Charles and Camilla in Cuba: 6 cultural quirks for them to enjoy

25th Mar 19 | Lifestyle

From music and alcohol to your morning brew, Cuban culture is crammed with curiosities.

Royal tour of the Caribbean - Day 8

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are in Cuba on the latest leg of their Caribbean tour, and, frankly, we’re extremely jealous.

Cuba is an island drenched in stereotypes. From the crumbling facades of old Havana to the pristine beaches that dot the Cuban coast, and the many murals depicting the glory of the revolution.

Royal tour of the Caribbean – Day 8
(Jane Barlow/PA)

It’s not all sunshine and street art, though – the communist regime has been in place for decades, and the country has spent most of that time behind an international trade embargo – but Cuba remains near the top of many travellers’ bucket lists.

With so little contact with the outside world, Cuban culture has developed in relative isolation, giving it a very strong sense of national identity. Here’s a few Cuban quirks for Charles and Camilla to enjoy, on the first royal visit to the country since 1959.

1. Salsa

Salsa band

Life in Cuba is lived on the street, and visitors are firmly expected to join in the party. This isn’t a stereotype – many Cubans genuinely do dance the night away in a whirl of salsa, cigar smoke and guitar.

Salsa is the dance du jour across much of Latin America, but Cuba has an historic claim of ownership. Though heavily based on improvisation, the basic steps are not hard to learn, and most towns will have a salsa school only too happy to impart some rhythmic wisdom.

Remember Charles, it’s all in the hips.

2. Cigars

Cuban cigars

Not just smoked by dictators – the Cuban cigar is a byword for luxury and remains a staple of the island’s industry. Regularly seen in the mouths of Winston Churchill and Jack Nicholson – and, perhaps more pertinently, Fidel Castro – the modern tourist can enjoy tours of the country’s factories and fields.

US President John F Kennedy was apparently so taken with Cuban cigars, that he ordered an aide to round-up 1,000 Petit Upmanns for him, before he signed the embargo.

3. Classic cars

Classic cars in Havana

For classic car lovers, a trip around Cuba is a never-ending roadshow. Most Cuban vehicles pre-date the 1960 trade embargo, and Studebakers, Chevrolets, Pontiacs and brightly-coloured Buicks adorn almost every street corner.

Cuba now boasts a small army of self-taught mechanics, and you’ll often see the oil-spattered legs of a local emerging from beneath their vehicle during some much-needed tinkering.

You don’t need to be a petrolhead to enjoy these gas-guzzlers. Many Cubans have turned their rides into luxury taxis, and hopping in the back seat of a pink, 1950s Cadillac is fun for just about everyone.

4. Rum

Cuban rum

A key part of Cuba’s national identity, Cuban rum has long been the forbidden fruit of drinks mixers the world over.

Flagship brands like Havana Club and Santiago de Cuba have spent decades locked behind the embargo.

Famous for its quality, the taste of Cuban rum still feels like the taste of highly-coveted contraband.

5. Free diving

A freediver swimming down towards a wreck

Though we can’t quite picture Prince Charles stripping to his skivvies and powering down into the depths, Cuba is a top destination for freediving.

Long-frequented by record-setting Cuban freediver Francisco Ferreras, the waters around Cuba are rich with marine life, and eagle-eyed divers can spot turtles, grouper, and more than 50 species of shark.

Be warned: Freediving can be extremely dangerous and is not for the faint of heart. We advise serious training at home before taking to the Cuban sea.

6. Coffee

Cuban coffee

Cuban coffee has become a little mythologised – so often the case with products that are banned – but there’s no doubting the quality of the classic ‘café Cubano’.

Cuban coffee is traditionally drunk as a sweetened espresso, or as café con leche with breakfast.

© Press Association 2019