So, the cat’s out the bag – Cuba is the latest destination to make the First Choice cut. Here are a few reasons why we just had to get our hands on the Caribbean island…
Excitement levels are peaking here at First Choice HQ. Because today’s the day we get to announce our plans for the 2016 holiday calendar, including lifting the lid on our brand-new destination, Cuba. From May next year, we’ll be offering escapes to the island’s chief beach resort, Varadero, as well as twin-centre trips that let you couple your holiday with a few nights in the country’s iconic capital, Havana. Let’s run through some of the things we love about the place that was once dubbed the ‘pearl of the Antilles’…
Varadero has been Cuba’s number one spot for beach breaks since the 19th century. Reason being, the area – which pokes out into the Atlantic like a splinter off the island’s north coast – is hemmed by 20 kilometres of shoreline. Some of Varadero’s beaches have been tipped as the world’s best, thanks to their sugary-white sands and warm, see-through waters. What’s more, you’ve got watersports on tap, and thatched beach bars for those all-important rum cocktails.
Images of old-school cars buzzing through Cuba’s time-worn streets have become as iconic as silhouettes of Che Guevara. Known as ‘yank tanks’, rusty American Chevys and Fords from the Fifties outnumber newer cars in places like Havana and Trinidad. After the Cuban Revolution, trade ties between the nation and neighbouring USA were cut. It forced hardy islanders to keep their imported automobiles alive by any means necessary, as shipping parts from the States was a no-go. Today, they’re polished up nice and bright and used mainly as taxis for tourists.
La Habana Vieja
UNESCO got their protective mitts on the capital city’s centre, La Habana Vieja – or Old Havana – in 1982. With their help, Habaneros have been able to restore their downtown district back to its colonial glory. Now, you can walk around its crumbly plazas and easily imagine life hundreds of years ago. Highlights in the old town include a Baroque-style cathedral, the Capitol Building, styled and named like the one in Washington D.C., and the lively Malécon boardwalk. Ernest Hemingway’s favourite watering hole, Floridita, is located here, too, where a bronze statue of the author props up the bar.
Cuba and cabarets go hand-in-hand. Rubber-hipped showgirls garbed in (not much more than) sequins and feathers have been sashaying across stages since the Thirties, accompanied by live salsa bands. The most famous cabaret in Cuba – and perhaps the world – is Havana’s Tropicana, an open-air venue that still stages performances by dancers in technicolour costumes. Tickets are pricey, but include a cocktail and a cigar. If you’re staying put in Varadero, however, don’t panic. The resort’s Cabaret Continental is generally thought of as second only to Tropicana.
Rum and rice & beans
Cuban cuisine is a Creole mix of Native American, Spanish and Caribbean food. A dinner-table staple is Morros y Cristianos, made simply of rice and black beans, which you’ll see on virtually every menu. Lots of fresh seafood, Cornish pasty-like empanadas, and chicken also take up space in Cuban kitchens. But it’s the country’s drinking culture that’s most well-known. The world’s biggest-selling rum, Bacardi, was founded in Cuba, naturally lending itself to some of the island’s classic cocktails like the mojito, the daiquiri, and the perfectly-simple Cuba Libre (a rum ‘n’ coke to us Brits).