10/12/13 - NEWS.com.au - Lonely Planet's top tips for Cuba
The music tops the list of great reasons to visit Cuba. Source: Supplied
Lonely Planetâs Cuba guide.
There ought to be a banner in the arrivals hall at Havana airport that
reads âAbandon preconceptions, all ye who enter hereâ. Prepare yourself to
be shocked, perplexed, confounded and amazed. Cuba is a country with no
historical precedents: economically poor, but culturally rich; visibly
mildewed, but architecturally magnificent; infuriating, yet at the same
time, strangely uplifting.
Halfway between the US to the north and Latin America to the south, Cuba
has long struggled to work out where it fits in. Yet, as a former Spanish
colony liberally coloured with French, African, American, Jamaican and
indigenous TaÃno influences, thereâs no denying the breadth of its
historical heritage. When Castro pressed the pause button on economic
development in the 1960s, he inadvertently saved many endangered
traditions. Though the infrastructure has suffered, important historical
heirlooms â forts, palaces, hotels and colonial towns â have survived.
Better still, many of them are now being faithfully restored.
Most visitors are surprised to arrive in Havana and find, not some grey
communist dystopia but a wildly exuberant place where music emanates from
every doorway and even hardened cynics are ensnared by the intrigue and
romance. Rhythms and melodies are ubiquitous in this melting pot of
African, European and Caribbean cultures. Witness them at the opera and at
the ballet; in the corner bar or through the hypnotic drumming of a
Santeria ceremony; with the trombonist practising his arpeggios on the
seawall, or in the rhythmic gait of the people as they saunter along
Havanaâs musical streets.
Meet the people
That Cuba has survived is a miracle in itself. That it can still enthral
travellers from around the globe with its beaches, bays, mountains, rum,
music and impossibly verdant landscapes is an even greater achievement.
The key lies in the Cubans themselves: survivors and improvisers, poets
and dreamers, cynics and sages. It is the people who have kept the country
alive as the infrastructure has crumbled; and it is also they who have
ensured that Cuba continues to be the fascinating, perplexing, paradoxical
nation it is.
Cubaâs top five
1. Live Music Scene
In Cuba piped music is considered a cop-out. Here in the land of sun,
salsa, rumba and trova everything is spontaneous, live and delivered with
a melodic panache. Thereâs the romantic bar-crawling troubadour, the
gritty street-based rumba drummer, the bikini-and-feathers cabaret show
and the late-night reggaeton party. Cubaâs musical talent is legendary and
rarely comes with the narcissistic âstar statusâ common in other parts of
the world. Matanzas and Santiago have the deepest musical roots,
Guantanamo is full of surprises, while Havana belts out pretty much
El Morro Castle and pounding waves on the Malecon. Source: Supplied
2. Havanaâs Malecon
Only a fool comes to Havana and misses out on the Malecon sea drive, 8km
of shabby magnificence that stretches the breadth of the city from Habana
Vieja to Miramar and acts as a substitute living room for tens of
thousands of cavorting, canoodling, romance-seeking habaneros. Traverse it
during a storm when giant waves breach the wall, or tackle it at sunset
with Benny More on your MP3 player, a bottle of Havana Club in your hand
and the notion that anything is possible come 10pm.
3. Cubaâs Casas Particulares (private homestay)
Picture the scene: there are two rocking chairs creaking on a polished
colonial porch, a half-finished bottle of rum being passed amiably between
guest and host, and the sound of lilting music drifting through the humid
tropical darkness. It could be any home case particular in any street in
any town â theyâre all the same. Shrugging off asphyxiating censorship and
bleak Cold War-style totalitarianism, these private homes reveal Cuba at
its most candid. Havana has the widest selection; Santa Claraâs are the
4. Eclectic Architecture
Cubaâs architecture reflects its ethnic heritage, with a muscular slice of
Spanish baroque, a sprinkling of French classicism, some North American
art deco, a hint of European art nouveau and a spark of modernism, all in
the lingering shadow of Afro-Cuban slave labour. Sometimes extreme and
rarely constant, Cuban architecture yet retains certain binding threads of
âCuban-nessâ. Visit UNESCO-listed Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and
Camaguey to see for yourself.
5. Idyllic Beach Escapes
Thereâs the big showy one in the resort and the wild, windswept one on the
north coast; the sheltered palm-fringed one on a paradisiacal key and the
unashamedly nudist one on a secluded island. Cubaâs beaches come in all
shapes and shades. Search long enough and youâre sure to find a slice of
nirvana. Big resort areas such as Varadero have hijacked the best strips
of sand, but isolated havens remain. Highlights include Playa Pilar on
Cayo Guillermo, Playa Maguana near Baracoa and Playa Ancon near Trinidad.
Although resorts have conquered many of Cubaâs beaches, it is possible to
find isolated stretches of sand. Source: Supplied
When to go
High season (NovâMar & JulâAug): Prices are 30 per cent higher and hotels
may require advance bookings. Prices are higher still for two weeks around
Christmas and New Year. Weather is cooler and drier November to March.
Shoulder (Apr & Oct): Look out for special deals outside of peak season.
Watch out for Easter vacation, when prices and crowds increase.
Low season (May, June & Sep): Some resort hotels offer fewer facilities or
shut altogether. Thereâs a hurricane risk between June and November and
higher chance of rain.
There are no direct flights to Cuba from Australia. Travellers can connect
through Europe, Canada, the US or Mexico.
â For a glimpse of the real Cuba and a chance to put your money directly
into the pockets of individual Cubans, stay in a casa particular (private
â Carry toilet paper and antiseptic handwash, and drink bottled water.
â Roads can be rough and driving can be a challenge. Itâs cheaper to hire
a taxi than a car over longer distances.
â Thanks to heavy bureaucracy, answers to simple requests arenât always
straightforward. Probe politely and ask at least five different people
before you make important decisions. Cuba is complex, and not always
portrayed accurately in the international media.
â Travel with an open mind and be prepared to be regularly surprised,
confused, confounded and astonished.
This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Cuba (7th Edition) by Brendan
Sainsbury and Luke Waterson Â© Lonely Planet 2013. Published this month,
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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