of the 1940s and 50s – before the Cuban Revolution sparked a ban on all US trade – classic American cars including Chevvies, Pontiacs, Studebakers and Buicks continue to cruise the streets of Havana. Ranging in condition from shiny and mint, to rusty and decrepit, it is estimated there are still around 60,000 of these colourful automobiles in Cuba. There are plenty of places to hire a car with a driver or take a self-drive.

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Sip a Daquiri in Hemingway’s Bar

Havana’s most famous bar, El Floridita, was the favourite haunt of author Ernest Hemingway during his time in Cuba in the 1930s. Hemingway was often joined at the bar by high-profile friends, including Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Katherine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy.

It was here at El Floridita that the Daquiri was invented in 1931 by much-loved bartender-turned-owner, ‘Constante’, and the rum-based cocktail quickly became Hemingway’s signature drink.

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Hidden Gem: Baracoa

On the eastern tip of Cuba, you’ll step back in time in the country’s oldest colonial city, Baracoa, founded by the Spanish in 1511. One of Cuba’s most historically significant destinations, this town offers travellers coconut palm-lined beaches and is a base to visit nearby natural beauty hotspots including a UNESCO Heritage listed National Park known for its flora and fauna biodiversity, caves, and waterfalls.


Luxe Places to Stay

Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, Havana. Overlooking Parque Central in the heart of Havana, this landmark 19th-century-whitewashed building has been transformed to become the city’s first true five-star hotel. Enjoy mesmerising views of the city from the rooftop pool and bar.

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Iberostar Parque Central, Havana. Immerse yourself in a rich and authentic Havanan experience in a stunning refurbished grand colonial hotel that claims to have the ‘best ambience' in Cuba.

VOYA, Havana. Set in a beautiful, fully restored circa 1925 mansion and delivering 21st century luxury to Havana, this boutique hotels aims to deliver an authentic, Cuban cultural experience.

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Mystique Casa Perla, Varadero. Absolute beachside on one of the world’s most iconic stretches of sand, just two hours’ drive from Havana (maybe a little longer in a vintage car!) this adults-only boutique hotel combines glamorous 1940s architecture with luxurious laidback resort style. Varadero is also renowned for its Art Deco architecture, nature reserves and ancient cave systems with pre-Columbian paintings.

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Mansion Xanadu, Varadero. Built in 1930 and recently declared a ‘National Monument’ this elegant, beachside mansion, serves as the clubhouse of the Varadero Golf Club, as well as offering luxurious accommodation, outstanding French and international cuisine, and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and Playa de Varadero, regularly rated in the World’s top five beaches.

Quick tips: Cuba

Hurricane season is from June to November. The best time to visit is December to April.

Always carry a photo ID – officials can detain you if you don’t have it.

Australians need to apply for a ‘tourist card’ visa before they travel.

Cash is still king in Cuba – so take a backup supply of funds, as often cards don’t work.

Cuba can be an expensive and multi-flight/stopover destination from Australia. The easiest way to get there is from mainland USA. Delta Airlines fly direct from Miami to Havana.

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