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Exploring Cuba

Our Travel Guide

When I first traveled to Cuba, it was from Mexico where I was living at the time.  This mysterious island that I had heard so much about growing up.  Communism.  Fidel.  The Bay of Pigs.  Hemingway and Kennedy.  The anticipation was palpable as I rode in a classic American car to the hotel.  The slight danger in the air of being an American somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be.  This was back in the 90’s and Cuba was totally closed off to Americans, or so we thought.  Cuba was the antithesis of all that I learned.  There was some anti-American sentiment back then, but mostly the people were welcoming and warm.  The architecture was crumbling in some parts but was still impressive.  And I was surprised to be watching CNN in my hotel room.  Cuba brings different images to different people.  But in the end, this island nation only 90 miles from the coast of the US is a destination that most travelers would enjoy.

Traveling on a time machine back to the 60s-70s and enjoy a fantastic moment on this charming and authentic island that you will remember for life. Cuba will bring you back to an era when salsa music is popular. People dress up colorfully for a party and classic cars become your favorite taxi. This island is renowned for its Rum call “Cuban Rum”. Besides, You would be amazed by the different cocktails this spirit has to offer. Mojito is also something that you must try here.

Live music is what you will hear anywhere you go. Seeing people dancing around the towns is very common. Aside from fascinating architecture, art and music, its beautiful nature is waiting for all visitors to discover. Beautiful beaches, greenish jungles and big mountains; it is absolutely up to your preference. Once Cuba was forgotten and sealed from the rest of the world. But not  anymore as the door was reopened again. So there is no doubt why this country is so glamorous and sophisticated.

Cuba at a Glance

Currency: Two currencies are currently being used in Cuba; Cuban peso (CUP) and Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The Cuban peso is best known as the Cuban tourist currency. It is also used in other businesses that involve foreign money. The government has recently announced that they will trade in CUCs for Cuban pesos so that the CUC will be phased out completely by June 2021. The exchange rate has been set at 24 Cuban pesos to 1 USD.

Visa: The required tourist visa, known as a tourist card, allows the holder to stay in Cuba for 30 days as a single entry. Your passport must be valid for the entire length of the stay, as well as proof of a return flight ticket and a confirmation of hotel booking.

Language: Spanish is the principal language of Cuba. Although there are no local dialects, the island’s diverse ethnic groups have influenced speech patterns.

  • Sight Seeing 85% 85%
  • Cost 80% 80%
  • Ease of Travel 65% 65%
  • Activities 80% 80%

When I first traveled to Cuba over 20 years ago, the anticipation was palpable.  Fidel.  Communism.  The Bay of Pigs.  Hemingway and Kennedy.  These were my thoughts and there was something exciting about being in a country where I was not supposed to go.  Cuba did not disappoint and as it welcomes travelers again, put Cuba on your must-visit list.

Map created using Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android

Top Experiences in Cuba

Cities and Towns

 

Havana

Visiting Cuba without riding on an exquisite classic car around Havana is like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Havana has so much to offer, from its splendid architectures and street arts to foods, drinks and music.

Music is the veins of the Cuban’s heart. Wherever your footsteps lead you, your ears will never rest from the party vibe of this vivid city. So get yourself ready to enjoy plenty of drinks from famous bars in Havana. Whether rooftop bars in Old Havana or small bars on the Malecon, you basically will find the best rum everywhere. Mojito, a traditional Cuban highball, is also one of the signatures here.

The attractions will expose you to Afro-Cuban religion. Seeing the broken beauty through UNESCO-designated architecture will let you learn about what remains today of la Revolucion. Start your day with Old Havana or Habana Vieja, the oldest and mesmerizing part of the city. Continue your walk through pretty streets until you reach the Cathedral, where Alejo Carpentier, a novelist, described it as “Music set in stone”. Keep walking to Royal Force Castle, home to the National Archive, and appreciate the gentle breeze from the harbor.

Many restaurants surrounded central Havana offer varieties of local seafood, especially lobster menus. The lobster dishes are very fresh and come at a low price compared to other countries. If you like supporting people, go to San José Market, where you will find beautiful handmade souvenirs created by locals.

Watching the heavenly sunset at Malecon with the amazing sea breeze would make you fall in love with this city even more. Bars and restaurants are ready to provide you the fine dining and wonderful music that will keep entertaining you all night. For those Jazz lovers, the Vedado District is the best place for some late-night jazz jamming.

Havana

Classic American cars are everywhere in Havana. Check out the architecture and the nightlife while there.

 

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Trinidad

Trinidad is one of the most historic cities in Cuba. UNESCO heritage has listed its Old Town as a World Monument. But this part of the city is only accessible either on foot or on horseback. Carts are also welcomed and commonly seen around the area.

