“We crisscrossed the island by 4x4 and pickup, yacht and chartered plane, local bus and vintage Cadillac, horseback and foot – and didn’t see a single missile.”
The Cuban revolution claims three great successes: health, education and sport. In the past, even admiring visitors also noted three great failures: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well, as Fidel used to say (to paraphrase a five-hour speech), all that has changed. Creating a 10-day bespoke vacation in Cuba for a group of curious Brits, we got to see how things were coming in the kitchen…and elsewhere across this beautiful and fascinating country.
Our cultural immersion began in Havana with, naturally, a salsa class. To the Brits’ surprise, their dance teacher had them follow her into the streets to study the rhythm of Cuban life. Seeing people walking, chatting in cafés, playing in parks or simply peeling a mango, they soon grasped that Cuba’s distinctive tempo isn’t just in the dance clubs; it’s on every street corner. As for the political dimension of the capital, we arranged for our group to chat with local journalists, foreign correspondents and even (discreetly) a few Communist Party officials to gain a deeper understanding of the country.
Having taken the pulse of Havana, we hit the road. Exploring Cuba’s most beautiful regions via Viñales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba, our Band of Británicos (as they became known) discovered a way of life that’s changed little in 50 years. We arranged visits to unusual and un-touristy spots and were greeted everywhere by warm, generous Cubans who proudly shared their history, music and art – from jazz to rhumba to classical guitar, all masterfully played – along with great rum and truly extraordinary cigars.
From forested mountains (where Fidel hid out with Che) to craggy limestone monoliths, from mango orchards to valleys filled with sugarcane, the scenery in Cuba’s interior is breathtaking. And along the beautiful beaches of the coast, you’ll find plenty of great opportunities for swimming, diving and snorkelling.
The Británicos ended their Cuban adventure back amidst the cultural riches of Old Havana. Here, as elsewhere, we sampled Cuba’s culinary arts – in grand restaurants, but also in charming paladars in the homes of regular folk and at dinner parties we arranged with friends. And we’re happy to report that the kitchens of Cuba have come through their own glorious revolution.
There have always been many good reasons to visit Cuba. The untouched beaches and unexplored countryside. The colourful history: young revolutionaries overthrowing Batista, Hemingway writing and fishing, The Bay of Pigs, Fidel’s legacy. And above all the welcoming, cultured people of a country that still has one foot in the 1950s while the other dances a salsa step toward an exciting future.
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