Cuba cultural vacations

Cuba cultural vacations travel guide


2 MINUTE SUMMARY

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
Handpainted slogans around Cuba cry “Viva la revolución!” and “Homeland or death!” But Hemingway’s quote could be a more fitting motto for the country his last major book was set in; the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Cuban people is astounding. Cut off from the outside world for almost six decades, daily essentials are in short supply, yet Cubans live to cherish what they do have: music, dance, literature, landscapes – and one of the most inspiring histories in the world.
Watching dancers in the plaza, rolling a fresh cigar and riding a classic car along the Malecón are classic experiences, but our cultural vacations in Cuba really get under the skin of the country – staying in a family home, taking an Afro-Cuban drumming lesson, meeting a Santería priest and exploring forgotten pueblos where ox carts are wistfully, lovingly, described as “Cuban tractors.” This unique Caribbean-Communist state is on the brink of major change, for better or worse – read our Cuba cultural vacations travel guide to find out how you can experience it now.

Best time to go on a Cuba cultural vacation


CLIMATE AND CULTURE

With the easing of trade and travel restrictions, Cuban culture is set to change dramatically. While that may be no bad thing for many Cubans (who earn $15-25 per month and live off rations) – travelers are understandably keen to witness the island before capitalist abandon roars ashore. Weather-wise, May-late Oct are wet with a risk of hurricanes – particularly in the east. Dec-Jan are cooler, while the weather warms up by March-April – ideal if you want to hit the beach. Festivals and events take place year round; whenever you go, you’ll catch a cultural show.

Things to do on a cultural vacation in Cuba


WHAT TO DO & WHAT NOT TO

Things to do on a cultural vacation in Cuba …


The surest way to get up close to real Cuban culture is to book a homestay – or ‘casa particular’. A rare example of entrepreneurship on this state-run island, since 1997 ordinary Cubans have been able to rent rooms in their homes to tourists – it’s the original Airbnb. As well as spending time in a local house with a family, you’ll be able to share their meals, ask for insider tips and find out more about daily life in Cuba.
Many travelers’ greatest regret is not being able to join Cubans on the dancefloor. Salsa lessons (and percussion classes, for the less bold) are available around Cuba; book a class on arrival so that you can put your new moves to good use during the rest of your vacation. Feeling nervioso? Mojitos always help…
Cuba may be poor, but its commitment to the arts and culture is unwavering. Theatres, poetry readings, literary gatherings, music festivals, impromptu dance performances, ballet shows and art openings are pretty much a daily event in the cities – with Havana’s timetable of cultural indulgences particularly overwhelming. Even if you struggle with Spanish, the atmosphere is fantastic, and you’ll be supporting local artists.
The musical treats here extend far beyond the lilting son of Buena Vista Social Club (though you’ll hear plenty of that, too). Jazz is hugely popular, while towards the Afro-Cuban dominated east, the streets throb to African-inspired timba and rumba.

Things not to do on a cultural vacation in Cuba...


If you’re not the kind of person who would go to Spain and spend a week in Benidorm, or Mexico for a week in Cancún – you’ll want to avoid Varadero. Granted, the hotels are comfortable, the beaches are beautiful and the lack of Spanish won’t be an issue – but you’ll experience nothing of Cuba’s real culture. Many people who spend more than a few days here are itching to get back out to the crazy Cuban streets.
Don’t have high expectations of the food in government-run hotels and restaurants. Cuban cuisine has suffered following decades of trade embargoes, enforced self-sufficiency and strict rationing. The casas particulares, however, and locally run paladar restaurants offer homecooked food and a friendly atmosphere. The seafood is sublime (try the abundant lobster) and the fresh fruit brings a taste of the tropics to your breakfast table.
We often recommend buying things locally to support traders, but in Cuba, bring everything you think you might need – and more. Toiletries, sun screen and medications are near impossible to obtain due to trade restrictions. If possible, leave any extras behind for your casa hosts or other Cubans you meet – toothpaste, pens, umbrellas and sanitary products, among other things, will be welcomed.
Photo credits: [Top box: Cuba Tourist Board] [Temp chart background: Vicki Brown]
Written by Vicki Brown
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