Cuba is currently enjoying a reputation as the destination du jour with celebrities and seasoned travellers alike. As the biggest island in the Caribbean, Cuba offers a break from the norm of the usual well-trodden holiday destinations. The island has recently been enjoying warmer relations with the US, and worldwide, more than 2.9 million people (according to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation) visited Cuba, no doubt eager to see for themselves the eclectic charm and rich cultural heritage that the island enjoys.
Melanmag spoke to Folabi Olu-Joseph who travelled to Cuba, along with her husband and 13 year old daughter for a summer family vacay and reports that their visit to the island was nothing short of an amazing experience.
We touched down at Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport in July for a 14-night twin destination holiday, staying in Havana for four days before heading off to Varadero, one of the largest resort areas in Cuba.
Our first base was the Iberostar Parque Central in Havana, which was roughly a two hour drive from Varadero Airport. We arrived at our hotel late in the evening after a 9-hour flight and decided to take it easy and not do much by having dinner in the hotel restaurant and eating safe by ordering pasta and pizza. The next few days were spent visiting the major attractions in Havana.
Our first view of Havana in full daylight was remarkable. We were awed by the faded glamour and rich technicolour of the houses and classic cars. We threw ourselves into the many activities on offer, hop on hop off tour of the colonial towns, and classic cars day trips which included passing by the Guantanamo Bay Military Base.
I’d heard that accessing wifi might be a problem in Cuba, and we found out that we could, for a fee, get a signal in the hotel lobby, which my husband and daughter made full use of.
We met a local tour guide who ensured we visited all the relevant places and even took us to a local weekly street party (every Sunday). It was very arty and crowded with lots of tourists. If you go with younger children they may feel overwhelmed, but we enjoyed it and stayed for about an hour.
Our tour guide helpfully suggested that if we came across a taxi driver that we liked it would be a good idea to take his number, which we did. It was great having the same driver for the rest of our stay in Havana.
Another place of interest that we visited was the Hotel Nacional which is the one of the oldest hotels in Cuba with lovely views. This was recommended as a place to have dinner (at a cost of £70 per person) and enjoy Cuban music and dance and boy, did we have a lovely evening enjoying the music, dance and general ambiance of the grand hotel grounds.
We enjoyed most of the food that we ate in Havana. In addition to eating banana in every way imaginable, the usual rice and peas and curry sauces with meat, fish or Lobster options featured in a great many restaurants.
I’m not quite sure why I was surprised to see the number of black African locals and the prolific Yoruba references in their culture, especially in the practise of the Santeria religion among the island’s many West African descendants who were brought over as slaves. The rituals, language and white garments worn by the members were uncannily familiar to me, being of Yoruba heritage. Everyone we came across was very welcoming.
After four days of a whole lot of tours and exploring Havana, it was time to be transferred to Varadero for the rest of our holiday. We stayed at the Iberostar Varadero Hotel, just by the sea.
When we first arrived at Varadero, we were taken aback by the state our allocated room was in. It looked dated and had stains on the bedsheets and in the bathtub. To the hotel’s credit they promptly moved us to another room the following day which was much nicer and more comfortable.
The whole family thoroughly enjoyed an excursion to a small island called Cayo Blanco which we reached after about an hour travelling on a catamaran. I’m not known for my fondness of the open sea, but I must confess it was well worth it. The island had the most beautiful beach with white sands and a small shop, but by far the highlight was the opportunity to snorkel and explore the beautiful coral reef, crystal clear waters and fish habitat. It was a truly spectacular experience.
Overall, we had a thoroughly magical holiday. Temperatures stayed around the 34 degrees mark, so we got through bottles of sun cream. Also, it goes without saying that being in the Caribbean, the mosquitos will come out to play. I found mosquito repellent and sprays did the trick.
If you are thinking of your next long-haul holiday destination, you could do a lot worse than charming Cuba.
For more information about Iberostar Hotels and Resorts, visit: www.iberostar.com/en