Central and South America
9 must-see sights of Old Town, Havana
The Cuban capital still appears to be trapped in a ’50s time-warp, but this unique city is slowly finding its way into the 21st century. Writes Daniel Down.
1. Plaza de la Catedral
Start your day among the Cuban Baroque architecture of this 18th-century square; in fact the most recent in Havana’s old heart.
Get up early to attend mass in the Catedral de la Habana (7:15am weekdays); a great way to see Havanans start their day.
2. Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña
A huge 18th-century fort built by the Spanish, it became the headquarters of Che Guevara following the revolution.
You’ll also find the Museo de Comandancia del Che here, a good place to start unravelling Che’s fascinating life story.
3. Plaza Vieja
Head back to the Old Town to spend a while at the 16th-century Plaza Vieja; Havana at its pastel-hued best.
People-watch with a drink on a second-floor balcony. You’ll pay a little more up here but the view of the square is worth it.
4. Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás
See how Cuba’s most famous export is made at this old cigar factory.
Take a factory tour and you’ll find some 400 workers here who spend 12 hours a day rolling the famous Montecristo and Cohiba cigars.
5. Paseo del Prado
Stroll up this tree-lined walkway that runs from the Capitol building up to the Malecón.
It’s filled with street artists, exclusive hotels, theatres and crumbling mansions, plus lots of marble benches to rest on.
Take a walk along this broad seafront esplanade. It’s the best place in the city to see the classic cars that Havana is famous for. Barter with the driver of a ’57 Chevy taxi here to take you around the city for an hour in style.
7. Museo de la Revolución
One of Havana’s most opulent buildings is also an important part of Cuba’s post-revolutionary history.It was inaugurated as the Presidential Palace in 1920 and was used by a succession of presidents until dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown in 1959.
Following the revolution, the building was used as a government headquarters, and in 1974 it became a museum dedicated to the revolution.
In 2010, it was designated a National Monument.
Today, visitors can trace the progress of revolution and cast an eye over historical curiosities including the Granma, the 18-metre yacht that carried Fidel Castro, Che and 80 other revolutionaries from exile in Mexico to overthrow Batista.
In contrast to communist ideals, the building’s interiors were decorated by Tiffany & Co. and visitors can explore highlights like the Salón de los Espejos, a replica of the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.
7 must-see sights of Manu National Park
How to see the world’s most remarkable protected places and the unique wildlife they harbour.
There’s a remote, mostly inaccessible corner of Peru bordered by mighty rivers and mountains that has been largely left untouched by modern man.
From the high-altitude grasslands of the Andes down to cloud forests and thick Amazon jungle, Manú National Park encompasses a unique wilderness that UNESCO recognised as a Biosphere Reserve before declaring it a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Its diverse range of habitats, which cover an area nearly half the size of Switzerland, means the park is host to an abundance of life – so much so that late last year it was found to have the highest terrestrial biodiversity of any protected area on Earth.
Access to much of the Manú National Park is restricted, such is the desire to keep it completely untouched.
However, make your way up the adjoining Cultural Zone, a buffer area where communities live and work, and you can enter the park to explore the ancient rock art of the Amazonians at Pusharo and take a boat up the Manú River to spot jaguars, caimans and hundreds of bird species.
So, descend from the Andes into the rich broth of life that is Manú.
Manú has much for you to grapple with: start with these stunning stops:
1. Lake Otorongo lookout
With an 18-metre-high lookout tower on its shore, Lake Otorongo is a great place to spot black caiman crocs and the jaguar deep in the rainforest up the Manú River.
And because of the high vantage point and the chance you get to see some of Manú’s many birds, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t have a zoom lens.
2. Tres Cruces Lookout
Dip into the southern tip of the park on a side road off the Carretera a Manú to find the Mirador Tres Cruces.
This lookout gives you a spectacular view out to the valleys where the Andes meet the Amazon.
On a clear day you’ll be able to see from the snow-covered peak of Mount Ausangate all the way down into the depths of the Manú jungle basin.
3. Clay licks
We’re spoilt when it comes to dazzling, colourful birds in Australia, but Manú National Park has its fair share too, including the iconic macaw.
