Destinations: Cuba

There are few more fascinating destinations in the Caribbean than its largest and most populous island, Cuba. Not least because it has been a socialist republic since the 1959 revolution, when Fidel Castro seized power. This last remaining vestige of state socialism, 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, was once the last stronghold of Spanish power in the region. Cuba’s rich artistic heritage ranges from pre-Columbian cultures to the splendors of Spanish colonialism and the internationally acclaimed art of today. It is also a place of great natural beauty, with three magnificent mountain ranges and fertile plains where sugar cane and tobacco grow. And it has some of the best beaches in the world. A quarter of Cuba’s 11 million plus people live in and around Havana, which lays claim to being the most beautiful city in the Caribbean. Old Havana, with its square mile of colonial palaces, handsome plazas and charming cobbled alleys was, along with Mexico City and Lima, one of the three richest Spanish cities outside Spain. It has been designated by UNESCO as a city of world heritage. Cuba has an easy-going, multi-racial population whose greatest enthusiasm is reserved for music. It is the home of the modern rumba, actually of African origin, the mamba, the cha-cha-cha and the salsa. Cuban jazz is also excellent. Wherever you go on the island, music will go with you. Travel can be an adventure. Transport is cheap and convivial. Cuba is the only place on earth where hitchhiking is regulated by the state – in the nicest possible way. Each town has a hitch-hiking point manned by an official in yellow trousers who supervises the hitchers, registers their destinations and loads them on to any state or private car that happens to be heading in the right direction. Tourists are absolved from the obligation to take on hitch-hikers. It's a great time to visit Cuba, if you can. It is a vibrant island with resorts and beaches, some extensive – and the fact that it does not always provide the fully-honed and polished version of modern-day tourism suits many of its visitors just fine. Nightlife Cabarets and discos, theater, dance and opera performances are available in different areas of Cuba. There are now three out door Tropicana Nightclubs: the original and world famous in Havana, and the second in Santiago de Cuba and the third one was recently opened in Matanzas. Airlines Havana, Holguin, Camaguey, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Cayo Coco, Manzanillo, Santiago de Cuba and Varadero, all served by charter flights from Canada. Air Canada, Cubana Airlines and Lacsa have schedule flights to Havana from Toronto & Montreal. Entry Requirements All Americans must contact the department of state for informtion on travel to Cuba. Activities Popular Festivals Havana Carnival: an annual event, usually in November. Santiago de Cuba Carnival: July 25-27 annually. Renowned jazz, ballet and film festivals in December. Sight-Seeing Beautiful scenery, lots of museums, cities with colonial architecture, sports and adventures tours, artisans at work (cigar factories, arts and crafts), bird watching, ecotourism, etc. Shopping Duty free shops in all hotels and airports. Cuban cigars, rum, liqueurs, arts and crafts and other souvenirs are good buys. Note that all goods that are taken out of the country must be accompanied by an official receipt. Goods made from black coral, tortoise shell and sea shells (ex. Conch) will be confiscated by customs on return to Canada (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Services). Also if you buy some paintings, carvings or any art work a permission from Ministry of Culture is required (National Registry of Cultural Goods). If you are planning to buy cigars, buy them at the official stores only. Make sure to get two copies of the invoice as you have to show them to the customs when you are leaving the country; a legally sold box also comes with a hologram stamp on the case. Without these, cigars are confiscated. Sports Golf, scuba diving, fishing, hunting, riding, bicycling- to name a few.

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