Cuba

Capital:
La Habana

Currency
Peso

Best time to visit:
If possible, avoid the period from June to August: temperatures rise as does the risk of heavy downpours. February and March are favored.

In a word:
Hasta la victoria siempre (Long live the victory)

Vaccines
None

Warnings:
– Bring all the necessary medicines because the pharmacies are empty.
– Equip yourself with a powerful mosquito spray especially if you go to seaside areas as well as strong sun protection.
– Don't drink tap water.

At the table:
The meat (pork or chicken, usually fried or grilled) is served with fried plantain slices, tomatoes, onions and black beans. Taste the tamal, a corn dough with minced meat and get drunk on the best mojitos, cuba libre or daiquiris!

Essential experiences:
Stroll through the colonial streets of Habana Vieja or even more so of Trinidad; Go on horseback into the forest and then dive into the cold waters of the Trinidad waterfall; Go snorkelling in the crystal clear sea of ​​Varadero or Cayo Santa Maria; Let yourself be seduced by Che's story in Santa Clara.  

Magical island

Cuba is a philosophy of life. Cuba is music, it's dance. In Cuba you can breathe magic not air. A journey to be lived with the eyes and the spirit.

Documents needed for Cuba

  • Valid passport with a remaining validity of six months;
  • Compilation of the format (free) D-Viajeros in the 48 hours before the trip;
  • Tarjeta del turista: to be purchased at the Consulate/Embassy or Specialized agencies (cost from 25 to 60 euros);
  • Health insurance mandatory.

Our suggested itinerary (16 days)

three days:

Havana (city tour with visit to the four main squares; calle Obispo; drink at the Floridita or Boteguita del Medio; ride in a Cadillac; visit the most interesting museums)

five days:

Varadero (relaxing on the beach); Trinidad (visit the wonderful historic center and the main museums; horseback adventure in the forest to the El Pilon waterfall)

three days:

Santa Clara (visit to Che Guevara's mausoleum; armored train and the historic center); Cienfuegos (small detour of the historic center)

five days:

Cayo Santa Maria (total relaxation in one of the many resorts in the area); Havana (return to the capital)

In Cuba, socialism, salsa, cigars, Che Guevara and Fidel represent a truly inseparable symbol. No documentary will ever be able to communicate the sensations produced by the incessant sound of the rumba, the obsessive rhythm of the drums or the notes of the guitars singing old traditional Caribbean or South American songs. Nothing can prepare you for the Cuban people: educated, cultured, generous, jovial, proud.

We set off on this almost three-week road trip in search of the true essence of this magical island in a historical period for them.

We decide to rely on an extremely valid local tour operator that we highly recommend: Altai Travel for all journeys from one city to another. Of course you can count on them for all aspects relating to the trip. On this occasion we have the opportunity to get to know Ivan and his team who take care of all our road trips with passion, professionalism and skill, giving us the opportunity to admire and enjoy Cuban everyday life from a privileged position; alternatively there would be local buses but which, in this historical period, I don't feel like suggesting. 

Our journey starts from the capital and winds through the central part of the island, this time we have deliberately kept interesting destinations such as Vinales (in the north) and Santiago or Baracoa (in the south) out of our itinerary to enjoy our journey more slowly and to have an excuse to return soon!

20 june La Habana (Cuba)

Havana, the largest city in the Caribbean, is the political, cultural and economic center of Cuba.
Havana is dynamic, lively, polluted but so damn fascinating! You will be enchanted walking through the streets of the historic center (La Habana Vieja) – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – where history can be breathed in with open lungs!

Crowding the cobbled streets and historical monuments you will find the population itself: helpful, outgoing, always with a smile even if often a little stressful with the requests from tourists... they will have offered us at least 100 rides on the carriage, 50 on a Cadillac, 200 restaurants with lobster or with the best mojito, 300 “original” Cohiba cigars and 400 money changes! But this is also part of local folklore.

Speaking of exchanging money: be careful, in Cuba absolutely do not withdraw money with your card (assuming you find an ATM with money) and do not exchange money at the banks as the "official" exchange rate equal to 1/3 of that will be applied to you. of the “black market”. Change in private homes or with those who inspire trust in you on the street... this will already be the first way to help the people.

