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South America

Cuba and the Caymans

I spent three nights earlier this year exploring the artistic, gastronomic and musical side of Havana, staying at the elegant Saratoga, a neo-classical hotel with one of the best rooftops in Havana. From here, one can observe the constant stream of colourful classic cars and beautiful facades intertwined amongst crumbling desolate buildings; I felt as though I had stepped back in time!

El Capitolo, Havana - view from the Saratoga
El Capitolo, Havana – view from the Saratoga

I also gained an invaluable insight into what the future holds for Cuba – with the introduction of private enterprise, a host of ‘casa particulares’ (private houses), ‘paladars’ (private restaurants), and art galleries have sprung up, each with their own individual flair and charm. 

I visited several leading art studios, even meeting the artist themselves and learning more about their work. A night-time visit to the newly opened Fabrica de Arte, owned by musician X Alfonso, was particularly memorable. He has created several artistic genres in one building, with a variety of exhibitions, literary presentations, and on the higher floor, a dance and movie room. There is also a terrace for concerts. The whole place was buzzing with young, glamorous Cubans, with many more queuing outside. This is clearly a Havana hotspot! I also ate in a couple of the paladars, and was taken by surprise at the impeccable service and the quality of the food. A gastronomic revolution perhaps, as the only alternative is to eat in the wholly or partially state-run hotels and restaurants where the cuisine often falls well short of the mark.

From Havana, I flew direct to Grand Cayman for a stay at the Ritz Hotel, the best luxury beach resort on the island. With pristine white sandy beaches and turquoise seas, complete with miles of beautiful coral reef, the attractions were obvious and the perfect antidote to eclectic, buzzy Havana. It is an idyllic place to relax, but also a wonderful destination for snorkelling, diving and bone fishing with a rich marine life and some 230 species of birds including the red-footed booby. I actually swam with stingrays, even holding and feeding them – our guide likened the feel to a Portobello mushroom which I have to agree with!

Stingray Alley Grand Cayman
Stingray Alley, Grand Cayman

Little Cayman is just a short boat ride away and well worth a day trip. With a population of just under 200 people, the pace here is very, very laid back and I had the luxury of a public beach (complete with powder puff sand!) all to myself at lunch – not something you’d easily find elsewhere in the Caribbean. I ended my stay with a helicopter flight over Grand Cayman, which really put this beautiful island into perspective. From the air, you could see shipwrecks, stately private houses and even the stingrays!

View our holidays to Cuba.