Friday, 9 September 2011

Charismatic gardens of Cuba 1 - Havana

Spectacular Cuban September sunset reflected in water
I can't write about English gardens this week because the weather is so appalling, it's virtually impossible to leave the house. We're currently experiencing monsoon style rain (which is good for the garden, but bad for the hair), gale force winds and unusually cold temperatures, which have forced me to turn on the central heating in the first week of September! So garden visiting is not on the agenda this week.
The pace of life outside Havana is slow and any form of transport goes ....
But seeing as I'm stuck in the house, I thought I'd reflect on where I was this time last year - Cuba. And although we had some of the most spectacular electric storms I'd ever seen in the evenings during our visit, the weather was, for the most part, idyllic compared to what we're suffering here in the UK right now. But even the fierce early evening thunder storms do little to dampen the spirit of the Cuban people and everywhere you go there are smiling faces, fantastic music and wonderful sights to see.  
Early morning in Havana, when the streets are still empty
Cuba is still a no-go zone for American passport holders, but that must surely change one day. I was lucky enough to visit this magical country last autumn and was simply amazed by what I saw. The vegetation is tropical; the island is virtually self-sufficient (it has to be with all the embargoes in place); the people are wonderful and the gardens are stunning, if somewhat run down, due to lack of funds. But you'll find plants and trees here that are hard to find anywhere else in the world.
One form of transport in Havana is the "Coco" - an egg-shaped three wheeler
We started our holiday in Havana - one of the most vibrant and interesting cities I've visited anywhere yet. The old part of the city has been designated a World Heritage site and work is afoot to restore all the buildings to their former glory. But it's not just the magnificent buildings that give Havana it's lively heart beat - it's the constant sound of music, the welcoming people and the buzz in the streets. Most striking of all is the way that every Cuban greets you and wants to show off and share their country.
The Japanese Garden, designed by Yoshicuni Araki at the heart of the Cuban National Botanic Garden
And then there's the Cuban National Botanic Garden - some 10 miles from the city centre, but well worth making the effort to visit. The gardens cover more than 600 hectares (1500 acres), and although much of the terrain is wild, there's a Japanese garden at the centre (above), designed by landscape architect, Yoshicuni Araki. When you arrive, you pay your entrance fee at the gate and a tractor shows up with a trailer hitched up behind. You travel in the trailer and are taken on a tour of the gardens, which showcase some 90 species of palms.
We found this elderly gentleman (featured on the cover of the Lonely Planet Cuba guide) in Havana
Guide books don't do this magnificent country justice - as we discovered when we were there. But I hope you'll join me on my tour of Cuba in the next few days - until the weather clears up sufficiently to start visiting English gardens again. The gentleman in the picture above, was used as a former cover photograph on the Lonely Planet guide, which we used to navigate around Cuba - we found him sitting in a cafe in downtown Havana and took his picture! 


  1. Thank you for these lovely glimpses into Cuba.


  2. Charlotte, thanks for that gorgeous peek into Cuba. So spectacularly colourful!
    The Coco looks like a spruced up much more stylised version of our autorickshaws here in India.

  3. Count me in. I'm definitely joining you on this trip. :-D
    -- Bom

  4. It's one of my ambitions to visit Cuba...sometime.

  5. I really enjoyed Monty Dons brief visit to Cuba in his programme "Around the World in 80 Gardens" I think we could learn a lot from the way they grow plants and it's for everyone. Parts o Havana look quite run down and decadent with their peeling paint and old cars. Me gusta!

  6. Looks an absolutely fascinating place with so many interesting views

  7. Thats so amazing! you found the man of the guide!
    Cuba is great!



  8. just discovered your wonderful blog! i would so love to someday visit cuba and especially its gardens!

  9. Dear Charlotte, Did you post about Cuba last year? I think you did, but I loved revisiting. I hope the weather in England improves for my trip there in three weeks time. P. x

  10. Here another of the few available gardens in the Caribbean, in Puerto Rico. A review from Spain...

    Nice blog!