I think if you have read my first article you will get used to the weird titles I come up with...
So it has been a loooonnnggg while since I last wrote anything, mainly because I was busy creating content and had so many other things deemed high priority than sharing about my travel experience.
So this article will be about one of the countries that have wowed me the most for its history and it how it forms the very core of the identity of its people. There is so much to say about this country and I will try my very best to keep it interesting for my readers - You know I love you :-)
So by this point, you have figured out this article will be about the not less-than-amazing country of Cuba (I still feel the chills I had when I landed at José Martí International Airport!).
Funny enough I have not really chosen to go to Cuba, I was not even looking to go on holiday, but when I say "60% off the regular price", I had to find me a reason to go.
As soon as I have passed the stage of convincing myself this was a great idea (probably took me 5 minutes lol), I dipped my nose into researching all the vague information I had about the country and turn it into a travel plan and a checklist - This was probably the was the easiest part however I think however prepared you are when going to Cuba, IT WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH!!
Cuba is so complex in how it is structure and so different from what most people would ever experience while traveling. To be fair, you travel to see something you would not normally see at home but one's mind just cannot grasp Cuba until one gets first-hand experience of the country. Enough of my teasing, you surely want to find out how the preparation took place, but more importantly what makes Cuba so special, to my perspective at least...
Llegar a La Habana
Due to the price of my ticket, I had no direct flight from London and had to go through, which a great stopover. Also, I had to find out how the visa service works from the UK - For once, my Senegalese passport was just treating the same way as every other passport. The visa is sold by some airlines or travel agencies. It is in paper form and is filled by hand and carried with you. You can even buy it at the airport, on the day of departure.
For the accommodation, I did not really know what to expect so I booked an all-inclusive hotel, called Tropicoco (now MarAzul Hotel) near Playas del Este, about 24 minutes from the city center. I was soon to find out it was not such a great idea...
So I set out to visit Havana, Varadero, and Viñales during my 9 days trip to the "country" of Che Guevara - He was Argentinian but instrumental to the liberation of the Cuban people... But that is not why you are reading me so I will refrain from thinking I can teach anyone history.
Remember me saying I should have done a lot more research into where to stay? I found out the hard way that from my hotel to the city centre, I will have to pay 25CUC each way £20/$25 or haggle a return price with the taxi driver around 40CUC for the return £32/$40 - Now this is far more than I would ever imagine.
Another thing I found out was that there was no such thing as "internet on the go". Internet comes from scratch cards which cost 2CUC £1.63/$2 per hour so for an internet junkie like myself, I was going 8-10 of those cards per day and that is not even the best part! The scratch cards are only usable at hotels and 2 parks in the heart of Habana. That's it!
What is there to in the capital city of Cuba? Well, loads! I managed to do so much yet did not have time to see a lot of landmarks and even missed out on some activities.
This is the very heart of the city where you can find El Capitolio, the museum of the revolution, the plaza de la cathedral and many other landmarks. It is merely a buzzing place where loads of street food is sold, artists selling their trades, hawkers inviting you to their restaurants and occasional street performers. It does not get any more colourful than this.
Plaza de la Revolución
Revolution Square in English, this place serves as the square for most rallies in the city, even Pope John Paul II has visited it when he went to Cuba. It is a stone-throw away from the University of Havana and sitting beneath the Jose Marti Memorial. This is the largest city square in the world so plenty of walking to do. The main attractions (to my perspective) are the large sculptures of the Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara.
El bosque de la Habana
A stopover from La Habana to Fusterlandia, this green beauty is just worth spending a few hours for a peaceful walk away from the craze of the city. This oasis is stretched on one side of the Rio Almendares and is a treat to both the eyes and your sanity.
You must be familiar with Walt Disney's Disneyland, this is Jose Fuster's Fusterlandia, not as grand physically however the idea behind the erection of this gem. Fuster has been inspired by Gaudi's work in Barcelona and Brâncuși across Romania. The beautiful edifice is made of what's called "naive" art which is simply when an artist uses childlike shapes, similar to Picasso's work.
Playa del Este
This beach is almost an alternative to Varadero if the 2-hour journey in a 1950s car is too much bear. I will show you what you miss if not tempted enough to make the trip. Playa del Este is another chill place to lay and sip on some coconut water, piña colada or whatever else the beach has to offer.
Varadero...Or the beach city (again in my own world) is just what you would expect from Miami, Cancun or Ibiza. Loads of music, exotic food, clear water beaches, you name it!
Puente de Bacunayagua
On the way to Varadero, you must make a quick pit stop at puente de bacunayagua to sip on some
piña colada - While in Cuba, you will have to test this beverage almost everywhere it is sold. The Dominican-born cocktail is just a Cuban specialty and comes virgin for the non-alcohol drinkers like myself.
There is also a terrace with big binoculars to see the other side of the bridge.
So we made it to Varadero!
I think Varadero would not be Varadero was it not for the beach. It is just pretty to watch and of course take a dip when the water is warm. It offers the vibrant part of the city which hosts numerous restaurants, hotels and on the other side, quiet beaches and loads of palm trees.
How can I describe this Las Terrazas? I think it is what most people's depiction of paradise would look like. Green space, waterpoint, cocktails, exotic animals and loads of activities such as zip-lining or hiking. Definitely worth spending at least a day in this amazing place. They offer very cosy hotel rooms as well some rustic cabins, for the hardcores and it really does not get any closer to nature. The place is gorgeous beyond expectations and is a must-see if you make it to Varadero.
More information is available on their website:
For the activities, I would suggest Captivating Cuba:
I tried to show the place off a bit but the wind was just not cooperating...
This coco taxi driver allowed me to ride (alone) on his fancy car/bike. Cubans are nice like that!
You just have wasted your time if you have been one day in Cuba and not been to Viñales and I know I have said that about the previous cities but really, Viñales is beyond belief. Knowing what I know now, I would simply just stay there the whole time.
If you are looking for a way to get a glimpse of what you are in for, in Viñales, hotel Jazmines gives you an unobstructed view of the beautiful Viñales valley (also more piña colada - you really have to try it from different places).
There is also a special landmark which reminds you how far you are from home, depending on where you came from...
Cueva del Indio
The Indian cave is one of the largest cave systems in the Caribbean. It is mainly known for its mysterious rock formation and the river San Vincente going right through the cave - The best part is that you can actually get on a boat and cruise through the unique grotto. The cave is very well-lit and a trip inside the cave would cost around 5CUC (you know how to convert into major currencies by now...
I must admit, I felt Indiana Jones would give me a thumbs up for wandering down the narrow paths inside the cave and jumping into the boat first like a pro
I even had time for sugar cane juice on the way out...
Pinar del Rio
I kept the best part for the end, "la guinda del pastel"...The tobacco plantations!
If one thing, Cuba is known for cigars and ...well cigars. Tobacco farming is not just an agricultural activity, it is part of the culture in Cuba. The region of Pinar del Rio is where of the Cuban cigars you smoke comes from. You can even learn about the tobacco production process, get to roll one from scratch and even purchase unbranded (but fresh) ones.
Aside from growing tobacco the plantations are also places for horseriding and coffee...
This is it! I hope I made it interested to go to Cuba one day and that me lifting the curtain on my experience in the land of "La revolución" has been somewhat insightful.
Until next time ...