Despite the fact that it must be one of the most photographed places in the Caribbean, nothing can prepare you for the sheer beauty of Havana. Crumbling old buildings in sherbet yellow, burnt orange and brilliant turquoise. A glorious mish-mash of architectural styles, from Moorish to Spanish colonial, baroque and art deco. Those amazing vintage American cars, cruising the elegant squares of Habana Vieja (the old centre) and the Malecón, the four-mile seafront where locals gather and promenade.
Structure your stay with a mix of organised tours, for the history and orientation, and time wandering the old cobbled streets of Habana Vieja. It’s easy; the cruise terminal is just a few minutes’ walk from the centre (change money at the terminal as the queues for banks in town are long). If you see one museum, make it the Museo de la Revolución, housed in an extravagantly beautiful palace and telling the riveting story of the Cuban revolution.
Cuba has a thriving art scene, too, and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes has an impressive range of works by home-grown artists. The leafy Plaza de Armas is intriguing for its daily (except Sunday) vintage book market, while the swish Plaza Vieja, a shining example of what Havana would look like restored to its former glory, is lined with outdoor cafes.
If you want to see Hemingway’s house, you’ll need to take a taxi or join a tour as it is 10 miles or so out of town, but you can drink in the writer’s favourite watering holes, La Floridita or the more rustic La Bodeguita del Medio. And don’t forget those vintage cars; a spin around the city in a Barbie-pink 1950s Chevy is a must.
No stay in Havana is complete without a night on the town. The lavish dance show at the sequins-and-feathers Club Tropicana is expensive but gets rave reviews (it takes place outdoors, so be careful if you are cruising in rainy season). The alternative, the Buena Vista Social Club tribute, is superb, the energy of the fabulous band so infectious the whole audience ends up dancing on stage; one very good reason to book a cruise that overnights here.