• Nightclub Dancer in Havana, Cuba in 1948 (Photo: State Library and Archives of Florida/Wikimedia Commons)
    Nightclub Dancer in Havana, Cuba in 1948 (Photo: State Library and Archives of Florida/Wikimedia Commons)

Though many will visit Cuba for its beaches and all-inclusive resorts, there’s no doubt that its culture is a draw for many. Cuba is rare example of a country trapped between a difficult past and uncertain future, and, as Canadian author Peggy Blair captured in her feature for the 2015 winter issue of Canadian Geographic Travel, Cuba is undergoing significant change for the first time in decades.

In the meantime, here are five pieces of Cuban culture you don’t want to miss.

Music
Cuba’s rhythms are as old as the island, and with Cuba’s mix of African American, European and Native American, Cuba’s music is as unique as the country itself. Try the famous Buena Vista Social Club album from the late 1990s, for a taste of classic Cuban music.

Movie
If you’re talking Cuban cinema then it’s hard to ignore director Tomas Gutierrez Alea. The Havana born, Italy trained director began with documentary films but soon turned to producing important feature films, such as Death of Bureaucrat, about society being strangled by red tape, and Strawberry and Chocolate, the first Cuban film with an openly gay protagonist.

Dance
Cuban dance is perhaps its best-known export (though the next item on this list might have something to say about that). One of the original dances from before 1900 was Danzon. It evolved into the Cuban son in the 1920s. The Mambo, a combination of the son and the American swing dance led to the famous cha-cha-cha. Finally, the rumba became the official dance of Cuba after the revolution 1959. Dust off those dancing shoes!

Cigars
With U.S. President Barack Obama’s easing of trade embargo on Cuba it’s possible the Cuban cigar will lose a little of its luster. After all, nothing is more enticing than that which we can’t have, and after 60 years of Cuban cigars playing hard to get, “Cubans” top many a cigar lovers’ must-have list. Here in Canada our desire for Cubans may stem from having something American’s can’t, but either way, one’s first smoke of a Cohiba (a cigar rumoured to have been rolled for none other than Fidel Castro) is unforgettable. 

Books
We would be remiss to not mention Ottawa writer Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez novels on a list inspired by the fiction piece Blair penned for our Winter Travel issue. So if you’re looking for a taste of Havana begin with Blair’s The Beggar’s Opera and continue into the sequel, The Poisoned Pawn.