Cuban Charisma and Cadillacs

Rachel Edwards visits Old Havana, Cuba

Even for travellers who have experienced a wealth of Caribbean treasure, it is impossible not to fall in love with Cuba or, at least, with Havana. Wandering through the cracked grandeur of her streets, it feels like the soundtrack of your own salsa party.

And the colours! Everywhere you go there are colourful clothes, colourful music, colourful food – and yes, plenty of colourful Cadillacs; vibrant and vivid culture set against a backdrop of gorgeous faded architecture.

I spent a whole month in Cuba, having long wished to visit the iconic island. Prior to arriving I had been burning with curiosity. Did vintage Cadillacs still cruise the capital? Would I be able to feel the power of Castro permeating the air? I was travelling alone and could not wait to immerse myself in the real experiences of Havana and the outlying towns.

I visited Trinidad and Varadero, Sancti Spiritus, Pinar del Rio and more, but for me the sparkling jewel of Cuba is undoubtedly Havana itself. Havana is divided into the Old and Modern districts. The latter boasts architecture largely built between 1900 and 1960 and houses the Capitol Building, museums and more.

Yet it is Old Havana that has long captured the world’s imagination. This intoxicating city, favourite haunt of Hemingway and birthplace of the Daiquiri, feels both familiar yet deeply foreign and is buzzing with life. Stroll into any café and have proper conversations with the waiters, who seem far happier to talk to you – and more politically astute – than many tourists expect. Spend balmy afternoons in several of the charming paladares, or private restaurants, for authentic, inexpensive and often wonderful Cuban food, such as roast pork, lobster and shrimp.

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And after you have enjoyed a taste of Havana, warm up your dancing feet to the non-stop music that beckons from elegantly wasted archways and beautifully ruined squares. Music is the true voice of this city, and it is impossible for you not to receive the call. In Old Havana – richly warm, welcoming, retro and sensual – you explore as you please. Wander around the Plaza de Armas, the oldest square dating from 1520, visit the impressive Catedral de San Cristóbal or admire the eclectic treasures of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

Take a leisurely sunset stroll along the Malecón, the enchanting, 8km-long sea drive where real Cubans congregate to pass the time, chat, flirt and laugh.

Unlike so many European cities with over-visited sights and well-worn trails, you decide your own Old Havana agenda. The laid-back Caribbean lifestyle blends with the spicy Latin culture to create the perfect environment for your own bespoke adventure.

Old Havana is there to discover layer by layer, an irresistible and charismatic mystery, with an exhilarating beat.