For the first three days in Havana we decided to stay a stone's throw from the Plaza de la Catedral at the wonderful Casa Cuarteles managed impeccably by the wonderful Lillevi and her husband Alberto.
Lillevi is an Italian-Swedish lady and chatting with her during breakfast on the beautiful terrace of the house is already worth the experience. The house is housed in an ancient building that has been completely renovated (beautiful before and after photos), it is very welcoming, warm, strategically positioned a few hundred meters from the four most important squares of the city. The beautiful decorations, the organization of the team, the traditional style but with a Scandinavian touch make this house unique and original.

Walking tour of Old Havana

Haban Vieja is a dense cluster of colonial buildings, museums, memorials, art galleries and ancient churches.

  •         Plaza de la Catedral. Dominated by two bell towers of different heights, the Catedral de San Cristobal de La Habana was described by the novelist Alejo Carpentier as "music transformed into stone". The extraordinary baroque façade creates an atmosphere of great magnificence, especially in the evening when live music mixes with the chatter of the people in the square in front of the cathedral.
  •         Plaza de Armas. It was the seat of authority and power in Cuba for four centuries. In the center of the garden, framed by very tall palm trees, stands the marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the man who at the end of the 1800s started Cuba on the road to independence.
  • Plaza de San Francisco de Asis. It is dominated by the domed building of the Lonja del Commercio, a former food market built at the beginning of the 20th century.

 

  • Old Plaza. Dating back to the 16th century, it is framed by several places of interest not to be missed
  • Not far away and after having driven along the legendary "calle Obispo", among a thousand colored ancient cars which make this city even more evocative but which at the same time poison it with their old exhaust pipes, stands the famous "Capitolio Nacional", similar to the Capitol in Washington but richer in detail and, certainly, one of the architectural wonders of Havana.

Stroll along its long pedestrian streets, we walked several kilometers along "calle Obispo", each old colonial building often houses a museum or an art gallery so study well before coming to understand which one might be the most interesting for you.

With a coconut in hand, Nora's favorite drink, we go to Floridita, a place loved by Ernest Hemingway, to enjoy the best daiquiri ever while listening to wonderful live Cuban music!

Dinner at “El paseo amarillo” with a good plate of grilled shrimp!

21 june La Habana (Cuba)

Today aboard a 1948 Ford Deluxe (pink) we cruised through the streets of Havana, immersing ourselves even more in this background. An unforgettable "local" experience organized by us Altai Travel.

A necessary stop at the Plaza de la Revolucion. Exciting because it is one of the most important public places in the history of Cuba. Before the triumph of the revolution, this square was called: "Republic Square". Having become the symbol of the Cuban revolution due to the large political rallies that were held there in the 1960s, this square is surrounded by buildings from the Batista era. It is here that, on important occasions, former President Castro and other leaders addressed hundreds of thousands of people from the podium in front of the Josè Marti Memorial.

A slightly expensive but worthwhile lunch at Antojos near the cuarteles neighborhood and the revolution museum and off to new adventures!

22 june Varadero (Cuba)

We leave the capital headed to Varadero but we will experience it in our own way... as always!

Varadero is the emblem of mass tourism in Cuba; there are more than 50 resorts and dozens of charter flights that land directly here from Canada (only a three-hour flight) or Europe, dropping off thousands of tourists!

This is absolutely not authentic Cuba and anyone who thinks they have seen or experienced Cuba by only staying here is wrong! Living it the way we wanted wasn't easy at the beginning because we struggled a bit to find the right accommodation until we met: "Fara’s House”!
A delightful little cream and red house along Avenida 1, the main road, and in front of a wonderful free beach on a sea with incredible shades of blue! You basically cross the road and you're on a soft white beach that leads you straight into clear water and you're the only tourist... what more do you want?

We spend two days here and we will remember the days in Varadero for the feasts of lobster (10 euros per plate), for the endless days on the beach and the sleepy daily life of a casa particular far from the resorts and hit-and-run tourists!

24 june Trinidad (Cuba)

With a transfer three and a half hours from Varadero accompanied by the legendary Jaime (excellent tour guide) we reach the jewel of Trinidad with a small detour in Cienfuegos.

You bump on the cobbled streets when you enter the city; the beautiful restored houses, majestic churches and cool paved courtyards exude a colonial atmosphere. If we add to all this the splendid location of the city, sandwiched between the coast and the Topes de Collantes mountains, the result is a truly unparalleled place.

