Havana is often seen as a trip back into a sun-drenched dream of the past, as colourful vintage cars and houses mix with a carefree 1950s rum-soaked atmosphere. But when’s the best time to go?
In this exclusive extract from Where to Go When, your guide to the most amazing places in the world and the best time of year to visit them, we find out how Havana is best visited in February, with cooler evenings, less rainfall and balmy temperatures…
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February’s sunny, dry days are great for exploring this historic city, while the cooler evenings are ideal for dancing the night away in a salsa club.
Cuba’s pulsating capital moves to an inescapable beat. Ever since the Tropicana exploded onto the scene, Havana’s Afro-Latin music and dance have captivated the world’s imagination. It all took off in 1939 when a brilliant idea was conceived in a suburban villa with a vast, sprawling tropical garden: rig an open-air stage through this jungle setting and fill the walkways with hundreds of performers, in thrall to a loud Afro-Latin beat, costumed lavishly and choreographed lasciviously enough to waft any audience away into an exotic wonderland.
The Tropicana, which came to typify the pre-revolutionary decadence of Batista’s Cuba, even survived the revolution. These days, February is the perfect time to visit. With very little rainfall – if any – you can spend a night in the balmy outdoors as the show continues on into the early hours.
Havana too, like the Tropicana, is full of rhythmic sounds, and throbs with music: thumping Reggaeton beats blare from car stereos, waves, rhythmically pound the Malecón and the sounds of salsa drift from the open windows of street-side bars.
Poignancy pervades the city: patched-up dinosaurs of cars belch and clatter past crumbling mansions, barely lit by the street lamps.
Start in the Old Town, Habana Vieja, and admire the grand Baroque buildings of Catedral de San Cristóbal and Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, whose rich marbles and undulating lines hint at a refined and wealthy past.
Next, head to Centro Habana to admire the Capitolio, one of the icons of the city. Inside, take a walk through the sumptuous ‘Hall of the Lost Steps’ and listen out for the eerie acoustics that give it its name.
Later, visit Cuba’s colonial past, with a perfectly mixed mojito at the Hotel Inglaterra’s rooftop bar and watch the stylish Cubans at play. Havana may be pushing on into the future – with a wealth of cool bars and stylish eateries now scattered across the city – but a haunting sense that Havana stopped in 1960 lingers on, making this one of the most fascinating cities on earth.
The Carnaval de la Habana is not to be missed. This week-long celebration fills Havana’s streets with sound and colourful parades.
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