Stepping back in time in Cuba is nearly as effortless as gazing out across the clear blue sea from a sun lounger, with a mojito or a hand-rolled cigar in your hand.
Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba back in 1492 and just nine years later the city of Santiago de Cuba was born. Since then this sun drenched Caribbean island has experienced colonisation (courtesy of Spanish conquistadors), a communist revolution, played its part in a missile crisis and been on the receiving end of a US trade embargo.
You can see mementos of these and many other historical events during your holiday, either under your own steam in a hire car or by public transport, or on an organised excursion from your beach resort.
Havana genuinely has enough vintage Cadillacs and weathered buildings to send you hurtling back in time to January 1 1959, when Fidel Castro’s rebel army marched on the city to oust the US- backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. The revolutionaries, called the 26th of July Movement, were led into Havana by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.
Turn your history buff’s eyes towards the Vedado district, at the Malecon seafront boulevard. Here you’ll find the city’s, if not the island’s, most famous accommodation – the Hotel Nacional.
Hotel Nacional is the original celebrity bolthole. It was built in the 1930s and was popular with wealthy American travellers before the post-revolution embargo was imposed. Famous guests ranging from American mobsters to Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando could be seen relaxing in the Nacional’s lobby with a cigar.
The dinky town of Trinidad on Cuba’s west coast won UNESCO World Heritage status in 1988. It is a living museum of Spanish colonial history and architecture, dating back to 1514 when it was founded by a conquistador.
Sightseers can explore the well-preserved cobbled streets by foot or by horse-drawn carriage, stopping at pastel coloured palaces and plazas with wrought-iron features typical of the Spanish colonial style. Don’t miss the Museo Romántico in the main square.
You can get there and back from Varadero on a day trip, but spending the night in Trinidad is more enjoyable. Day trips run from all other resorts on the island.
The capital of Cuba, 540 miles south east of Havana, was founded by the Spaniard Diego Velázquez. It became the launchpad of Fidel Castro’s national revolution in the 50s.
Rebels led by Castro tried but failed to overrun the city’s Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953. Down but not out, the rebel movement grew and galvanised itself. Six years later, Castro proclaimed the victory of the Cuban Revolution from a balcony in Santiago’s city hall, located in Parque Cespedes.
Posted : Thursday, April 7th, 2011 at 11:00
Kelly Pipes is a writer and editor who has worked in travel and travel publishing for the last ten years, and has enjoyed every single minute of it. Alongside other projects she shares off-beat travel news and authentic travel experiences on her own blog, Sandwagon.