Santiago de Cuba
During the 1950’s Cuba was the next big thing; splendid resorts lined the coast just east of Havana; brightly painted chalets filled the country hamlets and Chevrolets ruled the roads. Today, the resort Playas del Este is nothing more than modern ruins with the occasional working property; the beaches are reminiscent of a wealthy bygone era. The chalets, much like the inner city 19th Century Spanish mansions, are dilapidated while the Chevrolets are fighting with Ladas on the road.
White beaches and glorious crystal blue seas frame an island steeped in history clinging to itself for success. Its heroes in Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are emblazoned across every street, in every town in every region; the people, committed to a life of communism with an income stream from the capitalist tourists of the North.
The country opened its borders to travel in the early 1990’s as their Sugar Cane exports ran dry. The need for better technology encouraged them to trade directly with both Russia and China; the main cities certainly do not go without all the mod-cons of the developed modern age – do we include the iPhone? Well, yes they have them too.
Follow this series as we explore Cuba.
Sightseeing - Old Havana, Centro, Costa Blanca,
Havana can be covered in two days. Exploring Habana Vieja will take about three hours where you will see the Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja and may well stumble upon the odd Tourist festival.
Costa Blanca is just a short boat trip across the harbour where you will find a working 1950’s electric railway, a monument to the former president and the home of Che Guevara.
Centro Habana is the life and soul of the city, where you will find disused theatres, abandoned steam trains, and rusting American style school buses. Capitolio Nacional is an exquisite structure modelled on the Washington Whitehouse, in fact opposite you can find the most central gay bar – Prado Cafeteria. Only open until 9pm and serving canned beers, Cubans stop by this waterhole to exchange gossip and plan their evenings ahead. Tourists get a lot of attention!
There are certainly areas in the Vedado area where you will find a thriving gay community. Calle 23 is the centre of gay life, near the Cine Yara (cinema), this street is frequented by gay people night and day – but don’t expect it to be anything like major cosmopolitan cities. The one gay venue on this street is more like a canteen than a party establishment, though get talking to one of the locals and they will invite you to the official gay party that evening.
If you want to join in the official parties you need to put faith and trust in the local Cubans who will order a taxi and take you to the chosen event. However be aware that you will most likely be expected to pay the taxi fair, entrance fee and possibly a drink for the guide.
Unfortunately as the gay scene is yet to enjoy the freedoms of North America and Europe, or even its South American counterparts, Havana’s gay nightlife is one of the best-kept secrets.