The Road to Havana

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When Trump recently rolled back Obama’s initiatives to open lines of trade and communication with Cuba, he dashed many American’s dreams of visiting. For fifty years this fair land has been a tropical destination for everyone but America. Canadians love its close proximity – just 90 miles from Key West, Cuba is an easy three-hour flight from Toronto.

I’ve been enthralled with Cuba since my 20’s, since Buena Vista Social Club. I loved hearing my great aunt’s stories of her pre-Castro cruise trips to Havana, where she’d scour the flea markets for cool jewellery. I didn’t have the option to visit until becoming a citizen of Canada. I love a beach vacation, but I was especially interested in seeing Havana. In planning my first Cuban adventure I relied on the knowledge of my travel companion and frequent Cuba visitor from Travelful Life. We decided on the Melia Varadero, a popular beach resort along Cuba’s Hicacos Peninsula.

Varadero to Havana
If you’re staying in Varadero, you’re close enough for a day trip to Havana. Take a bus from your resort if you like the group tours, but I recommend hiring an English-speaking driver to take you for a private tour in a vintage car. (You can opt for the round trip drive and a self-guided tour.) Either way, agree to a fee in advance.

En route to Havana, do make a pit stop at Puente de Bacunayagua, located an hour outside of Varadero. Here you can stretch your legs, take some scenic photos (see video below) and enjoy one of their famous pina coladas. It’s also a good place to ogle classic cars if that’s your thing. (It’s totally my thing.)

In Havana we saw the most visible impact of Cuba’s political isolation. Decrepit infrastructure. Buildings falling down or halted in mid-construction. Kids hustling tourists in the street for money. But the beauty, the raw beauty of the streets, the music and the people was inspiring. There is an infectious joy to Havana, so slow down and dig in.

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Hemingway legend is all over this city, the most famous being the Floridita where he drank 16 daiquiris with no sugar and double rum. While crowded and overpriced, you can at least revel in the air conditioning. Take a stroll along the Malecon, or scoot over to the Christ of Havana sculpture for a little perspective on life (he stands 15 meters tall).

No Logos
When I’m not vacationing, I spend a lot of time reading or talking about brand marketing. From that perspective it was jarring not to see Coca-Cola or Walmart everywhere. But I’m thrilled to have visited before U.S. corporations take root in Cuba. Some may mourn the end of an innocence when the (inevitable) American commercialization hits, but the Cuban people deserve more than an oppressive life in a 1950’s time capsule. In the meantime we can embrace them.

Well, we can. Sorry, America.