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In Search Of The Real Cuba

Nov 14, 2007
Cuba these days is a rather fashionable tourist destination. Tourists head out there, looking to enjoy the beaches, the wonderful weather, the diving and the salsa. And while all of these provide wonderful diversions for Cuba holiday makers, they are also often entirely artificial, created purely for the tourist market that invariably laps it up. For some, this is not enough, but with the tourist industry largely built on these foundations, where can you find the real Cuba on your holidays?

The answer surprisingly lies in the nation's capital, Havana. Though it is a popular tourist area, the real Cuba lies in its narrow side streets and dusky alleys. The city's history dates back as far as 1515, and if you're really serious about seeing the real country you will be prepared to forgo the 5 star resorts touted around the internet in favour of a private house or 'particular'. This will give you a real sense of living on the island in a style more in line with the locals, and has the added bonus of costing no more than $20 per day for one in a prime city centre position - perfect for the standard Cuba holiday sightseeing.

If you have not been sent running for the Varadero beaches by the experience, it's time to continue living the Cuban life with a lesson in gastronomy - a "paladar" will provide this. Some years ago, citizens of Havana won the right to open a restaurant (serving no more than 12 people at a time) in their homes, restricted to serving only chicken and beef dishes. Locating one of these will not only give you an insight into how Cuban people live in the capital, but will give you a taste of the real Cuban cuisine rather than the tourist equivalent.

Being a guest in a Havana citizen's café/home is on thing, but where is best to mix with real Cubans? The answer would be checking out some of the local bars. The most famous of these is of course Floridita bar, which was a home away from home for the great Earnest Hemmingway. If you're looking to fit in with the locals, and not stand out as a common Cuba holiday maker, a Dauquiri (rum, lemon juice, sugar and maraschino) or Mohito (rum, ice and mint) will help, as well as show you why Cuba is renowned for its fine rums.

While this will give you a good insight into how Cuban locals live, there's more to the island than just the human population. If you are in search of exotic jungle and a look at the natural beauty of the island, then the island of Cayo Levisa provides a calm, aesthetically pleasing retreat. It's a 20 minute boat ride from the mainland, but the island is home to tropical jungle, sandy beaches and dazzling coral reefs with exotic marine life. While it's not free of Cuba holiday makers, this spot gives you an insight into how the island was before it was populated.

For a beach virtually untouched by tourism, though you can't beat Cayo Largo. The 6 hour boat ride puts off the majority of Cuba holiday makers, creating a peaceful tropical island virtually untouched by tourism. The best thing to do here is to enjoy the amazing peaceful scenery and relax away from the strains of the working world.

I've only really scraped the surface here, and the real Cuba will be unique for each visitor, but if you follow my suggestions and feel able to explore beyond the standard tourist world, you will discover a way of life a million miles away from anything in the UK, with enough anecdotes to last until your next visit to this tropical paradise.
About the Author
Emma Lelliot is the general manager of Captivating Cuba, an independent Cuba holiday specialist. With offices in Havana and the UK, Captivating Cuba offer expert local knowledge for island visitors looking to holiday in Havana and Varadero.
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