Before you pack up those Cuban heels and head to the biggest and arguably most unique island in the Caribbean, here’s the lowdown on the basics…
The Big Smoke
Think Cuba, think cigars. It’s not so much that Cubans themselves can’t get by without a smoke, but the country’s reputation for producing the finest cigars in the world is almost without equal. A combination of growing first-rate tobacco and a canny knack of rolling them to perfection means that despite the embargo years, Cuban cigars are still regarded as a high-end product that many people bring back as a gift.
Cigar-making in Cuba is an industry dominated by women. Even if you’re vehemently anti-smoking, it’s worth watching these respected rollers, known as torcedoras, at work, if you get the chance.
Classic cars in Cuba are the stuff of legend, and we defy you to resist the urge to snap a selfie perched on the bonnet of a Chevy, Cadillac or Ford Dodge. But in a country that’s resisted US influences for so long, how come there are still more than 60,000 ‘Yank Tanks’ on Cuba’s roads?
After the US and Cuba ceased trading in 1962, the island was left with awesome cars, but no longer the parts to fix them up. As a communist outpost, any new cars were imported from the Eastern bloc, which meant the less lovely Ladas and Volgas were the driving norm.
Nowadays, these classic cars are mobile museum pieces. As relations between Cuba and the US warm up, more modern motors will find their way onto the island’s highways, making the sight of these gorgeous, old cars as rare as, well, a Havana road without pot holes.
It’s A Rum Deal
Many believe that Cubans are fuelled by a spirit. That’s not necessarily the spirits associated with the mystical santeria religion so popular in Cuba. This time we’re talking the spirit of rum.
At the base of almost every alcoholic drink, you’ll find a big measure of rum. Not surprising considering that a chief ingredient is sugar cane, grown all over Cuba. But enough of the geography lesson, who’s really running the rum show right now? The main player is Pernod Ricard Havana Club, available pretty much everywhere – except the US. Then there’s Bacardi rum – which you’ll find everywhere except Cuba! There’s a lot of bad blood and lengthy law suits between the Havana Club guys and the Bacardi family who, after decades or ruling the rum-fuelled roost, were booted out of Cuba due to their opposition to Fidel Castro.
As a visitor, all you have to do is pick your rum distillery to visit and cocktail of choice to drink. Look out for our Cuban cocktail blog for more on the perfect mojito, daiquiri and Cuba Libre mix.
Let’s Get Ready To Rumba
The infectious beats and moves of rumba (and salsa) can be heard and seen everywhere, and the distinctive blend of African and Spanish sounds will quickly become the musical backdrop to your holiday.
So ingrained in the Cuban psyche is it, that back in the Eighties, Cuba’s Minister of Culture made the bold statement that “rumba without Cuba is not rumba, and Cuba without rumba is not Cuba.”
Almost everyone in Cuba can dance, regardless of age, shape or profession. And every visitor – even those with a lifetime’s dedication to dad dancing – is encouraged to have a go.
Ready to discover more? Check out our holidays to Cuba.
Alison Jacobs, Thompson Blog
August 3, 2015