It is so difficult to try and describe Cuba in a few words or even an entire paragraph. I have never been so impressed by a country such as Cuba. Not only because of its beautiful nature, sweet people, busy atmospheric streets, colorful houses and love for dancing but also due to its rich culture and history.
If I have to try and describe Cuba I would use the words of lonely planet: “Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat”.
Cuba has so much to offer; yet it remains a poor country scared by the communist revolution as well as the embargo imposed by the United States.
I have always dreamt about traveling to Cuba, imagining it to be a small paradise in the Caribbean Sea. A place like no other where you will be taken back in time.
Many people urged me to go now since Cuba is slowly changing. The embargo is being eased, which means free market and a good chance for the Western world to take over. In addition, in October the US will open all direct flights to Cuba, increasing tourism and leading the country toward a major change.
I went on a 2 weeks journey and visited 3 different cities to try and get a feel of the country. I wanted to combine Caribbean beach holidays, with the hustle and bustle of the city, and living at homestays with the locals.
Varadero is a long stretch of 20km of white sand beach located in the province of Matanzas. It is also home to Cuba’s largest resort area.
We decided to spend 3 days in an all-inclusive resort to regenerate our energy and prepare ourselves for the trip ahead of us. Looking back I would have done it the other way around. Taking the resort as the last stop.
There are so many different options making it not easy to pick a resort. We chose Meliá las Americas, which in our opinion was a great option. The rooms were spacious, the service was very good, the beach was beautiful and it offered everything we needed for our stay. Nevertheless I am happy that we didn’t stay longer than 3 days because we wouldn’t have appreciated it as much, and it would have been way too boring to be doing the same thing everyday and exploring the same area.
If you are interested in eating outside of the resort, try Varadero 60. The food is absolutely delicious! The best I had in Cuba. Varadero has also several excellent activities such as diving, snorkeling, boat trips, fishing and much more. So if you are looking into Caribbean beach holidays then you are at the right place.
Havana is too audacious, too contradictory and despite 50 years of withering neglect too damn beautiful!
Downtown Havana can be split into three main areas: Habana Vieja, Habana centro and Vedado.
We stayed in Havana Vieja at one of the best casa particulares ever. It was really my all time favorite: Casa Vitrales. Before telling you all about the casa, I will briefly explain the concept of a casa particulares. It means a homestay, where you usually stay with a family and they cook you breakfast and dinner and you interact and learn more about their culture.
Nevertheless this casa was a bit different, in terms of it being more a hotel style. The family lived there but they owned the entire building and had their own space, which was separated from the rest of the rooms.The casa was beautiful! It was located close to the main sights. The rooms were spacious, simplistic yet very artsy. There was a rooftop where breakfast was served. The staffs were all very sweet and helpful. I highly recommend this casa, but bare in mind that you must do the reservations quite early because the casa is very popular and is always booked well in advance.
Where to go?
Just wander around and you will find a hidden treasure in every street. Havana has so much to offer that I can spend days making a list of places but I’ll just mention a few.
Plaza vieja, also known as the old square is a perfect place to spend an afternoon drinking or eating at one of the many places.
Habana 1791: If you are into original oil perfumes, then this is the perfect place. There are so many different types of fragrances and blend of notes, and the price is very reasonable. A great souvenir to bring back from Cuba.
Callejon de Hamel: like the description from lonely planet: Aside from its funky street murals and psychedelic art shops, the main reason to come to Havana's high temple of Afro-Cuban culture in Centro Habana is the frenetic rumba music that kicks off every Sunday at around noon
What to see?
The malecon is a promenade that stretches over 8 km. Locals go there to relax, chill and watch the sunset. The view is stunning!
Taller Experimental de Grafica: If you’re into art, this is a very nice place to check out. It is both a gallery and a workshop.
Where to eat?
I really struggled finding something vegetarian or at least some nice varieties to choose from. As you may know not everything is accessible in Cuba, therefore sometimes the options are quite limited. Usually most of the restaurants have a very limited menu and run out of things very quickly. But for a safe and delicious option try:
1. Los Nardos
2. Lamparilla 361
3. Bohemia café
4. La guardia (make a reservation in advance as it is quite popular)
5. café archangel (small coffee place, for dessert and coffee).
We also tried many other restaurants but I cannot seem to remember the name.
These streets are worth exploring and strolling around. there are different cafés, shops and lots of art.
Paseo de marti
When traveling to Cuba and deciding on what cities to visit in Cuba, a few nights in Trinidad should be a must. Trinidad is Cuba’s best-preserved colonial town, with the old part of Trinidad being a UNESCO heritage site since 1988. Trinidad, like most colonial towns, is a gorgeous with brightly colored buildings and cobblestone streets.
Trinidad is around a 4 hours drive from Havana and can be reached by bus or taxi.
If I must give an advice on what to see in Trinidad, I would say get lost exploring the beautiful town, and you will see everything. Make sure to also spend a day at the beach near Trinidad, playa ancon. It can be reached by shared taxi for 2 CUC each.
Within an hour drive of Trinidad, there are hundreds of waterfalls ready to be explored. Salto del Caburni 75m waterfall is one of the most popular and is often highly recommended by locals and many tours run here. We went there with Cuba tour, which has an office in Trinidad. You must book your tickets few days in advance to get a spot.
There are many more things to do in Trinidad but unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to explore everything since we had a very limited time (3days).
In terms of accommodation, the most common is casa particulares. You’ll stay in a local Cuban’s house have your own room, private bath, air conditioning, hot water, and typically home cooked Cuban meals. We found ours when we arrived in Trinidad, and it was very close to Plaza Mayor but unfortunately I cannot recall the name.
A few things to take into consideration
- Some of the things that you need to know is that not everything is accessible in Cuba, especially in casa particulares. If you are staying in a hotel then you have nothing to worry about. Otherwise pack as much small things as you can (tampons, make up remover, klenex etc..)
- Another thing is book your bus tickets few days in advance because especially during high season it gets easily sold out! The operating bus is viazul and takes you from city to city. That is the bus we used when traveling around Cuba.
- August month can be very hot and humid, sometimes it was too hot!
- Many of the major websites don’t have cuba as an option when looking for hotels. I found my casa particulares by making a general search on google. Write them an email if they do not respond within a few days, call them! Otherwise you can use the website called: www.habaguanexhotels.com to search for hotels in Cuba.
- Another important thing is Internet, it is very limited and you must purchase a card for 2 CUC that has 1 hour Internet. You can only use it in specific area with a connection (such as hotels, and some parks)
- Currency : There are 2 currencies, one is used by the tourists (CUC) and one used by the locals (CUP). Make sure not to get cheated when you have to pay in small local shops, pay with CUP.
- Take your time to speak with the locals about politics, Che Guevara and Cuba in general. You will learn so much!