An intrepid traveller knows that in this world, there are still plenty of paths less travelled, destinations yet to be discovered by tourists. How do we satiate our wanderlust and feed the need to travel and seek out the unknown? Of course, we’re not suggesting going to extremes. It’s more about easing into the undiscovered and using the experts to help us get there. Destinations in familiar places, such as the Caribbean, still have plenty of places that demand a closer look. Travel rewards programs can help you do that. Take the RBC Visa Infinite Avion card, for example, as your guide to exploring the unknown: it brings the world in focus, and makes it even easier to just go.
Take the renaissance of some of the Caribbean’s most interesting colonial cities–yes, we’re suggesting adding a city stop to some of your favourite, easy-to-get-to beach destinations: If you’re a music lover or looking for history that reveals a pre-cold war glamour, Havana, Cuba, is that place.
For Spanish colonial architecture and soaking up the sun in a cafe where the coffee is roasted in house, head to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. And, if you prefer a slice of life where English and French colonialism meet, add a little spice to your travels with a visit to St. George, Grenada.
In Havana, we feed the need to travel for… throwback glamour, music and dance
There’s a reason Havana has been immortalized in song, in script and on the screen (think the “Copacabana”, Ernest Hemingway, “Our Man in Havana” and “The Buena Vista Social Club”). In the post-war/pre-cold war/pre-revolutionary era of the last century, Havana was the hotspot. Music, a mash-up of Afro-Jazz, tinged with Spanish undertones gave way to Salsa dancing – all the rage with the monied set and Hollywood glitterati. You can still take lessons today at some of the dance schools, or just spend a few nights observing and partaking with the joyful locals–all of whom seem to know how to dance–in some of the famous nightclubs in the capital.
This is a place where some of the world has yet to visit–and now is the time, before an influx of travellers changes this favoured Canadian getaway forever. A stroll along the city’s malecón, or promenade, which hugs the sea, is a perfect people-watching spot. The breeze is light and constant, straight off the crystal blue of the Caribbean.
In town, vintage cars drive the avenues while local artists are setting up shop in colonial buildings long abandoned by the revolution. Cocktail culture is strong here, and suits the sunny climes: Daiquiris–a favourite of Mr. Hemingway–and the ever popular and refreshing Mojito, are always on the menu at hip and happening bars and hotels, with alcohol, or without. Take your pick! Cuba libre, indeed.
In Santo Domingo, we feed the need to travel for… colonial architecture and café culture
An easy ramble up the cobblestones of the New World’s oldest boulevard leads to the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, the America’s oldest cathedral. Still standing proudly, it was built in the first half of the 1500s in honour of St. Mary of the Incarnation. It is at once breathtakingly gothic and medieval and at the same time, regal. A cornerstone of colonial Santo Domingo, and at which the first cornerstone of the great explorer family Columbus, was placed by Diego, son of Christopher himself. The cathedral sits in the “Zona Colonial,” surrounded in a walled, fortress-like neighbourhood of architecture from the 1500s. Rumour has it that there may still be remains of Christopher buried deep in the cathedral. A mystique lingers more than 500 years later. Not far is the Plaza de Espana, where the Alcazar de Colon palace throws its imposing gaze over the square. The palace was once home to Diego and his entourage, and where the Columbus family set up a makeshift court in the name of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
But en route, there are tiny counter-style cafes and colourful artists’ shops worth exploring. Roasting and sipping coffee are also artforms here; do not miss it if you enjoy a beautifully balanced brew. It’s as intoxicating as the music that wafts over the air from these little hot spots, where daily life can be observed and friendly conversation can take place with locals. Walk the footsteps of Columbus, and once on the Plaza de Espana, take a seat at one of the many cafes and bars that line this grey-and-white-paved outdoor meeting place, soak up a little sunshine and take in the scene.
In St. George, we feed the need to travel for… Old World charm meets Caribbean spice
The combination of French sophistication and English ingenuity have helped maintain its original city boundaries, where both the Catholic Church, built in 1818, and the Anglican Church, built in 1825, still stand as monuments to human endeavour. Unique, fish-scale patterned roofs decorate houses, and much of the original Georgian architecture has been maintained or lovingly restored. It is a seamless mix of picturesque Caribbean with the allure of the Old World. The city stretches its arms out to sea, welcoming seafaring visitors while hugging the coast with its sparkling horseshoe-shaped harbour, said to be one of the most beautiful in all of the West Indies. Divers will delight in the underwater sculpture park, where you can swim among the art and the marine life. Foodies will revel in the variety of spices and chocolate. It’s the sweet life.