Almost two years ago I travelled to Cuba. So much has changed for this pretty island in the Caribbean since. Needless to say, I don’t know all the latest hotspots or hippest areas. I do however remember the feeling I had while travelling in Cuba, as well as the itinerary we followed when we were there. And that’s exactly what I’d like to share with you: a cool, diverse, 15-day itinerary through Cuba and some handy tips. Enjoy!
From London we flew via Paris to Havana. Flights at the time weren’t overly cheap, especially if you didn’t want your journey to take more than 20 hours. I believe our tickets – including a change in Paris – were about 800 pounds.
Once we got to Havana, we jumped into a taxi that took us to our first Casa Particular. A what? A Casa Particular. Since a few years, the Cuban government allows its people to rent out their spare rooms to tourists to make some extra money – under strict conditions of course. For many people this has made a huge difference in their lives; at the time an average monthly salary was around 20 dollars. By renting out a room, Cuban people could make this in one night. This is exactly why, during our entire trip, we stayed in those Casas Particulares, at home with the locals.
In Havana we stayed at B&B Central Havana. As in most of the Casas Particulares, you get a big breakfast with a lot of fresh fruit – and eggs if you want to. Many Casas will offer to make you dinner in the evening too: for them it’s a way to make some extra money and for us it was nice to stay in sometimes. Portions are always huge by the way!
I could go on and on about what you shouldn’t miss in Havana, but I’m a big believer of strolling around a city, soaking up its ambiance. And Havana is a great place to do exactly that. Of course you should go to the Old Town and have a look at the impressive Plaza de la Revolución, but other than that I would simply get lost in this fabulous place full of history.
We spent 4 nights in Havana which is (more than) enough.
From Havana we took a taxi to Varadero, which is about 150kms further east. Varadero is mostly known for its stunning beaches. After a few days in a hot and busy Havana it is the perfect place to come and do absolutely nothing. The beach is super beautiful and the water, of course, is mega blue. One thing to keep in mind: the front part of the beach is nice and quiet, whereas the part further down is where all the big resorts are situated. We stayed at Casa Omar & Anabel which was pretty much on the beach (fantastic!) and far away from the touristy hustle & bustle.
After three nights in Varadero we took an improvised taxi again, for a very long drive southwards to Trinidad (260kms). We stayed in a fantastic Casa just outside Trinidad, called Casa El Capitan. We were literally looking out over the sea and could hear the waves from our bedroom which was pretty cool.
Trinidad itself wasn’t too bad either: the town is super colourful and full of cobbled streets surrounded by colonial architecture. At night the place really seems to come alive; there’s live music everywhere, people are dancing and the ambiance is very lively.
Now if you want to spend a day at the beach while you’re in Trinidad, I’ve got good news for you. There is a nice little beach – Playa Ancon – just a few kilometers outside Trinidad. We went there for an afternoon and it is a lovely place to chill out. I’d definitely recommend getting some of the home made pizza the locals are selling on the beach by the way! And take an old American car to get there, just for fun.
We spent three nights in Trinidad, but could have easily stayed an extra night, because there seems to be a lot to see in the area.
When we left Trinidad I thought it was my favourite town in Cuba. That is until, some 500 kilometers westwards, we got to Viñales. What a place! I don’t think I’d ever seen something like it before. Difficult to describe its surroundings, but imagine – a lot – of green and some unusually shaped mountains. Add loads of tobacco fields and houses with porches that have a rocking chair on them (loved it) and you’ve got something that resembles Viñales, I think.
In terms of activities there is loads you can do. We went for some horse riding along the area with a guide. He showed us a local coffee farmer, an organic cigar producer, caves (yes, caves!) and the lake. It was a great way of exploring this part of Cuba and trying a few of the local specialities.
Just like Trinidad, Viñales comes alive at night. Although it’s a little village, there seemed to be a big party going on every night, so if you like to dance (salsa) this is the place to be!
We spent 4 nights in Viñales – staying at Villa Ardiel y Yeya – and I think that’s a good amount of time.
Whenever I think of Cuba now, I think of its people, the live music that seems to be everywhere you go and its ice cold Cristal beers. I see the heaps of people standing next to the roads, hoping someone with a car will pick them up, so they can get to their destination sooner. I hear the sound of a creaking rocking chair on a front porch in Viñales and I smell the air full of fumes and gasses from the old cars driving through Havana.
Yes, a lot has changed since I was there almost two years ago, but I like to think that some things never change.