Why should I recommend Cuba for travel? Why not? It’s Cuba!
Cuba is one of those destinations that you don’t really think of visiting. But it sure is on my bucket list! I expect it to be challenging, warm and happy all at the same time. Sure, it is still developing its tourist and travel sector and most activities are mostly planned by tour operators, but the beautiful scenery and wonderful people are an enticing excuse to learn more about Cuba.
One thing is sure, expect the unexpected
Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat. It may look shabby, but dig a little deeper and you are sure to find gold!
Cuba’s colonial cities haven’t changed much since pirates stalked the Caribbean. The atmosphere and architecture is particularly stirring in Havana, Trinidad, Remedios and Camagüey where grandiose squares and cobbled streets tell tales of opulence. Many buildings still lie ruined, waiting for a facelift and thanks to private investment, many of them have already been partially renovated.
This is the best time to visit Cuba, as the country is buzzing with experimentation. Here a free-spirited cafe where earnest students sit around debating Che Guevara’s contribution to world revolution; there an avant-garde art studio where the furniture is as outlandish as the exhibits. From rural Viñales to urban Havana, it’s as if the whole country is slowly awakening from a deep slumber.
The vast majority of Cuba’s tourists come for the beaches. But, explore beyond the beaches and you’re in a different domain, a land of fecund forests and crocodile-infested swamps, abandoned coffee plantations and rugged mountains as famous for their revolutionary folklore as their endemic species.
Let’s start with Havana
Old Havana is the heart of Cuba’s capital and its cultural center. Founded in 1519 by the Spanish, Havana was originally a walled city. Most of the old walls are now gone, but the dense, 3,000-building district they once guarded contains some of Cuba’s most important cultural sites. Amid the narrow streets of Old Havana you’ll find the Plaza Vieja, established in 1559, the national capital building, the Great Theater of Havana and the city’s museum of fine arts, the Cathedral of Havana, the Museum of the Revolution, and the famous La Floridita bar, a onetime hangout of Ernest Hemingway and the birthplace of the daiquiri cocktail.
The Museum of the Revolution
Havana’s Museo de la Revolución tells the story of Cuba’s successful revolt to overthrow the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship (and U.S. ally) in the 1950s. Located in Batista’s former presidential palace, the museum includes a variety of artifacts from the conflict, including a Russian tank and U.S.-built fighter plane that took part. Most prominent is the yacht Granma, which was used to transport Fidel and Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and their revolutionary comrades from Mexico to Cuba at the outset of the war.
This famous show cave in Matanzas is one of Cuba’s oldest tourist attractions — and still one of the most popular. Located close to the Varadero resort area, these limestone caves were formed more than 300,000 years ago but only discovered in 1861. Filled with impressive stalactites, stalagmites, galleries, and an underground river, Bellamar Caves has lights and stairs for visitors but, unlike most caves, is quite warm and humid inside. The complex also includes a museum, cafe, playground, and gift shop. Tours can be arranged from hotels in Havana or Varadero.
The beautiful Spanish colonial city of Trinidad, Cuba, takes visitors back in time. Located in the mountainous central Cuba province of Sancti Spíritus, Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1514, the city is a well-preserved example of a Caribbean sugar town of the 19th century (the surrounding area is known as the Valley of the Sugar Mills), filled with ornate Spanish colonial mansions, plazas and churches. Plaza Mayor is the heart of Trinidad, an excellent jumping-off point for walking tours that take in major sites such as the old San Francisco convent (now a museum) and ornate mansions that once belonged to sugar barons.
The beaches of Varadero are world famous and home to most of the island’s international resorts. Located on a narrow peninsula east of Havana, Varadero’s 12 miles of beaches were once home to waterfront mansions and today boasts dozens of international hotels visited by more than one million tourists annually.
The town of Santa Clara was the site of one of the crucial battlefields of the Cuban Revolution and remains a shrine to the memory of Che Guevara. The Battle of Santa Clara in 1958 pitted two columns of revolutionary soldiers — one led by Che, the other by Camilo Cienfuegos — against government troops loyal to General Fulgencio Batista, who were quickly routed. Batista fled Cuba just 12 hours later, handing victory in the Cuban Revolution to Fidel Castro and his allies. Today, visitors can visit Che’s mausoleum, see an armored train derailed by rebel soldiers, or stroll the streets of this 300-year-old city, centered on the beautiful Parque Vidal. The surprisingly hip cultural scene includes a rock festival, drag club, and modern art museums.