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Cuba - there’s much more to Cuba than cigars and Castro......
Cuba is rather like an old picture postcard come to life - faded grandeur, crumbling baroque buildings, vintage Cadillacs and bartenders conjuring up mojitos in time to the hip-swaying, hypnotic sounds of salsa.
Bright and breezy Havana, Cuba’s capital, is one of the world’s most vibrant cities. La Habana Vieja, the ancient heart of Havana, has more old colonial buildings than any other New World city and their picturesque decay has granted the Old Town UNESCO World Heritage site status. Tourists tend to congregate here because this is home to most of the city's tourist hotels, bars and restaurants.
It’s worth paying a visit to El Floridita, the bar where Ernest Hemingway liked to have a bite to eat and sink daiquiris. Nothing much seems to have changed here since the thirties when he was sometimes snapped at the bar with Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper. His celebrity status has never dimmed in the eyes of the locals and his favourite bar stool is cordoned off almost as if he is expected to walk back in at any minute.
Cubans are passionate about music and dancing. Havana in particular is a rainbow explosion of live bands – they are everywhere: in the airport, restaurants, and bars on the streets.
A couple of hours drive from Havana is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city. The tourist enclave of Varadero is Cuba’s most established resort. This sun and sand destination with more than 20km of excellent white sand beaches has spectacular dive sites and a welter of watersports with opportunities for deep-sea fishing, windsurfing, parasailing, kayaking and sailing. It’s a haven for golfers too.
Cuba’s other popular beach resort is the lower key Guardalavaca, in the east of the island. This region of idyllic beaches backed by parrot green fields and undulating hills was famous for its sugar plantations because sugar cane was once Cuba’s main industry.
The Sierra Maestra National Park, the country’s highest mountain range, is where to find hidden cloud forests as well as the Comandancia de la Plata, an area abundant in flora and fauna, thumbnail-sized frogs and butterflies with invisible wings. It has an amazing diversity ofbird life too, including pygmy owls, the Cuban Green Woodpecker and the miniscule Bee Hummingbird – the world’s smallest bird.
One thing is certain, great value Cuba doesn’t have to work too hard at being different. Granted, it's the Caribbean, but not as you know it.
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