It’s only 93 miles from Florida, and just13 from the Bahamas, but like the smoke that coils from its legendary cigars, The Republic of Cuba exists in a time andspace all it’s own.
Blending the traditions of Spain, Africa and its native peoples, and lit by the fires of independence and revolution, the aromas, textures and flavors of this Caribbeannation are like no other.
Despite its size, Cuba has punched well above it’s weight.
For centuries its vast plantations satisfieda global appetite for sugar and thirst for the smoothest rums.
In 1962 it played center stage in a nuclear standoff, which made the planet hold its breath for13 days.
And through it all, its infectious rhythms taught the world howto move its hips.
Few cities can stir the imagination like Cuba’s capital, Havana, a city preserved by forts and citadels, …a five-mile seawall, …and an imposed embargo which held backthe excesses of the 20th century for over 50 years.
Havana’s symbol is La Giraldilla, dedicated to the city’s first female governor, who scanned the horizon each day for her husbandsreturn from sea.
400 years later she continues to wait, high above Castillo de la Real Fuerza, thecity’s original fort.
While her husband never returned from hisexplorations, today she watches as millions of travelerscome to explore her city.
The fort overlooks Plaza de Armas the birthplaceand heart of Old Havana.
Step into the cool colonial elegance of thePalace of the Captains General, once the home of governors, today the homeof the Museum of the City of Havana.
Browse the vintage books and posters in Plaza de Armas, …then take the short walk to Plaza de laCatedral where fortunes are told and salsa spills frombeneath the arches.
Made from blocks of coral cut from the ocean floor, The Cathedral of Saint Christopher is a CubanBaroque masterpiece that has been called music set in stone.
For 100 years, it was also the resting placeof Columbus, who claimed these fertile lands for Spainin 1492.
Another of the Old Town’s squares is Plaza de San Francisco, which has changed little since the days whenthe crews of passing galleons filled their barrels at the Fountain of the Lions.
A more recent addition to the square is ‘LaConversación’, a statue that reminds us of the need for dialoguein contemporary society.
Cubans however, need little reminding of the importance of such simple pleasures.
In a world where our heads are increasinglybowed to the smartphone, this is a city where the people still walkwith heads held high.
There's something truly liberating walkingthese advertisement and franchise-free streets, where you can be open to millions of unguardedmoments, …like the curbside battles of wits, …the characters, …the melancholy of peeling paint, and thepromise of each new coat.
One place that will never see a paintbrushis La Bodeguita del Medio.
Enjoy a mojito and add your name to the thousandsof others, which adorn every surface of this iconic bar.
Getting around the city is easy, simply walk, catch a bus, or cruise in style.
Havana is home to thousands of classic autosfrom a golden age, which just like the city, only become morealluring with each passing year.
Head west, and you’ll soon see the majestic dome of El Capitolio rise over Central Havana.
The streets here are lined with some of Havana’sfinest architectural treasures, such as the Great Theatre of Havana, …andthe National Museum of Fine Arts.
Just a little further to the west, discover the Vedado district, a mix of fabulous 1950s modernist buildings and neoclassical mansions patiently awaitingrestoration.
Explore the markets, …then join ice-cream loving locals at Coppelia, Havana’s futuristic temple to the multi-scoop.
The Vedado is also home to The University of Havana, a hotbed of enquiry and dissent for almost300 years.
And the iconic National Hotel, where the likes of Winston Churchill, RitaHayworth, and Leonardo DiCaprio have spent many a Cuban night.
While the streets of Havana give the city it’s pulse, it’s on the Malecón where you’ll findits soul.
Extending for miles along Havana’s northernshores, this is where the city comes to meet, …romance, …anddream, ….
and perhaps, catch a little dinner.
At the Malecón’s eastern end, look out across the mouth of Havana Harborfrom Fort San Salvador, to its big brother, Moro Castle.
For centuries these two guardians were linkedby a giant chain, which could be pulled tight to keep maraudingships at bay.
While you’re near the Malecón’s eastern end, visit the Museum of the Revolution.
Housed in the former presidential palace ofdeposed dictator Batista, the museum is a dedication to those who tookpart in the long march to a free Cuban homeland.
