While Cuba’s political past may attract curious tourists, this isn’t all it has to offer, with enough atmosphere, nightlife, art and beaches to appeal to anyone
The “vroom pfft, vroom pfft” of a bright blue Pontiac ’57 pootling towards Havana’s National Capitol Building can just about be heard over the rattle of maracas and boom of bongos rising from the rooftop of Hotel Inglaterra.
Its “English” name is just that – a name – for this scene is comprehensively Cuban, complete with cocktails laden with Havana Club rum, salsa dancers sweeping between the tables and a warm evening breeze that almost cools my clammy skin in the 28°C heat.
It’s my first night in Havana and an adamant refusal to join in the salsa sees me stick out like a sore thumb. Here, it seems, everyone can dance. Instead of revealing my incompetence to the locals I take my daiquiri to a quiet corner and admire the view over Havana’s Unesco-listed Old Town. Many of the buildings have crumbling walls and ceilings, with modern structures almost non-existent, but there’s an ethereal beauty to this city. Its residents spend their days gossiping in doorways, shouting Spanish across the way from four floors up and dancing salsa in the street. Not to mention the colours – there aren’t enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe Havana’s kaleidoscopic character.
To the west of Havana’s Old Town lies an equally colourful attraction: Fabrica de Arte Cubano. This former oil factory is now an art gallery, cinema, theatre, concert hall and club rolled into one, designed to celebrate contemporary Cuban art in all its forms.
Up a spiral staircase lies a roof-terrace restaurant where I dine on freshly grilled octopus and sip expertly crafted cocktails in the moonlight – this set-up wouldn’t look out of place in London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Brooklyn and would be a hit with any fans of fine dining heading to Cuba.