A Visit to Cultural Cuba

Cuba is a nation born out of cultural fusion, a fact which is evident in both its buildings and settlements but also in the rich musical, artistic and culinary landscape. The island’s intoxicating brand of unpredictability seems natural for a place that birthed a communist revolution, was revered by Ernest Hemingway and introduced the musical phenomenon of salsa. This is also what makes it one of the best cultural escapes in the world.

A history of European invasion, slave trading and communism means that the people of Cuba are as hard to define as the food. With this in mind, cheap holidays to Cuba are plentiful and are best done away from the hotels and resorts; instead, look for casas particulares for something in between a homestay and a small B&B. Cheap rates, cultural interaction and an authentic menu are a combination which is hard to resist. Alternatively, head for the paladares or family-run restaurants in cities like Santiago de Cuba for traditional meat stews and tamales.

This said, a real taste of Cuba is often to be found in the sights.

Photo by Doug Wheller

Photo by Doug Wheller

Wander around Old Havana, where you’ll find the Spanish legacy in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and the birthplace of the country’s modern state in the Plaza de la Revolucion. The Museo Nacional de Belle Artes is a must-see for art fans and those wishing to trace Hemingway’s steps won’t want to miss his former villa in San Francisco de Paula.

From the colonial town of Trinidad to the Vinales Valley battle grounds, the island is also home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites which are certainly worth a longer stay.

In a country defined by Latin rhythms like mambo, cha-cha and salsa, it pays to seek out some local music while you’re here. Try Trinidad for Afro-Cuban bands, comb the alleys of Havana for impromptu guitar players or plan your visit to coincide with a Cuban festival. The renowned Santiago de Cuba Carnival in July is a great opportunity to experience the dancing and costumes of the country’s Spanish, French and African heritage.

It’s immediately obvious to any visitor that Cuba is a country which embodies the phrase “cultural melting-pot”. Whether you find it by watching a master cigar-roller in action, tearing up the Havana dance floors or letting the locals welcome you into their home, the real Cuba is there for the taking. This is one Caribbean island which beats any stereotype you can think of and needs to be experienced to be properly understood.

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About Esme Vos

Esme Vos is the founder of Mapplr, a travel site featuring boutique hotels, luxury resorts, travel guides and restaurant reviews. You can find her on and Twitter.