15 days in Cuba
After a 4-month trip around Asia, we crossed the world (literally) to discover the controversial country of Cuba.
Cienfuegos (2 days)
It’s a small colonial town by the water, not so touristic as other famous stops but definitely worth stopping by and wandering around the colourful streets.
For those who don’t know, chess is a big deal in Cuba, especially since José Raúl Capablanca became world champion in 1914. Cubans are very proud of it and very good at it also! You will always find a chess club in almost any city you visit and locals are usually happy to play a few games with you. We had our cousin meet us and travel with us for a few days in Cuba and he’s a big fan of chess. So much so that he had private chess classes with a chess champion once a week over skype. So we went into this chess club in Cienfuegos where we challenged the owner to a game, which he happily accepted. The game started, and both sides played quick moves, which was very impressive for those watching. What was even more impressive was hearing the owner say “check” and our cousin admitting defeat after only 45 seconds!
Trinidad (3 days)
Trinidad was our favourite town in Cuba. Quite small but very lively, filled with great restaurants and bars, and music playing everywhere.
- Have some mojitos at the Plaza Mayor for sunset
- Snorkeling at the beach near Boca
- Do the hike to the waterfalls in Salto del Caburní
- Discover the small shops and bars around Trinidad, there is live music and small art galleries everywhere
Cayo Guillermo (2 days)
Both Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Coco are a must stop if you’re looking to spend some time in a beautiful beach. The way there is also beautiful so the trip is definitely worth it.
- On the way there stop by Sancti Espiritus, another small and colourful colonial town worth visiting
- Sleep in Morón, if you don’t want to stay in a resorts, options are much cheaper and it’s only 30 minutes away from the cayos
- Spot the flamingos along the way
- Rent a big cabana bed at the beach for a few dollars only
- Learn how to kitesurf at the beach
- Watch the sunset on the road that crosses from Morón to the cayos
Before we started our big trip, we met Patricia and António who had lived in Singapore for 4 years for work and had the opportunity to travel all around Asia. They ended up giving us a bunch of tips and advise which you followed religiously throughout the trip. We even mentioned how we wanted to meet them for coffee if we had the change just to thank them for al the amazing tips so you can imagine our surprise when, out of nowhere, in the middle of Cayo Guillermo, they pass by us! This is even more incredible because, a few years ago we also bumped into them, completely unplanned in the middle of Peru. We’re not sure where we’ll bump into them next; all we know is that next time it won’t be just the two of them, they we’re expecting their first child J
Havana (5 days)
Havana is a huge city. When you hear about Havana people are probably referring to Habana Vieja, which is the old part of town with all the colonial style buildings. This is definitely the best place to stay.
- Go for drinks and food at the El Chanchullero and Dante
- Visit the Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) at night – it’s an amazing art-gallery/bar/nightclub, very unique, you won’t see anything like it anywhere in the world. Be aware that it closes for a month every 3 months so they can renovate the decoration and the art exhibitions.
- Listen to some live jazz music at the La Zorra y el Cuervo
- Watch the sunset at the Castillo del Morro
- Have some mojitos in the terraza of Hotel Raquel
- Visit the old bookshop Libreria Victoria where they sell really cool original posters from the revolution time
- Go to Playas del Este and enjoy some beach time
We decided that we wanted to spend New Year’s in Havana; we’d read a lot about how much fun it was so we didn’t want to miss it. We started off by bar hopping our way to midnight, drinking mojitos and listening to all the live bands that were playing everywhere. All the people and noise on the streets indicated that a party was bound to happen at midnight. However, when we arrived to the square in front of the Cathedral for the countdown, we were very surprised when midnight struck and no big celebration happened. On the contrary, people seemed to be very contained and quiet. We started asking around and we realised that the people of Havana decided to celebrate New Year’s Day, which is also Cuba’s Revolution day, in a discreet way out of respect to Fidel Castro’s recent passing.
The only tradition that wasn’t forgotten was the throwing of water buckets from the balconies to the people on the street, which of course we learnt of the hard way...!
Viñales (3 days)
Completely different from anything we had visited before in Cuba, this is the real countryside, where the “campesinos” take care of their coffee and tobacco plantations.
- Visit the valley and all the tabacco and coffee plantations
- Spend a day in the swimming pool of Hotel Ermita – it can get very hot in Viñales and the view here is amazing, especially for sunset
- Try the bar Tres Jotas for a few drinks and the restaurant Dulce Vita for delicious homemade pasta
In order to get to Viñales from Havana we asked around on the streets for a taxi driver that would be willing to take us there. We found José, a nice guy who knew a lady in Viñales who had a nice “casa particular” for us to stay. When we got to Viñales we went straight to meet this lady, who happened to have her house fully booked. In Cuba not having a place to stay already booked is not a problem because if there is no availability at the Casa Particular you’re at, they will happily call all their friends until they find a place for you. In the beginning this seemed very generous of the Cubans, we couldn’t believe how nice of them to spend half an hour on the phone trying to find a place for us. But after 3 or 4 times we figured there should be an explanation. That’s when we found out about the commission system. In Cuba they have a “sharing” intrinsic rule that says that every time you find a tourist deal for one of your friends, family or acquaintances you’re entitled to half of the profit. This was perfect for us because, as there is practically no internet on the Island, it’s hard to book places to stay; and it’s obviously very profitable for the locals. It’s a win-win situation!