A Travellerspoint blog

Cuba

Cuba - Varadero

23 °C

Varadero is on the north Caribbean Coast and draws tourists visiting Cuba on pre-packaged holidays to relax in the sunshine and resorts. Although there is a beautiful beach and many nice resorts, Varadero doesn't have much else going for it except for the weather. And yes you've guessed it, the day we arrived it turned stormy and rained constantly, so we didn't see a glimmer of blue Caribbean sea. We were confined to the hop on hop off bus which took us down the long peninsular, lined by numerous complexes and resorts.

Sally and I headed to a great salsa class, where we learnt some moves with our very enthusiastic instructor. Meanwhile Paul went to explore some caves on the peninsular where he discovered hundreds of bats hiding out! In the evening we headed into a nearby resort and enjoyed a cabaret show and some ridiculously cheap cocktails...mmm! On our way back to Havana Paul stopped off at Matanzas to explore, where he was lucky enough to stumble across a local baseball game which he loved watching with some enthusiastic supporters.

We then returned to Havana for our last couple of days in Cuba. We stayed in a different Casa Particular, with another friendly family and explored the city a little more, including some restaurants, live music and lots of trips in the old car colectivos – 50 cents to go anywhere in the city they're headed!

It's been a great few weeks in Cuba with Paul's sister joining us on the road! However, we're pretty excited about getting back to modern-day conveniences and our next few days in Mexico City...

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 10:17 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Cuba - Santa Clara

26 °C

We headed back west again, and to break up the journey we stopped for the night in Santa Clara. This town is the place where Che Guevara took down an ammunition train, and therefore began the control of the Cuban Revolution along with Fidel Castro. Although this happened a good 50 something years ago (in December 1958), it is a hugely important part of Cuba's history, as they continue to be governed by Fidel Castro's brother Raul. The majority of Cuba's population are living on extremely low wages and rely on ration shops for the bulk of their food.

We were able to visit the site of the train derailment and battle, which has been turned into a place marking the uprising of the Cuban Revolution. Next we took a horse and carriage to the other side of town, which is one of the main modes of public transport in Santa Clara. We jumped out around the corner from the Che Guevara Monument and Mausoleum, and we visited the interesting museum which is housed underneath the statue.

We were also in luck when looking for a place for dinner, and got directed around corner and up a few flights of stairs by a friendly foreigner living in Santa Clara. We found ourselves on a small terrace overlooking the town in a restaurant called El Sol, where we had some of the best food we'd had since arriving in Cuba.

After a few days of sunshine we decided to head to coastal town of Varadero to check out the Caribbean coast.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 10:16 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Cuba - Camagüey

28 °C

A few more hours on a bus and we arrived Camaguey, as far east as we were going in Cuba. Camaguey is a beautiful bustling town with old buses puffing out fumes down the narrow windy streets. We took a cyclo ride to explore the maze of streets, and our friendly driver Christian showed us around the numerous hidden plazas, winding streets and parks in Camaguey. Although it is inland, the complex streets were designed to confuse invaders, in case the town was taken over by pirates (as was the case with many coastal towns at the time!)

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The house and art gallery of Joel Jover and his wife Ileana Sánchez, on the main plaza (Parque Ignacio Agramonte) was a nice spot to pop into, and the large church on the opposite side of the plaza was a peaceful spot to sit and relax amongst the bustling town.

One night we unassumingly bought tickets to the theatre, with no idea of what was actually on, it turned out to be one of Cuba's largest pop stars (Carlos Varela). The theatre turned into a pumping venue full of young Cuban music fanatics. The band was great, with some very skilled musicians, including his astonishing pianist (see video clip below)!

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 13:51 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Cuba - Trinidad

26 °C

Trinidad is a quaint Cuban town on the southern coast of Cuba. It's 500 year old town with Spanish Colonial architecture is one of the most preserved in the country with cobbled streets and old colourful houses lining the narrow streets. The houses are covered in red tiled roofs and we had a great view across the town from the top of Convent San Francisco de Asís.

