Cuba has culture, class, history, art. It has beauty, both natural and cultural. It’s a place to go and relax and enjoy the feeling that time has stopped, or, if you prefer, a place to go party and dance and live life to the nines! It is a land of a musical language and a love for dance. It’s such a sexy and vibrant destination. It is truly an island that assaults all your senses and leaves you feeling incredibly alive.
Where to Stay
In Varadero, stay at Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa, an ultra all-inclusive luxury eco-resort that is for adults only. Every single room in the hotel is a suite.
In Havana, stayed at the Hotel Saratoga, just outside the city’s historical centre and within walking distance of all the major attractions and dozens of amazing restaurants. The moment you step into a hotel, you see the beautiful art on the hotel, the colourful tiles, it transports you to a different time and place and you instantly realize how amazing it is to be in Havana.
Places to eat in Cuba
LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO
(Calle Empedrado 207, Habana Vieja, Havana, 00 53 7 618 442). You will love all the graffiti covering the walls and tables, and Ernest Hemingway used to have a mojito at the bar at the start of each evening. The food is absolutely delicious!
LA COCINA DE LILLIAM ( Calle 48 1311, between 13 and 15, Playa, Havana, 00 53 7 209 6514). A fantastic garden restaurant bursting with tropical plants and a sense of exclusivity. There’s an intercom entry system that makes you feel you are entering a private club. Jimmy Carter ate there! Among the flora, you’ll be served dishes such as the excellent ropa vieja, a traditional Cuban dish of shredded stewed beef or lamb.
LA GUARIDA (Calle Concordia 418, between Gervasio and Escobar, Centro Habana, Havana, 00 53 7 863 7351. This is a family-run restaurants in a ramshackle 19th-century residential neighborhood in Centro Havana. You walk into such an atmospheric and idiosyncratic restaurant. Dine on dishes such as sugar-cane tuna glazed with coconut, or fish salad with crunchy vegetables and peanuts in one of three intimate, moodily lit dining rooms, as you take in the eclectic wall displays, from abstract art and cigar labels to pictures of Castro.
Be careful and alert in the evenings, because it can get pretty dark in Havana due to minimal street lights. Don’t ever take photographs of anyone in uniform; that’s generally a bad idea anywhere in the world, I’d say! Always have cash on you, because sometimes the ATM machines don’t work, but at the same time, don’t walk around with too much cash on you!
You’ll notice there is graffiti absolutely everywhere, especially of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. So much of it is such incredible art, so take pictures! If you’re lucky, you might spot the old man who graces the cover of the Lonely Planet book on Cuba – my husband spotted him and took a photo with him, but we had to tip for that. In fact, be ready to tip for any photos, especially cigar photos!
And here’s a strange little piece of advice that we loved: our travel agent in Montreal recommended that we tip housekeeping in the form of nylon stockings. I still don’t know why, but they always seem so excited when we’d give them stockings as a tip!
How to get there
Most airlines fly to Cuba such as Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada and Air France.
Jumana Al Darwish founder of The Happy Box – an educational monthly subscription service for children age 2 to 11, where a box full of amazing activities (no less than 8, and a book as well!) arrives at their doorsteps, complete with materials and instructions. Kids get to spend quality time with their parents and carers, working on activities that are loads of fun yet educational at the same time, and each month, there’s a new theme to look forward to! The Happy Box is her dream come true!