The iconic brightly colored houses along narrow cobbled streets become photogenic spots in town. Walking around the Old Colonial Center, you will see lots of magnificent places, from a small museum to historic buildings.

Wandering to the coast through the valley would be so much fun and exciting by bike. Stopping by Ancón Peninsula, lying on the white sandy beach under the palm trees, takes all your worries away.

Don’t miss to practice your salsa skills at Plaza Mayor or show your move in the lively event at the Escalinata, located below the Casa de la Musica, which is held every evening.

Enjoy your exclusive nightlife inside a natural cave at Disco Ayala, a unique clubbing experience you rarely find on earth.

 

Vinales

This tiny little town has a massive influence over the rest of the country. It is where the best tobacco is grown for the most prominent cigar brands. Whether Cohiba, Montecristo, or Cuaba, they all use the leaves grown in this valley.

 Not to mention that you will experience the process of making a world-famous Cuban cigar, but a chance to explore the incredible tobacco fields and UNESCO world heritage site’s limestone caves.

 Visiting the caves and underground rivers of the legendary Cueva Del Indio and taking a riverboat ride through the Cuban jungle landscapes would let you unwind yourself among nature.

Apart from that, Vinales is also a great town to show your dance steps at the local night clubs and embrace the wide variety of Cuban rhythms.

Cuba

Vinales is Cuba’s best tobacco growing area.

 

Cienfuegos

With its spectacular bay, Cienfuegos is known as the pearl of the South. It is just about an hour and a half west along the coast from the Bay of Pigs.

This harbourside city is full of art, culture and history with plenty of things to discover. Visiting Jagua castle, Strolling around José Martí Park, Learning the story of Palacio de Gobierno, Observing flamingoes’ life at Laguna Guanaroca, are just some of the activities here.

The rest of Cubans say the people from Cienfuegos are the most cultured and westernized because French architecture and custom have an influence on its buildings and the locals.

 

Events and Festivals

Traveling to Cuba is an excellent choice you would ever make, but getting to enjoy a Cuban festival would highlight your holiday even more remarkable.

The whole city will turn into a big party. Cuban festivals bring its culture, dance, music, cuisine and a Cuban lifestyle along with them.

There are many events and festivals that this country has to offer. Below are the top listed festivals that will let you experience the real Cuban culture.

 

Havana Jazz Festival

The festival began in 1978. It brings together musicians not only from Cuba but also from other parts of the world. If you are a jazz lover, this annual event will give you unforgettable memories. Jazz tunes will emerge from everywhere you go, from restaurants and cafes to homes and cars, or even the streets. The city will come alive with sound as groups from all over the country gather to share their jazz music passion.

cuba

Varadero is a wonderful place. Rent a classic American car in Havana and head to the beach. The water is perfectly clear and the beach cannot be beat.

Havana Carnival

Over thousands of Cuban spend their summer week partying down the Malecon every year. This exciting event is held annually in July and August. It has been the most popular celebration in town since the end of Spanish colonialism.

The whole parades will be decorated outstandingly, from cars to stalls. You will get to see different performances, a vibrant show of traditional dances, Cuban musical rhythms, and more. This fun festival is also dedicated to children with colorful outfits, magicians, clowns and floats.

Fireworks will keep you entertained throughout the event. Alternately, drinks are also available to make it more enjoyable and pleasant.

 

Festival del Habano

The event is well-known as the largest international cigar festival in the world. It is annually held in February in Havana. Cigar lovers will get the opportunity to join many activities such as visiting the Cabanas factories and tobacco plantations, participating in seminars and trade fairs, including tasting one of the world-famous cigars.

 

Las Parradas De Remedios

Remedios attracts many tourists through its Christmas festival. This oldest city of Cuba offers a pleasurable event, with dazzling parades, floats and firework competition. It is held during December every year. If you are wondering how the Cuban celebrate their Christmas, you should not miss it.

 

Carnival de Santiago de Cuba

Santiago is not only the second-largest city, but it is also one of the most exotic towns in the country. With its influence by immigration and trade from lots of different ethnic groups, it creates a mixture of rich cultures through their music, dance and many more.

Carnival of Santiago de Cuba is said to be a big party that gathers all Cuban and visitors to participate in Cuba’s largest and most famous celebration, which is all about music and dance. The event usually takes place every year in July.

This celebration is also famous for its comparsas, a group of singers, musicians and dancers, dressing up in colorful and fabulous costumes.

 

 

Our Final Word

Cuba is often described as being trapped in a time warp. Whether dancing through the rhythm of salsa together with locals or visiting open-air museum cities, this tropical island could offer you even more. You will get a unique experience that you never find in any other parts of the world. From its timeless beauty through architecture and culture, Cuba is truly a retro gem of the Caribbean sea.

 

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