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When you think of Cuba, chances are you typically think of the blonde beaches that infuse the north coast and tropical islands. But beyond that lies a country brimming with culture and history. From colourful Havana to classic Santa Lucia, with a little luck, you’ll uncover a different world – one filled with pockets of grandiose and cultural charm.
With more than 50 all-inclusive hotels and resorts, it’s no wonder Varadero is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cuba. While the siren song of the 20 kilometres of sandy beaches may be tempting, break past the typical tourist trap and explore beyond the resort. Discover Matanzas, a short 45-minute drive from Varadero that will land in you in the town commonly referred to as ‘the Athens of Cuba.’ Two influential Cuban musical forms were created here – the rumba and danzón – along with various religions of African origin. To experience a taste of Matanzas’ music stylings, visit Teatro Sauto, one of the last, still-standing colonial theatres of Cuba.
Cuba is often regarded as one of the top producers of three things: rum, sugar and cigars. In Cayo Coco, seep yourself in the culture with a full day tour exploring all three. Start by going back in time and exploring the ancient streets of Moron City in a horse-drawn vehicle headed to the Pauyet Art Gallery and Handicraft Market. From there, explore the Sugar Mill Museum and learn about the process of sugarcane transformation and the history of its contribution to the production of Cuban rum. To top off your day, indulge in an authentic Cuban lunch under the tree shades at Rancho Palma.
You don’t need to venture far from the beach to get a taste of the authentic Cuban lifestyle in Holguin. On the drive to the resort, take in views of rolling hills, once home to sugar cane fields and local banana plantations. With few tourist groups, it’s not hard to find authenticity. The Museo de Historia Provincial, based in colonial barracks, houses artifacts that date back to the 15th century and is not to be missed if you want to learn more about Cuba’s fascinating history. While Havana may be known for offering up a rainbow of vintage cars to tour about in, Holguin classic car tours offer a slightly more authentic perspective away from the crowds.
Santiago de Cuba
The culture capital of Cuba is not to be missed – especially given its bustling energy. First stop, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro (what a mouthful!). This Unesco World Heritage Site is a historical fort sitting at the top of the entrance to Santiago harbour. While originally designed to protect the city from pillaging pirates, today it is simply a cultural remnant of yesteryears. But perhaps the most important sight in Santiago is the street, Calle Heredia. Music can be heard in every doorway – a blend of rap, flamenco, and classical creating a unique harmony. Pull up a chair at famous Casa de Cultura Josue País García and enjoy whatever is on offer that night – orchestral danzón (ballroom dance), folkloric rumba, lovelorn trovadores (traditional singers) or rhythmic reggaeton (Cuban hip-hop).
This is Auténtica Cuba. Discover it!