Trinidad was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Here we stay in the welcoming "Hostal dos Mundos”, in the historic center!
This pastel-coloured building has recently been renovated and here Raidel and his family welcome travelers from all over the world with the courtesy typical of Cubans!

Clean, central, beautiful... it's so pleasant to stay here... we immediately enjoy a mango smoothie on the terrace of the house admiring the old colonial buildings in the distance!

We will spend two nights here in this calm and relaxed atmosphere!

Its cobbled alleys framed by pastel-colored colonial buildings where children play barefoot and without t-shirts with punctured balls or elderly people rest sitting on concrete benches while cowboys on horseback slowly stroll around placidly giving you the sensation of being on a film set.

The many museums and churches of the old city (casco historico) are concentrated around the Plaza Mayor, the most evocative place in Trinidad. Here stands the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santissima Trinidad, one of the many late 19th century churches that enrich this city.

We visited the Museo Nacional de la Lucha contra banditos, housed in the Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi and which, in addition to an insight into Cuba's revolutionary period, offers, thanks to its high bell tower, one of the most beautiful views of the city.

We wander far and wide through these fairy-tale alleys and every glimpse is a poem or a painting!

We even end up having dinner in a recently opened Italian restaurant: "Italian flavours" thanks to the chatter of the legendary Bruno, chef/owner, a Roman who moved here with his Italian/Cuban family... I know, it's not like us to eat Italian abroad but it was an excellent dinner!

We end the evening, with Jago sleeping, in one of the many bars where cocktails cost less than a can of coke... cocktails: 250 pesos vs coke 400 pesos

25 june Trinidad (Cuba)

Breakfast like a king (15 euros total) on the hostal terrace and off on horseback for one of the most unforgettable activities of the entire trip!

Jago and I riding the "Scirocco", Nora on the "Mulata" and Stefy on the "Loco"... we immerse ourselves in this rich nature, fording small rivers, trotting on the mud between plane trees and mangoes.
We cross fields with classic Cuban houses with traditional music always playing until we reach a large clearing under large trees. Here we get off our horses and with a walk of about 15 minutes we arrive at a waterfall... how magical... a Jamaican tourist alone is leaving... now the whole waterfall is ours! We are drenched in sweat from the intense humidity but we don't think twice and dive into those cool waters... what a feeling of freedom!

After an hour the first tourists begin to arrive and in 15 minutes the waterfall is full of people taking selfies... the magic is over... we return to our horses...

On the way we stop to eat in the only local shack, we take two small plates of vegetables and rice and a bit of turtle meat spending 30 euros... madness here in Cuba... nice rip-off... turtle karma I think to myself while let's return on horseback to romantic Trinidad!

26 june Santa Clara (Cuba)

Today in a couple of hours by car, by taxi organized by Altai Travel, we arrive in the warm city of Santa Clara!

We are staying at the elegant Suite Florencia, an ancient colonial house where every small and single detail enriches an already precious picture. We are welcomed by the staff of sweet Gloria: Mireya and Lidia welcome us warmly and we fall in love with this little gem right away!

Fine and very classy room, nearby there is a small terrace with many giant plants that give shade, coolness, oxygen and joy to the eyes... it is so pleasant to relax on the rocking chairs chatting with the sweet Mirela and Livia.

Gloria, despite being in Italy, organizes a guided tour for us with the very nice Thalia, a university student who speaks Italian very well and who, with her passion and love for art, made us appreciate this small town.

Santa Clara is a city rich in history and today, the Universidad Central de las Villas, one of the most important in Cuba, gives it a large presence of young people and a lively intellectual atmosphere.

Aboard a taxi/tuk tuk we arrive at the Ernesto Che Guevara monument, the undisputed symbol of Santa Clara. This complex, consisting of a monument, a mausoleum and a museum (free entry) stands in a vast square in the center of which is a bronze statue of Che.
the beautiful mausoleum contains 38 niches carved in stone and dedicated to the other guerrillas who died during the failed revolution attempt in Bolivia.

In 1997 their remains (including Che's) were found in a secret mass grave in Bolivia, brought here and buried in the mausoleum. The eternal flame that burns in their honor was lit in 1997 by Fidel Castro himself.
The adjacent museum reconstructs Che's life by exhibiting, among other things, many unpublished photos and his personal objects.

