written by Tim Farquhar
Arriving into Cuba is like a step back in time. Havana airport customs brought back memories of my visit to Russia 14 years ago, where there are no tv’s or digital screens, just a lifeless room where people line up to quickly move onto the next stage of their life.
Once cleared you head towards Havana and if you are lucky you’ll get one of the well-kept vintage cars to be your taxi and arrive to your hotel in a 1952 Chevy or similar.
First glimpse into La Habana and of the impressive Capitolio building which was the seat of government in Cuba until the Cuban Revolution in 1959, you’ll get a good idea that you are in a special place. We arrived into our hotel in Habana Vieja (Havana old town) which was surrounded by bars and restaurants playing wonderful Cuban music and people enjoying themselves. We are instantly transformed from tired long haul travelers to keen adventurers wanting to experience everything this city has to offer.
Wandering the streets in old Havana, you’ll get the chance to taste some of Cuba’s meals and most importantly sample the many cocktails built from Cuba’s favorite spirit, Rum. The famous Mojito, Pina Colada, Daquiri and Cuba Libre are just some of their specialities, sold everywhere and for the price of a few dollars you will be sure to try a few! Lobster is the main food specialty in Cuba and it also comes at a price unheard of in most countries so make the most of your opportunities while here! Other meals include some wonderful seafood and pork dishes which come with the customary rice, beans and salad and are a great meal to energise you for more touring or dancing to the salsa beats of the city.
The Cuban musicians (of which there are many) are a highly skilled bunch who tend to start playing multiple instruments from an early age and play in bars or restaurants every night of the week. Recently made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club, music and tourism for that matter is booming. For nightlife in Havana, it’s happening every day and if you are after something bigger than the bar scene, get to the Casa de la Musica (there are 2 in Havana). It won’t be an early night as you are in Latin America here so doors don’t open till 11pm, but well worth it as you’ll get to see some of Cuba’s finest musicians perform.
If you are keen to explore a little more of Cuba you can do a day trip (or overnight) to Vinales where you’ll escape the bustle of the city and wind down in the natural surroundings and many Tobacco plantations to see how Cuba’s famous cigars are made.
Another option is to head 300kms east to the Caribbean coast and perfect beaches close to Trinidad. Trinidad is pure perfection. You can easily drift off into a siesta under the deep blue sky, shady palm trees, crystal clear water and waves gently lapping on the shore in the light warm breeze.
Trinidad itself is a very picturesque town to spend a few days, horses are still a main form of transport here for the locals and you’ll be sure to come across someone wanting to take you horse riding for a day. Up the top of the town near the cathedral you’ll find some great bars and restaurants and its own Casa de la Musica to keep you moving to the salsa beat, but here you can relax and recover on Playa Ancon the next day to recharge and do it all again.
Check out some of my photos from my recent trip to Cuba on our Facebook page here.
Where I stayed:
If you only have around a week to spend in Cuba then I highly recommend combining Havana and Trinidad and staying in some of the luxury hotels the country has to offer. On my recent trip I was lucky enough to experience these 2 hotels, both of which I would happily recommend;
Saratoga Hotel, Havana
The Saratoga exudes style and overlooks the architectural marvels along the Paseo del Prado. It has a fantastic location within walking distance of all the sights of Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) and its best feature is the rooftop pool and bar which offers unsurpassed views over the city.
Iberostar Grand Hotel, Trinidad
Unquestionably the best hotel in Trinidad and in my opinion Cuba’s finest. Staffs are professional and friendly and the hotel also has a fantastic restaurant. The highlight of the hotel is its large beautiful rooms with balconies offering views over a peaceful plaza and on a clear day down to the Caribbean. Must be booked well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Discover our range of Cuba tours, all of which include private touring and expert English speaking guides.