After the end of the US embargo, the Isle of Cuba is changing very fast. Before it loses its ancient and timeless soul, it’s a good thing to hurry up. Here are ten good reasons to book a flight immediately and take off to the discovery of the Isla Grande!
A blast from the past in the streets of La Habana Vieja
With its historical buildings from the Spanish regime, with its crumbling colonial architecture, with its wonderful fortresses, Old Havana has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. Its main squares, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza da San Francisco de Asís, are linked together thanks to a maze of streets where time seems to have stopped. Here, it will be easy to run into vintage cars, children playing football and old men intent on playing checkers. Although it’s going to become a very touristic place, La Habana Vieja remains an inescapable stop-over for anyone who visits Cuba.
There are so many museums to check out: the Museo Maqueta de La Habana Vieja and the Museo de La Ciudad, located in the Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales, one of the best examples of Cuban baroque architecture; the Museo de Arte colonial, inside the oldest building of the Old Havana, the Palacio de Los Condes de Casa Bayona and so much more.
And when the night comes, you may enjoy your time going drinking from bar to bar.
A walk along El Malecón
Don’t call it an ordinary seafront! This has been Cubans’ favourite rendezvous point for ages. El Malecón stretches for 8 km and it’s one of the most famous boulevards of the island. In 1901, the temporary U.S. military rule wanted it to protect Havana City from the water, and its construction lasted about fifty years. Walking along the promenade that links the city harbour to El Vedado neighbourhood, by way of La Habana Vieja, it’s possible to admire many public landmarks and to enjoy a breathtaking ocean view. It’s recommended the visit El Malecón in the evening when you can witness one of Cuba’s best sunsets.
Santiago de Cuba and the island’s National History
Santiago de Cuba is the second city of the Island. It was found in 1515, among the Sierra Maestra mountains. Here you will find the Museo Historico 26 de Julio, where the Revolution that brought to power Fidel Castro broke out. Further landmarks and places linked to that historic period are the Plaza de la Revolución, in which a huge statue of Antonio Maceo stands, the Museo de la Lucha Clandestina, recently restored, and Fidel’s Tomb at the Mausoleo José Marti.
The main square, Parque Céspedes, is dedicated to Carlos Manuel de Céspedes who began the fight for the Cuban Independence in 1868. Here stands the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción and Diego Velazquez’s house, that is considered to be Cuba’s oldest residence.
To wind up the tour dedicated to the National History of the Island, you have to move to Castillo de San Pedro del Morro. This Spanish fortress, located 10 km far away from the city centre, was built in the 17th century and it is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Get lost among the colourful houses of Trinidad
The best way to find magic in one of the most beautiful cities in Cuba is to get lost among its little and colourful houses and its colonial buildings from the 18th and 19th century. Found in 1514 by the Spanish conquistadores, Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. The beating heart of this open-air museum is the Plaza Mayor, where you can find the Church of Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad, one of the biggest churches of the island, built from 1817 to 1892, and the Palacio Brunet. This palace now houses the Museo Romantico and its collection of decorative art from the 19th century. Not so far from the square, you will find the Casa de la Musica and its famous stairway. Here you can spend a pleasant evening listening to local live music.
Relax by the seashore
Cuba is a Caribbean island and it’s hardly difficult to find a shore with fine sand and crystal-clear water where you can relax. You are spoilt for choice! Among the 300 beaches of the island, the most famous are Playas de l’Este, a great beaches’ group right off Havana City centre, Playa Las Coloradas, inside the National Park of Desembarco del Granma, Playa Rancho Luna, not so far from the city of Cienfuegos, provided with equipped beach resorts and good bars and restaurants; and Playa Manuaga, the ultimate tropical beach surrounded by palms and turquoise waters, in the north of Baracoa.
To snorkelling lovers, we heartily recommend Maria La Gorda beach, located at the westernmost point of Cuba, on the pristine Guanacahabibes peninsula, with over than 50 diving spots to admire a rare black coral type; and Varadero beach, located in Mazantas county, where you can find the second greatest Coral Reef in the world.
Snorkelling on the Coral Reef
In the past, they were pirates and corsairs’ lands; now, Los Cayos offer the possibility to lose yourself in a virgin and pure environment. These little islets that surrounded Cuba are the real treasures of the Caribbean Sea. Nature lovers can’t do without seeing Cayo Santa Maria, being it part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago. In this island, declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, you can admire a lot of animal species: from flamingos, seagulls and corúas colonies, to the thousands of fish of its coral seabed. Cayo Coco, located also in the Jardines del Rey archipelago, in the past was the favourite pirates’ place to hide their treasures. Now, it offers more than 22 km of beaches and one of the most important seabeds of the Caribbean Sea.
In the Los Canarreos archipelago you can find Cayo Largos, a real paradise for snorkelling lovers, and not only for them! And there are also Cayo Levisa, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Blanco, Cayo Sabinal…the choice is yours!
Doing sports in the tropical forest
Not only Caribbean beaches and coral reefs: Cuba has also a lot of breathtaking natural reserves! These natural parks host a flora and fauna rich of incredible and rare species; like the Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, in the Montemar Natural Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Sports lovers can practice hiking or bird watching, and they can also take a bath in the thermal waters of the Parque Natural Topes de Collantes.
The Parque Nacional de Caguanes is another UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Don’t miss its main attraction: a cave system 11 km long where you can admire cave murals from the Prehistoric Age.
On the trail of Hemingway
When Ernest Hemingway came to Cuba for the first time, it was love at first sight. It was 1928, and after that, the writer couldn’t do without coming back here. A lot of his favourite places are still there to visit: from the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where he lived for years, to the many bars of La Habana Vieja, first of all, La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita.
The big love for the Cuban life and the marlin fishing persuaded Hemingway to buy an old residence here, La Finca Vigia, in 1940. Located in the small city of San Francisco de Paula, 10 km southeast of Havana City, this farmhouse is now one of the most visited museums of Cuba. Here Hemingway wrote two of his masterpieces, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, and he lived here until his death, in 1960.
Music for your soul
Let yourself get carried away by the Cuban rhythms that flood the streets of the Isla Grande. Whether it is the traditional Trova, the Rumba, the Son, the Cha Cha Cha, the Cuban Jazz, the Salsa or maybe the modern Reggaeton, you can’t do without dancing! In Cuba, music is history, it’s culture, it’s a cure for your soul. Every situation is good for dancing, especially within the most famous places of Havana City, like Tropicana, that has been offering great cabaret shows since 1939, or the Casa de la Musica di Miramar or the modern FAC, Fábrica de Arte Cubano. In fact, too many are the Casas de la Trova on the Island. The most famous is that of Santiago de Cuba, located in the central Calle Heredia, and open every day from 11 am.
Taste the real mojito…and so much more
Hemingway used to say: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita”. He referred to his favourite bars in Havana: La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita. It has never been so easy tasting a great mojito or daiquiri! And not only in these traditional bars, attended also by Pablo Neruda e Salvador Allende, Gary Cooper, Jean-Paul Sartre e Ezra Pound. If you want a Cuba Libre, a Canchánchara or a simple Ron con Hielo (rum with ice) you can’t go wrong in Cuba.
And for cigar lovers, what better place on Earth than this Island? In Pinar del Rio are located the tobacco plantations. Tobacco is still rigorously rolled-up by hands for the production of the most famous cigars in the world. There are also too many factories open to the public. A landmark? The Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás. It was founded in 1845 and it is one of the oldest and most famous cigar factories of Havana City.