Not far from the center there is the monument dedicated to the "Tren Blindado". This is the place where on December 29, 1958, 18 men under the command of Che Guevara captured, with the sole use of a bulldozzer, and derailed it, an armored train of 22 carriages carrying 498 of Batista's soldiers armed to the teeth.

The battle lasted only 90 minutes and the dictator's soldiers surrendered, saving their lives.

In front of the headquarters of the Cuban Communist Party, there is a life-size statue of Che Guevara with a child in his arms looking forward. It is a statue rich in symbolism; some statuettes are visible on the bust (a girl peeking out the window, a naked boy on a goat and a man on a horse). The holes from the bullets that killed him in Bolivia in 1967 are also visible; on the belt buckle is carved a group of men representing the 18 comrades who died with him. On one of the pockets, however, the Don Quixote that Guevara read while he was hidden in the Sierra Maestra mountains is engraved.

Thalia takes us to Parque Vidal, the city center, and from there we first stop at Mejunje, the first inclusive venue in the city where everyone is welcomed with open arms, where Cuba's first drag queens performed and where all the most important people of this island, at least once, sang.

Not far away is the Cafè Museo Revolucion where numerous Che memorabilia are on display and where we enjoyed the best peanut smoothie of our lives while smoking a Romeo y Juliet cigar.

We have dinner in a nice restaurant in Parque Vidal and we end the evening in the oasis of Suite Florencia chatting with sweet Lidia.

“If it happens: it's worth it” Cuban saying

27 june Cayo Santa Maria (Cuba)

Here we enjoy one of the richest, tastiest and most colorful breakfasts of the entire trip before leaving again, by taxi, towards the heavenly Cayo Santa Maria, at the western end of the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago.

We drive along the impressive 48 km long causeway called “El Pedraplen” to our wonderful resort: Dhawa Santa Maria.

We will spend three days here, an all inclusive resort (thanks to the magic bracelet!).
There is a buffet restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner; a snack bar near the majestic pools with sandwiches and drinks open 24 hours a day; various bars everywhere with cocktails and coffee (including alcohol!); evening shows, possibility of renting a pedalo or catamaran (free) directly from the splendid private beach!

We don't usually go to resorts like this but every now and then, especially on traveling trips, it's so pleasant to stop for a while and be pampered... not just us... even the little ones: there's even a baby club!

As we always say: the perfect trip is the right mix of discovery, adventure, relaxation and here we are: Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria!

01 july La Habana (Cuba)

Today we start again! Long journey, about 5 hours of road from Cayo Santa Maria to the capital but with the reliable Jaime they pass quickly and pleasantly chatting about Che!

Here we are again in Havana, we will stay at the Madero B&B, a wonderful little hotel in the historic center, a stone's throw from the Malecon and Plaza Vieja!

Madero B&B is an ancient structure recently renovated; here every detail is taken care of with elegance and finesse; the whole team led by Lisy will take great care of you and will pamper you throughout your stay with a tasty fresh mango smoothie as soon as you arrive up to the legendary breakfasts in a very picturesque ancient patio.

The room is large, delightful and with a superb view of one of the thousand characteristic alleys of the historic center where simply looking out in silence to admire the life below placidly passing by is already like watching a wonderful documentary.

We take advantage of this to try to experience the city not as tourists but as locals, stopping to chat with people, entering their homes, eating in traditional restaurants where there is no menu and they only have 2-3 dishes!

We wander aimlessly and without visiting anything except the most famous cigar factory: Partagàs. Located in Calle de la Industria, exactly behind the Capitolio, and precisely because of its centrality it is certainly the factory and the tienda (shop) most visited by tourists from all over the world.
We buy some good cigars, you can't leave Cuba without them!

Here the crisis is deeply felt, the tourist is not affected except by some blackouts or by the limited choice of dishes at the restaurant but the people are in great suffering: the state supermarkets sell very few products but in enormous quantities and at absurd prices, prices that Cubans cannot remotely afford (a kg of rice costs 4 euros or a shampoo costs 18 euros); the pharmacies are completely empty, shelves without goods... we gave a blister pack of tachipirin to our taxi driver and it seemed like we had given him a gold bar... the origins can be attributed to the new embargo and Covid but now Cuba needs us, it needs tourism to lift itself up a bit! Come to Cuba!

Here our journey ends with the only knowledge that we will return soon.

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