Ballet dancer Carlos Acosta takes us on tour round his home town of Havana and what you should do on a Cuban Highlights tour.
Where to tap your Cuban heels
Everything in Havana inspires dance. There is music wherever you go. Always music. That’s why people say that even when we Cubans walk, we walk as if we are dancing. One of the best ways to listen to music is simply to find it on the streets. You’ll hear all kinds, especially salsa and son [a combination of Spanish and African rhythms] and son montuno, which is real country music. Look out for the musicians (treseros) playing the Cuban tres guitar, a rhythm instrument which has three double strings.
If you want to dance on your Cuba Discovery tour, head for La Casa de la Música, which has two branches – one in Central Havana and one in the Miramar district They have live concerts most days, pack a lot of people in and the atmosphere’s great. One thing you can be sure of, whether you’re a beginner or if you know how to dance, is that you’re never going to be left out. There’s always someone who’s going to pull you on to the floor and be your partner. And
Capitolio Building in Havana, Cuba
that’s important because that’s how you learn.
Where to refuel
Try paladares, small family-owned restaurants. A famous one is La Guarida, which was the setting for the film Strawberry and Chocolate, nominated for an Oscar. Also very nice is La Divina Pastora a restaurant on the other side of Havana Bay – not very touristy, there’s music playing and it gives you a fantastic view of the city.
Watch the pros
If you want to watch dance, the Gran Teatro de La Habana is a great place – it’s the home of Ballet Nacional de Cuba and you can catch contemporary works and flamenco too. It’s where the International Ballet Festival is held every two years. Many of the main figures in dance attend. It’s been around since the 60s and is now a very established, respected festival. Everyone donates their time because of their love affair with Havana. The audiences may not have the money to afford to see the great productions but they are connoisseurs of dance and are very, very warm. If they like the performer, the reception can be overwhelming.
Stretch your legs
One of the best places to go for a stroll is El Prado, a nice avenue linking the centre with the Malecón. The Malecón is the seafront promenade where you go if you want to mix with the locals and people-watch. If you want a bit of peace, go to Parque Lenin on the outskirts where you can picnic and also fish.
Out of town
Pinar del Rio province, west of Havana, is a magnificent landscape. Visit Las Terrazas with its many rivers and ponds where you can also go kayaking, or Soroa, which has a huge orchid garden with many species. This is where you may see the tocororo, the Cuban national bird, sporting the colours of the Cuban flag.
Where to stay
As I have a house there, I never stay in hotels, but I think the Hotel Telégrafo with its mix of period and contemporary features, is one of the most interesting. It’s very central, near Old Havana, so you have plenty of opportunity to soak up the sense of Cuban history.
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