A lot has been written about Cuba, it is a destination where politics can’t be avoided. It can be felt everywhere, and no matter where you stand and what are your views, you won’t be indifferent to politic issues here.
And then there’s the music, the beaches, the historic cities, the nice little villages, the really great people, and… of course… Mojitos and Cuba Libres… Everything you need for unforgettable holidays!
Most trips start in La Habana, where you can start to feel Cuban culture and way of life. There is a lot to see and do: visit the Capitol (it looks a lot like Washington’s one), go for a walk on the Malecon, visit Partagas cigars factory, have a dinner in a Paladar (small family ran restaurant), go to La Bodeguita del Medio and drink a Mojito – this was Hemingway’s favourite. These are only some of the places not to be missed.
La Habana is not an instantly easy city, we felt awkward at the beginning, with many people approaching us to ask for money or to give us directions we didn’t asked for (in exchange for some dolars of course). But after the first impact and once we got into the city’s mood (and started dealing with everyone with no anxiety), we find out a surprising city with many contrasts, that really touched us. It is intense, with a contagious energy, and at the same time somewhat aged: the colonial buildings, the big cars from the 50s… everything rather decadent and in visible need for restoration, but at the same time full of beauty, and most of all, really very interesting.
Spend time in Habana la Vieja listening to the musicians who usually are around playing gorgeous Cuban rhythms – it is amazing how easily you’ll find many great musicians, the gift for music seems to abound here more than anywhere else in the world, impossible not to be impressed! Sit down it any esplanade having a drink and listening to great music, and believe us, you’ll feel you’re starting your holidays in a great way (we certainly did!) 🙂
Many visitors divide their time between La Habana and Varadero, and they have a great time for sure, but there is much more to Cuba, that’s why if you really want to feel the real thing, we suggest an itinerary that covers most of the island, by car… Driving in Cuba is an adventure – we did it and loved it. Don’t worry too much, get ready for some surprises, go along with the mood and you’ll have a blast, we can assure you! The roads are pretty good, but you’ll have very unusual sights: a goat pulling a wagon in a highway, people hitchhiking in the middle of the road (and we really mean in th middle), cyclists, level crossings on the highway with no sign whatsoever (we didn’t see any trains either…). Although there aren’t many cars on the roads, you won’t be able to speed, and we don’t recommend driving at night (there is very poor lighting and surprises are there at night too!). But we felt completely safe, everyone was very nice and as said before, after getting into the general mood, this was a great adventure, we really had fun!
Outside the capital you’ll have the opportunity to speak with very nice and welcoming people, incredibly cult and authentic, who love their country and who have conflicting views about the regime and their imposed way of life. There are countless political signs about the revolution along the roads (and mostly everywhere), the message is always present… Stop in the quiet villages, with high quality schools and clinics (quite impressive, we must say), the houses with porches where locals hang around in the afternoons, after one more day exactly equal to the one before… If you have the chance join them for a conversation, you’ll find it absolutely fascinating.
Here’s one suggestion of itinerary:
- Days 1, 2 and 3 – La Habana, get to know the city, and go for a visit to the tobacco plantations in Piñar del Rio and Viñales. If you have the chance, go to the western point of the island, the beach of Maria la Gorda.
- Days 4 and 5 – Trinidad and el Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), 19th century sugar plantations declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. After some time in the great beaches (water will be warmer on this side of the island), visit Cienfuegos and Santa Clara, city where a decisive battle occurred during the revolution between Fulgencio Baptista’s troops and the rebels. Here you’ll find an impressive monument to Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the argentine doctor who was a major figure of the revolution, considered a hero and a symbol to revolutionary causes. There is an exhibition about is life and his role in the revolution, and a mausoleum with his remains, recovered in Bolivia where he was killed in 1967.
- Day 6 – Stop at the nice city of Camaguey, en route to Santiago de Cuba
- Days 7 and 8 – Santiago de Cuba, second city of the country, vibrant, intense, colourful, authentic, joyful… and really beautiful, you’ll feel as you arrived in the real Cuba. Don’t miss a music and dancing night at La Casa de la Trova, where Elíades Ochoa (member of the worldwide known Buena Vista Social Club) usually plays. If you’re lucky to have him there, that’ll be an unforgettable night. A glimpse of the sadly known Guantanamo base is also a must… Of course you can’t see anything from the road really, but you won’t resist the temptation to try and take a look.
Day 9 – Playa de Santa Lucia, nice stop (and nice beach) on the way back
- Days 10 to 14 – Cayo de Santa Maria, for days of total relax in an all-inclusive resort on a paradise beach, with all sorts of activities (or just to lay back and enjoy).
- Day 15 – La Habana, and then back home!
This is one of many possible itineraries, any one you choose you’ll have a great time in this truly unique destination! We hope you enjoyed this description of our adventures there. We visited Cuba before we had a digital camera (all photos on paper, the good old way..), so we include the ones taken by our friend Manuel Fonseca – a great photographer, they are awesome! Thanks Manuel!