Cuba has been towards the top of many travellers’ wishlists for a long time. Images of sun, salsa, cigars and rum spring to mind – but John Wilmott found a rewardingly greater depth to this enigmatic country on Viking’s seven-night Cultural Cuba voyage.
Here are his highlights…
You no doubt have at least some knowledge of Cuba’s recent history – the revolution, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the missile crisis, the long-running trade embargo – but be prepared to be surprised and enlightened through Viking’s programme of shore excursions.
The local guides used are keen to tell guests about their country’s past, present and potential future. I’ve rarely been so hooked on commentaries, be it on a coach or when walking around the sights with my Quietvox headset.
Cuba is a time warp in many respects, which is much to the benefit of visitors who can enjoy its slow pace of life, rural tranquillity, colonial architecture and formidable castles. You certainly won’t find city streets lined by uniform branches of Zara or Benetton!
It was all a wonderful contrast to the contemporary sophistication of my Viking ship that welcomed me back at the end of each day’s adventures.
Wander around any Cuban town during the day and, although you may notice the quintessential aroma of cigars here and there, you may ask: where’s the music?
Just wait until sundown, when salsa and jazz starts to waft through the streets on the balmy breeze, oozing from cafes and balconies.
It’s a colourful country, and not just because of its green hills, white beaches and multi-hued buildings. You’ll see plenty of artworks; as well as depictions of street scenes there are avant-garde pictures and brightly-painted ceramics galore.
For a dose of Cuban culture that extravagantly demonstrates its African, Amerindian and European influences, I would recommend an evening at Tropicana, the Havana club. You won’t find a more exuberant show anywhere else on Earth.
Best of all, perhaps, I found the country’s people to be polite, engaging and happy to chat – a bit like the lovely crew on board Viking Star!
A MOVING MUSEUM
Cuba has more than its fair share of museums devoted to fine arts, the Cold War, the revolution, rum, ethnology, even Napoleon.
To me, though, the best is the one that is continually on the move around the country.
Thousands of American cars remain from the 1950s, when they were abandoned to entrepreneurial local scavengers after the revolution.
Some are comically bulbous, others sleek and finned; many are decrepit but a fair few have been lovingly restored.
I enjoyed taking their photos against a background of suitably elegant colonial architecture in Havana and in the cobbled lanes of Trinidad. And I was even happier when I got to ride in a 63-year-old open-top Chevrolet Bel Air as part of my Viking excursion to Havana.
Overall, I was engrossed by a nation that is evolving and changing yet will always retain a unique identity – and impressed by the ease with which I could visit Cuba on a Viking cruise.