Any Cuban journey starts in Havana, the capital of Cuba and a stunning World Heritage site. Over the last two decades Havana’s old colonial centre, the Habana Viela, has been lovingly restored through the work of city architect Eusebio Leal, aided by artisans brought out of retirement to realize his dream and passing their skills and wisdom onto a new generation.
Cobbled streets lead to immaculately polished Baroque churches, castles and palaces. Plazas have been returned to their former glory, their fountains flowing once more and facades attentively re-rendered. Along Havana’s seafront, the Malecon, the strains of salsa waft from the rebooted sound systems of cruising vintage Cadillac and Buicks and the facades of grandiose seafront buildings face down Hemmingway’s shape-shifting sea.
To fully understand Havana we recommend visiting some of the areas where the restoration money hasn't arrived yet. Just west of Habana Vieja, the gritty working class district of Centro Habana is an atmospheric picture of ruined, rutted beauty; slightly further west the well-heeled districts of Vedado and Miramar feature glorious architecture, gems whose peeling and faded grandeur eloquently describe the twentieth century changes that Havana has been through.
Street life in Havana is key: on-the-ground socializing is the top Cuban pastime, whether that's domino playing, gossiping, seducing or arguing loudly. From Havana belles to beauteous buildings there is always something to captivate and beguile and, unlike most other capital cities, Havana’s leading experts are accessible and eager to share their knowledge, whether that be about the revolution, fine art or sport, especially baseball.
Cuba stores its history and culture behind the facades in a host of well-curated and informative museums, art galleries and cultural spaces. The nightlife is, of course, exuberant: alfresco salsa and rumba clubs, plentiful live music venues and troubadour sessions. You can enjoy virtuoso ballet, including Acosta Danza which was founded in 2016 by world famous principle ballet star Carlos Acosta. There are also centres for Afro Cuban dance, flamenco, jazz and timba. Havana now has a panoply of new private restaurants, known as paladars, and these are pushing the envelope on the cuisine scene as the government loosens the laws governing small business start-ups.
Havana’s hotels are becoming a draw: from faded art deco grand dames, colonial boltholes and contemporary international chains to a plethora of private villas, the choice of accommodation in Havana just keeps getting better. Cuba Private Travel is the only travel company with access to the newly created private villa rental market, making it possible to stay in a original 1950s suburban home or a stylish penthouse on the Malecon, your own private pied-a-terre in the heart of Havana.
Just outside town, Las Playas del Este offers a sneak preview of Cuba's legendary turquoise water-and-white-sand beaches.
The Cuba Private Travel team has access to the very best in Cuban art, music, literature, dance, environment, history and architecture as well as Cuba's most outstanding beaches and accommodation. By listening to you, the independent traveller, we are able to create tailor-made travel itineraries for your vacation that take you to the heart of Cuba's culture, landscape and people. Cuba Private Travel's bespoke itineraries are fully U.S. Treasury Department compliant and include access to personal guides, experts, interpreters and, of course, a 24-hour concierge.
Delve deeper and be inspired about what to do in Cuba and discover some of the best travel advice for the island...