I’d been feeling myself drawn towards Cuba for many years. I almost went five years ago but chickened out, then spent the next four years working in Australia to be able to go back. I am very grateful I did because Cuba is now one of my top favourite countries I’ve ever visited. It’s hard to describe the allure of Cuba with its cheerful yet dilapidated buildings, the strong sense of Communism on every corner, the broad smile on the faces of grandmothers sitting out the front of their ‘Casas’. It’s a magical country in a very different way. Here are just a few of the best things I did in Cuba:
1. Wandering the streets of Old Havana (Habana Vieja) taking in the interesting, decrepit buildings, eating dirt-cheap lobster and interacting with the locals when they all come on to their balcony towards the end of the day.
2. Being driven around the sights of Havana in a purring Chevrolet Bel Air. We hired the car for an hour for 25CUC to zoom around the main tourist attractions of Havana such as the Plaza de la Revolución and Parque Metropolitano.
3. Salsa-ing until the early hours of the morning with local Cubans. Many nights we club-hopped around Havana going to the most vibrant and interesting bars in the area. Cubans are great salsa teachers and they’ll constantly ask you to dance.
4. Relaxing on Playa Santa María; Havana’s most beautiful pearly-sand beach. The water is clear and calm and it’s easy to find a secluded spot with coastline this long. Bring some snacks as there aren’t many food places nearby.
5. Watching the sunset over the entire city while sipping Cuba Libres from the rooftop bar in Hotel Inglaterra, Old Havana.
6. Travelling Cuba like the Cubans do. To go between cities in Cuba we preferred to have an adventure by taking local transport. We caught local buses (güagüas) shared taxis (taxi collectivos) and open back trucks (camiones). Frantically running after these hot, sticky trucks and fighting for a seat was the norm.
7. Having front-row-seats to a criminal being apprehended on a local bus. The guy being arrested made a run for it as soon as he got off the bus and everyone whooped and cheered when the police ran after him. Read the whole story here.
8. Continually running into the group I met at Hamel Hostel in Havana, splitting up then meeting again in Casa Particulares across the entirety of Cuba. Due to the lack of Internet, every reunion and goodbye was emotional; not knowing if we’d manage to encounter each other again in the next town.
9. Lazing on the beautiful white-sand of Playa Ancon near Trinidad, relaxing under grass shelters, drinking coco-locos (coconut, honey and rum drink) and occasionally making a sand castle next to the crystal-clear agua.
10. Setting out at around 5pm each day to photograph the colourful heritage buildings and the Cubans who live in them. Each afternoon, after the heat of the day had passed; everybody would come out on the street to play music, games of chess or dominoes. Trinidad is exciting and dynamic at this time of day. As the sun slipped away I would climb the hill and go to one of the roof-top bars for a Mojito as I watched the sunset over the distant ocean.
11. Experiencing the enthusiastic music culture of Trinidad. We spent our nights dancing to live local music either in the plaza or at the famous Casa de la Música before heading to Disco Ayala; a nightclub in a cave which has 5 dance-floors and plays pop and reggaeton music. The cave-nightclub is dreamlike, a once in a lifetime kind of experience!
12. Exploring the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy on Cayo Granma near Santiago de Cuba. The complete island was totally flattened and because most of the inhabitants were poor fisherman they have not been able to rebuild. Instead, houses are spliced together using recycled metal and woods collected after the storm.
13. Trekking to viewpoints and water-filled caves in Baracoa National Park near Boca de Miel. After clambering up to the top of a mountain to see a panoramic view of Baracoa, we waited out the rain drinking fresh coffee with locals. Next we trekked to an underground cave and swam in the pure, translucent waters inside before heading to deserted white-sand beach; Playa Blanca.
14. Rocking out at a live music set for famous Cuban singer Laritza Bacallao. She just happened to be in town when we were in Viñales so we snuck in a bottle of rum and danced alongside huge congregations of Cuban families.
15. Horse riding around the limestone mountains and tobacco farmland surrounding Viñales for only 5CUC per hour (that’s seriously cheap!). I was taken to gorgeous viewpoints, rustic tobacco farms and a huge cliff painted with a prehistoric mural.
16. Taking a day trip to one of Cuba’s most stunning but remote beaches; María la Gorda. This bay has some of the best diving in Cuba with black coral, reef walls, deep drop-offs and swiss-cheese swim-throughs. Some of the best diving I’ve ever done!
Currency: 2 Currencies – Peso (CUP) and Convertible Peso (CUC)
$1 USD = 26.5CUP or 1.00CUC
I was here: January 2015