Here is the next article in our Why We Love It series. This is a collection of blogs written by passionate Peregrine staffers about a place that has inspired them. Today's has a focus on vibrant Cuba:
I arrived in Cuba at two in the morning and was immediately taken with its festive vibe; music and dancing were spilling out of Havana’s music halls and bars and through its cobbled streets, as it did every night I was there. The genuine passion and good nature of the Cubans is catching and I found Cuba a magical, exuberant place. Cuba is one of those places that travelling to once can give you the complete experience.
I’ve travelled through over a hundred countries, but rarely have I felt I’d been immersed in a place so fully in a single visit. That’s not to say there’s little to see and do in Cuba, just that a discrete stay can encompass the rich variety of what the country has to offer.
However, I’d absolutely love to go back. There are a few things I loved in particular: The feel of Havana lives up to the myth, with its old cars, colonial architecture and local couples promenading along the Malecon sea wall. It has a special atmosphere that, along with the music, lulled me into a relaxed and happy frame of mind. So much so that even with two left feet and only a single Mojito, I was soon up and dancing. Though just sitting back and watching the expert Cubans dance salsa and rumba is absolutely captivating.
Music is everywhere. It seems around every corner there’s another band or door-stoop guitarist, but it was in no way annoying. Walking the beautiful old towns I felt like I was drifting from wash to wash of soothing music. The small local bars are great too, the ones with just a few old folk sitting out the front, sweet cigar smoke swirling above them, or chatting inside over a mojito. Every one was welcoming and friendly. I’m not a smoker, but I found the scent of Cuban cigars quite pleasant and natural. Perhaps the Cubans smoke as intended; they’ve something of a relaxed contemplative air.
It was good to spend time with Cubans outside the tourist areas. I liked walking through the countryside and the small villages where the tobacco is cultivated alongside other crops and lush forest. And I enjoyed eating in paladars, the small, inexpensive, family-run restaurants serving authentic local produce. Typically, they’re just a family’s front room from which they earn some money by preparing lunch or dinner for visitors. Cubans take a lot of pride in what they do and what they’ve got. Everything throughout the country was clean and cared for, and I found the simple food delicious. The beaches are just lovely, those on the small quays too.
There are plenty of secluded, idyllic spots along or just off the coast where the water is warm and the sand pristine. I liked relaxing in the small thatched bungalows along some of the beaches. Though the boat that took us out to one island could only carry enough fuel to get there and back – Miami is not that far away and though a lot of the Cubans I met would not want to be anywhere else, there are a few that dream of a different life.
Perhaps the Malecon sea wall promenade really captured Cuba for me. Not many people have cars and there’s no cinema, so people gather there to talk and meet. Especially the young. After dark, it’s like the love shack. Not in a vulgar way, but there was a lovely romantic vibe, with couples all the way along, the sea on one side, the old town and history of Havana on the other.
Have you been to Cuba? Tell us about it in the comments section below, or send us your photos and stories on twitter or Facebook. We love to hear from the Peregrine community! You can also email us with your images at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you'd like to see this sultry, sensual and surprising place for yourself, take a look at all our trips to Cuba. Find one that you love, and check out an online brochure or order one for FREE. You can also sign up to our monthly eNews for trip updates, competition and more inspirational travel stories.