A mystery wrapped in a time capsule, smothered with gorgeous antique veneer and coated with colourful spice; Cuba is a country that’s hard to define. With the embargo curtain that has covered Cuba for so long finally being drawn, travellers are flocking once more to see the Pearl of Antilles. Whether you travel for the people, the culture, the history or the landscape itself you’ll always find a little bit for everyone here.
Where better to start on your Cuban journey than in the capital of Havana? A bombardment of colours, sound, flavours and culture is what welcomes you from the first moment you step foot in pastel coloured city. The vibrant capital of Cuba has stood proud through the years of neglect and emerged just as beautiful as ever, a celebration of a nation truly coming into its own again.
Founded in 1519 by the Spanish, la Habana, as the locals call it, is home to some of the best historical sites in the Caribbean. The impressive area of Old Havana stands as a testament to the impressive architecture of the city’s past as one of the most important ports in the region. A must see is the extensive network of fortifications which still stand in place protecting the buildings constructed by the gold of the conquering Spanish fleets. Past the former city walls you’ll discover an intricate arrangement of urban plazas surrounded by gorgeous classical architecture. You’ll want to get lost in the UNESCO protected region, it is truly unique and you won’t find anything else quite like it on the rest of the American continent.
What truly makes the city of Havana special is not its history however but it’s present, its people. The vibrant local community of Havana is a tourist attraction in its own right. From the intense flavours of the new culinary renaissance of a post embargo restaurant community, to the colourful and ever entertaining classic car culture and sizzling nightlife, the Cuban people are as interesting as any of the islands attractions.
While in Havana some of the best restaurants to check out for great ambience and Cuban food are
Castropol (make sure to get seated upstairs for the best view of the Malecón),
Castes & Tal,
Café Laurent or
Food generally is still very affordable in Cuba, a lobster dish in one of those restaurants is less than 15euros.
If you fancy yourself a dancing star then Havana’s nightlife will definitely suit you. The outdoor venue La Cecilia is probably the most iconic night club in the city boasting a roster of local salsa legends with live bands and frequent dance performances. If you want a more traditional night out then Tropicana offers a Las Vegas Style with a sizzling Cuban flair.
If you’re a fan of literary fiction then Hemmingway’s old haunt La Floridita is a must! Located in Old Havana this bar is home to Hemingway’s favourite daiquiri in the world, and the bar’s owners keep the writers indomitable spirit alive with a life-sized statue of the writer standing at the bar. If you are a Hemmingway fan, then just outside of the city you’ll also find the village of Finca Vigia where the author’s Cuban home still stands. The modest town was home to the American when he wrote three of his most celebrated works, the Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bells Toll and Moveable Feast.
If you want a dip in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean then you’ll have to head outside of the capital. Playa del Este (Eastern Beach) is one hour outside of Havana and offers the best day in the sun and sand close to the city. However if you are venturing around the island then you will be spoilt for choice, with hundreds of fantastic beaches on offer where you frolic in the Cuban sun.
On a day trip outside of the capital you can go on tours to the marvellous community of Las Terrazas or the breathtaking Viñales Valley, both UNESCO protected sites. The eco-village of Las Terrazas is extremely popular with travellers, offering not only Cuba’s only canopy tour but also boasts being the site of Cuba’s oldest surviving coffee plantation. Further afield and around two and a half hours outside of Havana is Viñales Valley. Located near the western end of the island this rocky valley is renowned for its striking landscape and traditional agricultural practices. Time honoured methods of farming tobacco are still used here, with modern machinery forsaken in favour of animals and good old fashioned human effort. The site is of significant historical and cultural importance with a rich melting pot of ethnicities representing the vast colourful makeup of the Caribbean all in one place.
South East of Havana, on the other side of the island you’ll find the famous city of Trinidad. While the region is infamous for its industrial endeavours, the city itself is not to be underrated as a travel destination. The scenic town is more traditional then the vastly modernised Havana and you’ll find yourself lazily walking along pebble streets as you hop from bar to restaurant to bar again. The city however is overshadowed by the beauty of the natural landscape that surrounds it. Rich nature swamps and verdant forests encased by imperious mountains offer endless opportunities for lovers of hiking and bird watching. While for those more historically inclined the nearby heritage listed Valle de los Ingenios offers the sites of over seventy former sugar mills, some as old as the eighteenth century! Closer to town, the gorgeous Ancon Beach offers a great way to spend your days lounging in the sun, while San Jose offer choices for dining and partying.
Also on the south side of the country is the famous Pearl of the South, Cienfuegos. Famously described as the Paris of the Caribbean, this early nineteenth century French settlement is iconic for its rich natural beauty and stunning resplendent white architecture. Circling probably the most beautiful natural bay in Cuba, Cienfuegos is famous for its aquatic activities and the nearby reefs along the coastline attract divers from all over the world. The calm crystal clear waters of the region are also perfect for water sports above the waves and will give you days of fun and entertainment. For those who want to continue their historical tour of Cuba then the famous Castillo de Jagua is a must visit. Widely recognised as one of Cuba’s most important military structures, this fortress was built to defend the city against the scourge of pirates in the Caribbean and is a must history buffs and ghost chasers alike with legends suggesting the imperious structure is haunted.
With no direct flights between Australia and Cuba, flight times can stack up going directly to the island. This makes it the perfect destination to add-on to any holiday you currently are planning in Central or South America, the USA or Europe. Havana is only a short flight from the American mainland and any of these destinations have easy connections throughout.
Since the relaxing of travel restrictions to Cuba by the US government, there has been huge interest worldwide in travel to the island. This surge in demand, coupled with scarcity of inventory, and very limited phone/internet connection locally available, means it’s highly recommended to pre-book your accommodation especially if you wish to stay in the top hotels or get a rental cars. So to make sure to plan your trip well in advance, ask one of our dedicated Travel Specialists for details.