You’ll find tributes to Cuba’s political heroes all over Havana, but there is none greater than the Plaza dela Revolución, where more than a million Cubans can gatherat a time.
Towering over the square is the memorial toJóse Marti, the poet, writer and lightning rod for CubanIndependence.
Pay your respects to Cubans great and small, at Colon Cemetery, a city within a city containingover 500 mausoleums.
From generals to chess champions to the poor, a walk through these 57 hectares is a walkthough Cuban history.
Another city within this city, is Fusterlandia, where for more than 30 yearsthe wild imagination of artist Jóse Fuster has exploded from the confinesof his studio and into the neighborhood streets, walls and rooftops of Jaimanitas.
Havana has long been a magnet for creative minds.
On Havana’s outskirts, high on a shady hilltop, sits the former Cuban residence of ErnestHemingway.
Peer into the rooms where the Nobel laureatelived for twenty years, writing classics such as The Old Man and The Sea.
The home was a gift to the people of Cuba, and remains much as it was, the day Hemingway left his beloved islandforever in 1960.
When the sun gets low and the city takes on its beckoning glow, why not head back downtown and order a daiquiriat El Floridita, just as El Papa did after a long day at thetypewriter.
Then let Havana’s magical rhythms carryyou into the night.
Havana’s lure can be hard to resist, but Cuba offers so much more beyond the seductivelights of its capital.
In Cuba, a long sandy beach and a cool seabreeze is never far away.
Just 12 miles from Havana’s downtown, the Eastern Beaches unroll toward the townof Matanzas, the birthplace of the rumba, …and Cardenas, where in 1850, the CubanFlag flew for the very first time.
From here, follow the scent of fresh lime, rum and suntan lotion north, to one of Latin America’s premier resorts, Varadero.
This long sandy peninsula is famed for itsnatural attractions as well as its resorts.
Be sure to take a walk in the VarahicacosEcological Reserve, and experience the subterranean world of theCueva de Ambrosio.
Then cool off in the pure, crystal watersof nearby Cueva Saturno.
After exploring the northern coastline, turn south towards Cuba’s heartland.
Santa Clara is Cuba’s most revolutionary city.
Here, in 1958, Ché Guevara and 18 fellow rebels took on an armored government train with abulldozer and Molotov cocktails, and won.
The Battle of Santa Clara brought an end tothe Revolution and cleared the way for a new President, FidelCastro, who would steer Cuba’s course for the next50 years.
But this city will always belong to Ché.
He is everywhere, …watching over the cityfrom his mausoleum, from the streets, from the very walls, extolling us to remember that liberators donot exist, …the people liberate themselves.
From a city forged by Revolution, to one built on sugar, welcome to Trinidad.
In the early 1800s, this was the sugar capital of the world.
Here, plantation owners poured vast fortunesinto plazas, …churches, …and Spanish colonial mansions filled with the best furnishings money could buy.
Just a few miles from Trinidad, climb Manaca Iznaga Tower for views acrossthe Valle de los Ingenios.
Here, for as far as the eye can see, thousands of workers once cut sugar cane, while more than fifty mills squeezed out itssweet liquid gold.
Trinidad is surrounded by other riches too.
Relax on Southern Cuba’s finest stretchof sand, Playa Ancón.
Then follow the rural back roads that lead to the cool heights of the Sierradel Escambray.
In Cienfuegos, the mood changes from Spanish, to something a little more Parisian.
This is the only Cuban city founded by the French, and it shows.
There is an unmistakable elegance here, in the spacious avenues around Jose Marti Park, …to the theater where Caruso once broughtopera lovers to tears.
You’ll find it amid the lavish dining room and roof-top terrace of the Palacio de Valle, …and in the seaside homes of Punta Gorda.
And when it’s time to experience natures elegance, you’ll find plenty nearby, …in the birdlife of Laguna Guanaroca, …and in the afternoon light of Rancho Luna Beach.
After exploring Cienfuegos, why not just keep going, because there's so much more to discover inthis country, which opens to the world more each day.
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether Cubais awakening to the world, or if the world is awakening to Cuba.
Whatever your politics, it's easy to admire this island nation thathas proudly gone it's own way.
Cuba may still have one foot firmly in the past, but as the world tumbles towards tomorrow, we can be thankful for the many things ithas not let go.