Cuba has seen a recent spike in visitors from the United States thanks to amendments to the Cuba Sanctions regulations and the subsequent re-establishment of regular flights from several U.S. cities to the Caribbean island’s populous capital. “Visitors who go to the island will find a friendly, educated and open citizenry with a long, proud history,” says Plácido Sánchez Vega of Mega Yacht Services, based in Cuba.
“Culturally, you will find people who love all music — chamber music, fiery Latin jazz, congas of Santeria, rumbas. The world-class art, dance and film scene...is flourishing.” And since Havana “has been ‘forbidden fruit’ for [decades], just seeing it is enough for most visitors,” says Gerald Berton, president of yacht services agency Cuba Seas.
He recommends Marina Hemingway, 14.4 kilometres west of Havana, as a good bet for those on a luxury yacht charter in Cuba to begin with. A multi-day city exploration is a must, including a walking tour of Old Havana, founded by the Spanish in 1519. Afterwards, shop in arts and crafts markets at Parque el Ejido, Paseo del Prado and car-free Calle Obispo, view bright murals at Muraleando and step into the fantasy mosaic world of Fusterlandia. Cruise to Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) in a car that pre-dates the 1960 trade embargo, stroll the Malecon and dance the salsa outside to live music at Club 1830. On another day, tour a cigar factory or visit Hemingway’s Cuba house, Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm), 16 kilometres east of the city, where the famous author wrote The Old Man and the Sea. Top it off with an evening show at the Tropicana.
Next, travel a few hours south by private van to Trinidad and the Valley de Los Ingenios, a museum of Cuban sugar production, overnighting in a private villa in Cienfuegos, founded in 1819 and arranged around a spectacular bay. Rejoin your yacht at Marina Gaviota Varadero, about 130 kilometres east of Havana, and spend a day exploring Varadero’s beaches and caves before heading home.
**When to go: **Cuba’s weather is subtropical; according to Vega, late November until June is the best cruising season.
**Where to eat: **Vega recommends La Guarida, a private restaurant (or paladar), as well as La Cocina de Lilliam, a family-owned restaurant in “a stunning garden setting where President Carter ate when he visited Cuba.” Start with fried chickpeas and a grilled fish fillet then satiate your appetite fully with tres leches cake and cumin ice cream. Delicioso!
Must-see spot: “Fábrica de Arte Cubano is a place full of action,” says Vega, “where you can appreciate the work of very talented young Cuban artists, surrounded by an environment of good live music, theatre performances, bars [and] snack places. This is an excellent place to share time and relax with friends.”