I love America. Not enough to live there, but when I visit I like to go for more than a week.

Two months, ideally in Florida, is more like it, when I can settle in – and use it as a base to explore its fabulous beach resorts, and occasionally hop over to dreamy islands in the Bahamas and Caribbean.

There is a huge range of accommodation from grand hotels to Airbnb bargains, golf galore, big cruise gateways, and genuinely friendly people. Even the immigration guys.

Costa Rica to Havana

There we were on a cruise ship, handing over our passports to an American official. He looked at my partner’s French passport and said with a big smile, “Bonjour babe!”

Some cruises require a flight, but few take longer than three hours, such as the one that pushed our boat out, from Miami to San José, Costa Rica. Too many cruisers fly much longer distances to exotic places, get on a ship right away, and miss out on great experiences.

Costa Ricans, known as Ticos, are as friendly as Filipinos, and their lush country has coastlines on the Pacific and Caribbean. So the fish is good, and the ceviche outstanding.

Beach lovers and surfers go west for pretty pink sand beaches, one a former haven for pirates, offering dramatic views of small islands and rock formations. Expats are building beautiful homes cantilevered on hillsides facing the sea.

In San José, savvy travellers avoid the big expensive hotels and grab a room in the quirky but very friendly Don Carlos. The city’s Spanish colonial architecture is worth seeing as is the gold museum.

As Costa Rica is just 274 kms wide, it was an easy ride to Limon, on the Caribbean coast, where the Sea Cloud awaited. The cruise on this classic four-master windjammer was covered in the July issue, but it is worth repeating that the arrival at Cuba was quite an experience.

Sea Cloud sailed into Havana harbour under mighty cannons as countless Spanish galleons would have done since the start of the 16th Century. Do this if you can in Sydney, Hong Kong and London. It sure beats Heathrow.

Havana is well worth a few days, but it only has two good hotels — the Iberostar Parque Central and the Saratoga. Avoid quirky in Cuba unless you are a backpacker. Skip the Tropicana as well; the ‘spectacular’ might have been an eye-opener when the Mob was here but these days you’re better saving your money for the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

Havana to Nassau

Riding around in 1950s American cars is fun, although few retain their original V8 motors; ours had a four-banger Korean diesel. We drove to Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigía, which he bought for $18,000 in 1939. Here he wrote Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa and To Have and Have Not. His beloved boat, the Pilar, is there as well.

Cuba to the Bahamas is an interesting contrast, as the former was Spain’s base in the New World and the Bahamas, although the site of Columbus’ first landing, were very much a British colony. It is less than one and a half hours flying time from Havana to Nassau, and from here you have a choice of 700 islands to hang your Panama hat.

Sean Connery, who moved to Nassau from Marbella, has secluded himself in the gated community of Lyford Cay. He had a pretty good idea of what to expect having filmed several Bond movies here including Thunderball and Never Say Never Again.

Nassau has good beaches, golf and nightlife, but it does get busy, particularly when the festival of Junkanoo is on. This featured in Thunderball and is a smaller version of Rio’s carnival, and I once took it in after arriving on a Carnival cruise ship nicely docked a few hundred meters away.

Words David Wishart       Photography Genevieve Balthazard

Read the rest of this article