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Getting to Know the Culture of Cuba

June 5, 2014 - 11:59am
Cuba is more than its cigars. Its culture overflows with architecture like the Catedral de San Cristobal de La Havana.

For a small country, Cuba has a lot of soul. Cuba's location at the crossroads of the Caribbean made it a key trade hub for hundreds of years, blending together Spanish, African, French, Amerindian Taino and English walks of life to create something new, fresh and distinct. Senior travel groups exploring the country on the Cuba, Its People & Culture should know these things about the vibrant island:

There's no shortage of historic architecture in Cuba. In fact, dozens of buildings are listed with UNESCO support, and travelers roaming the streets of the Cuba capital of Havana say it's like traveling back in time. Many of the buildings are weathered, yet still boast elaborate balconies and gorgeous windows. Havana is one of the most architecturally diverse cities in the world. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city underwent a boom period when architecture flourished.

Travelers can also soak in Havana's colonial architecture, known for its strong Moorish and Spanish inspirations. For example, the Convento de Santa Clara demonstrates early Spanish influence while the Plaza de la Catedral well represents Cuban Baroque. Be sure to admire The Lopez Serrano Building, the first tall building in the country and best example of Art Deco. The Museum of Revolution, which was originally constructed as a presidential palace in the 1920s, is not to be missed either.

Much like the architecture, Cuban art is a mosaic of African, South American, European and North American styles. There are more than 100 art galleries scattered across the country, not to mention 46 schools of art and an international film school that welcomes some of the best cinematographers and actors in the world.

To trace its roots, Cuba had established its own avant-garde style by the 1920s. Visitors can see some of the best paintings at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, including Victor Manuel Garcia's La Gitana Tropical, considered one of the defining pieces of Cuban modern art. From the late 1920s to 1950, the Vanguardia movement took over, infusing Afro-Caribbean themes into artwork. Keep an eye out for pieces by Wifredo Lam, a renowned master of this period.

Starting in the 1960s, graphic art swept the country. Senior travel groups can witness this in the murals across the island, such as the Pambiche Cuban Mural in Havana. Find Cuban contemporary art at the Galleria Habana. Other noteworthy galleries include the Centro Raul Martinez Galeria de Arte Provincial in Ciego de Avila and the Estudio-Galeria Jover, the working studio of artist Joel Jover.

With such a diverse history, Cuba has enough museums to keep visitors occupied for weeks. In fact, there are more than 256 museums in the country, whose topics span from the Revolution to colonial times to religion to tobacco. The National Museum of Beautiful Arts of Cuba is a must-visit, housing the largest collection of Cuba plastic art. Visitors rave about The Museum of the Revolution, Museum of Decorative Arts and Finca Vigia - Ernest Hemingway's home - as well.

Learn about the iconic leader of the Cuban Revolution at the Che Guevara Mausoleum, a memorial in Santa Clara. To enjoy decorative objects and furniture of mansions from the 18th and 19th centuries, senior travel clubs may want to head to the Museum of Colonial Art. The list goes on.

Coffee Ritual
For Cubans, sharing coffee with friends is a social event and an act of friendship. So, sit down for a cup with some travel mates.

Production of coffee began in the mid 18th century and was boosted by French farmers fleeing the revolution in Haiti. Before the Castro era, Cuba was exporting over 20,000 metric tons of coffee beans per year, selling at top prices in world markets. Without a doubt, enjoying a cup of coffee here is a must.

Cafe Cubano, what locals call a cafecito, is an espresso coffee in the Cuban style; it tastes strong and sweet. Coradito is an espresso topped with varying amounts of steamed milk, cafe con leche is coffee and hot milk. Finally, colada is cafe Cuban that is meant to be shared. This comes in a larger cup with small accompanying cups for decanting.

Similar to the U.S. in the most parts of the 20th century, the national sport in Cuba is baseball. From the regular season spanning from November to March, La Pelota is a heated topic of conservation. Players are treated like celebrities. For travelers interested in baseball, be sure to attend a game at the Estadio Latino-Americano in Havana. Typically, tickets cost only a few dollars.

Though less than 90 miles from the U.S., Cuba and its culture can open up a whole new world.