The parrots flock to exposed faces of clay in the forest and lick them – perhaps for the minerals needed to counter the effects of certain toxic plant material, or to compensate for a low-sodium diet: the science is still being investigated.
Watching a flock of rainbow-hued scarlet macaws descend on a ‘clay lick’ is one of nature’s great spectacles.
4. Pusharo Petroglyphs
One of the largest examples of indigenous rock art in the Amazon can be found within Manú National Park.
The intricate carvings in a limestone cliff face at Pusharo could be the vestiges of a lost, Amazonian people, although some think they have an Incan origin.
You’ll need a special permit to see the rock art: obtain one by joining a dedicated tour to Pusharo, during which you’ll stay at a Matsigenka-community run lodge (see manulodges.com).
5. Walk Lake Salvador
This oxbow lake, or cocha as the locals call them, can be found deep in the national park and constitutes pristine Amazon habitat ripe for bird-watching.
It’s home to giant otters and the largest rodent on the planet: the capybara.
6. Find the ‘cock of the rock’
Stay at the Cock of the Rock Lodge to spot the national bird of Peru, the ‘cock of the rock’, with its striking red head and back.
You’ll find the lodge as you travel through Kosñipata Valley and its cloud forests. inkanatura.com
7. Cruise the Amazon
To journey deep into Manú National Park you’ll first need to take a boat along the Alto Madre de Dios River in the Cultural Zone.
It’s a picture of life on the cusp of the wild heart of the Amazon as you pass plantations and villages on the river’s banks.
Discover Manu National Park's unique fauna. Visit Manu's Marvelous Animals for more!
City guide to Montevideo, Uruguay
Famous for its liberal attitudes and emerging from the shadow of close neighbour Buenos Aires, Uruguay’s capital is full of Latin flair.
Montevideo is known for
Tango city, beaches, markets
Montevideo Eat streets
An essential stop is the Mercado del Puerto, a cavernous converted market space down at the Old Town’s port.
Enter via towering wrought iron gates to find a meat lover’s dream; inside are numerous parrilladas (Uruguayan-style barbecues) plying their trade from open fires alongside wine merchants.
The place is filled with the smoke and the intoxicating smell of barbecued sausages, beef and lamb.
Pull up a stool at one of the bars with a glass of Chilean red and watch as your steak is flame grilled to perfection.
Out and about in Montevideo
Start the day in the shade of the Palacio Salvo on the stately Plaza Independencia.
You won’t have seen anything like it before, an unusual Art Deco skyscraper with Gothic touches that was the tallest on the continent when it opened in 1928.
At the end of the plaza wander into the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) through the original fortress gate, and dip into some of its many galleries.
Finish with a stroll along the 22-kilometre seaside esplanade, La Rambla.
Try the curious traditional tea-like drink that is mate, pronounced (mah-tay), made from the leaves of the yerba mate shrub.
Its smoky flavour is enjoyed from a little bowl made from the hard skin of the gourd fruit and through a metal straw called a bombilla.
Its strong caffeine kick has Uruguayans drinking it throughout the day.
Experience the hustle and bustle of one of Montevideo’s famous street markets, the Feria de Tristán Narvaja, taking place every Sunday in Cordón.
You’ll find everything from antiques to books, vinyl and... pets!
The ultimate experience
To get a feel for uruguay's national pastime go to the top floor of the cavernous old Mercado de la Abundancia on a saturday night.
From a pew at one of the adjacent restaurants enjoy performances of tango with live music, and have a go yourself.
In the heart of the Old Town is Café Brasilero (cafebrasilero.com.uy), which dates back to 1877, making it the oldest cafe in the city.
Dark timber walls and a throwback charm make it a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
For a more contemporary coffee menu and setting head to Coffee Lab Roasters in Nuevo Pocitos.
Where to stay & play in Montevideo, Uruguay
Bit Design Hotel has views of the city from floor-to-ceiling glass, plus sleek bathrooms with rainfall showers.
Right on La Rambla is Cottage Carrasco Hotel & Suites, which has rooms with ocean views, a lovely pool, restaurant and bar.
Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco and Spa occupies a national heritage building dating back to 1921. A place to stay after a night at the opera.