Trinidad has a quiet central plaza with several steep streets leading away from it. Around the corner from the central plaza is a sloping street full of steps, and a stage, used most nights for live music and salsa dancing (Casa de la Musica), and we found it a great spot to sip away on Mojitos and enjoy some live Cuban music. There were also some fantastic and affordable dinner combinations on offer, mains with drinks and all sorts thrown in. Plus in practically every restaurant, there were very talented musicians playing away from a corner.

One day we took the rickety old Russian train ride out to the Valley of the Sugar Mills, over a few bridges and through gorgeous green hills, with great views out across the valley. It was a peaceful ride including visits to a couple of old mansions which used to operate as sugar mills. Cuba was the largest exporter of sugar in the world during the 18th and 19th century.

Trinidad is a great town to aimlessly wander and soak up the fascinating Cuban lifestyle of relaxing in the doorway of your old house, in a rocking chair, cigar in hand just watching the people go by.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 13:39 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Cuba - Cienfuegos

27 °C

After the beating city of Havana, Cinefuegos was a bit of a shock. It's pristinely clean streets and well preserved French buildings felt quite un-Cuban. Cinefuegos has a small town vibe with a gorgeous central plaza which houses a small Arc De Triumph, and is apparently Cuba's answer to Paris!

The town is situated at a bay with beaches and mountains nearby. We spent a day taking it easy and explored the giant peninsula, which the town spreads down, and discovered a couple of interesting old buildings, including the Palacio de Valle. We climbed to the top for a great view over the town and the bay. At the tip of the peninsula sits a small park, with a pergola where we sat and looked out into the calm bay surrounding us. One of the highlights was our charming Casa Particular, another beautiful old building, with a lovey room and en-suite, and a fabulous Cuban breaky (eggs, bread and fresh fruit).

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 13:36 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Cuba - Havana

27 °C

Cuba wasn't on our list when planning our adventure but after hearing from a few travellers how great it was and that things in Cuba are really about to change we started to consider it. Then when Paul's sister started talking about visiting Cuba, we decided to join her and booked our flights!

We flew in via San Salvador to Havana and braced ourselves for something quite different. The country has been run by Fidel Castro under a communist regime since 1959. Due to significant trade embargoes from by the USA and other countries, Cuba has almost been cut off by the rest of the world meaning that they have lived with very little since then. For example the majority of cars are still running from the 1950's and crumbling mansions continue to serve as people's homes. Only the Soviet Union (pre 1991) and China (now) have supported Cuba with products and infrastructure. It's only since Fidel stepped down in 2008 (his brother took over), that Cubans are starting to see change...such as the allowance to operate their own business (2011) and own mobile phones.

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Our first impressions were a little different as we where whisked away from the airport in a new Kia Carnival with driver chatting on his iPhone. But once we made it into the old town it felt like we had stepped back in time. We stayed in a Casa Particular which is a room in someone's home marked by a symbol on their door as there are no hostels in Cuba, and it was a great way to meet and support local people. Our hosts Wilfred and Mercedes were fantastic and very welcoming.

It was great to catch up with Sally (Paul's sister) who arrive a couple of days later. We explored the nearby area, checked out the Malecon and Old Town where USA cars from the 1950's and Russian Lada's from the 70's and 80's are everywhere. It's hard to know how some of them still run, but the locals have no choice but to repair. The old town is huge and has countless beautiful old buildings. Before the revolution, this was a rich country and you can tell...so many of the aging houses and buildings are grand and ornate. The lack of large stores, commercialism and advertising was refreshing, except for when you needed something! We got immersed in Cuba's other love, music. Live music is at pretty much every restaurant and bar, and the musicians are so talented. The late night jazz at La Zorra y El Cuervo was brilliant.

We took a day trip to Vinales, which was fantastic as we got to see how tobacco leaves are grown on a tobacco farm, dried and then how Cuban's hand roll their famous cigars in a factory. This coupled with tour of a rum factory, a boat trip through ancient caves and a view of the giant Mural de la Prehostorica.

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Due to Cuba's rapidly increasing tourist levels, in most large cities or tourist areas we were constantly approached by touters. As a result of the low wages and communist regimen in Cuba, tourism has become one of the only ways to make the extra money many need to get by.

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 22:51 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

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