Facing a crackerless Christmas? Head to Cuba for rollicking cocktails, golden beaches, blue seas, sun-baked plazas, and heart-stopping tunes. The locals will sympathise with our festive blues: Cuba cancelled Christmas once, too, when Fidel Castro rallied for a record-breaking harvest of sugar.
The capital Havana, and its airport, have reopened to international tourism. Hotels, all-inclusive beach resorts, and the island's network of B&Bs are welcoming visitors back after almost eight months of lockdown.
Fly and flop to gorgeous palm-fringed beaches, or tour the island's highlights with a rental car, new self-drive package, or with private transfers. Take in heart-breakingly beautiful Havana with its 500-year old historic quarter brimming with sun-splashed squares, churches, mansions, restaurants and cafés and its handsome oceanfront promenade of mansions and portals — a favourite spot for a classic convertible American car ride. Go for the lively bar, dance and culture scene, re-emerging from Covid hibernation: the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema screens 98 movies in local cinemas from December 3-13.
Out west, tour the tobacco plantations of cigar country, and across the large island — visit Unesco-protected natural wonders, pretty Spanish colonial cities, waterfalls and sinkholes, birding paradises, coral seas, and history-rich sites from indigenous Taíno monuments through to 1959 Revolution museums.
Miguel Gibson, of holiday firm Cuba Direct, told Telegraph Travel: "Cuba is 'the' place to visit now. There are lots of fantastic deals, few places left to visit this winter and visits will be almost normal with very low Covid rates," he said. In a population of 11.2 million, 132 have died with Covid. The number of confirmed cases is 7,846.
"And last but not least, Cuba is once again in the middle of a massive positive transformation which is very interesting to be a part of just by being there."
Holiday giant Tui resumes its flights on December 3 from Manchester and London Gatwick to beach hotspot Varadero, 2.5 hours east of Havana. Direct flights from London Heathrow to Havana relaunch with Virgin Atlantic in January.
Escape winter with Cuba Direct's Christmas on the beach package at Grand Memories Varadero plus four nights at Residencia Santa Clara in Havana for £1,899 per person with return TUI flights, transfers and tourist card. Journey Latin America's new 10-day Trailblazer Cuba holiday takes in island highlights plus small beach retreat Jibacoa, coastal Cienfuegos, and mountain eco-haven Las Terrazas. The holiday costs £1,878 per person including transfers from Varadero, tourist card, hire car, mid-range hotels and B&Bs, some meals and excursions. International flights are not included. Don't fancy getting behind the wheel? The same trip with a driver starting in Varadero costs £2,128 per person; from Havana £1,940 per person.
Cuba specialist Cubanía Travel offers a great addition to a beach holiday, its short and sweet five-day Cuba Insight trip costs £679 per person; transfers to Havana from Varadero are £110. Rental cars for independent travel through www.tuicars.com or www.wowcuba.com; hire classic cars with drivers via www.nostalgicarcuba.com.
Visitors to Cuba need a tourist card (buy from www.visacuba.com or www.cubavisas.com), and travel insurance with Covid cover (Cuba offers a US$30 policy on arrival). Cuba, on the UK's travel corridor list, does not demand a pre-flight PCR test although it recommends all passengers obtain one. Arriving passengers must fill out a health form, and undergo a PCR test and temperature check. Travellers must wait at their hotel or B&B for 24 to 48 hours for the results, but quarantine is not required.