This post is a guest post from Claudia Tavani of My Adventures Across The World.
Cuba is a gorgeous country which is on most travellers’ bucket list. It is a great mixture of pretty colonial cities, lush nature, white sand beaches with crystal clear waters and coral reef, great salsa music and a culture that is deeper than what the hardened surface may allow travellers to see. In fact, most people I know who have been to Cuba (including myself) keep going back, to explore more of the country.
For those going there for the first time and who only have a couple of weeks to explore it, here is a list of what I think are the five unmissable places to visit in Cuba. Disclaimer: this list is by no means exhaustive!
Nobody would ever dream of going to Cuba without visiting Havana. The Cuban capital is a fascinating mixture of glorious buildings such as the Capitolio Nacional; interesting museums such as the Museo de la Revolucion; lovely squares such as the pretty Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas with its book market, and Plaza Vieja; the mighty Malecon (the waterfront where the locals love to walk at sunset), and decadence.
Havana is lively with music; some of the best restaurants in the country are here; not to mention La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita, Hemingway’s favourite places for mojitos and daiquiris perhaps a bit touristy, nevertheless places of historic and cultural interest, where the drinks are tasty! Top this off with the shiny vintage cars that can be spotted all over, and Havana is a paradise for photographers.
Valle de Vinales
The Valley of Vinales is one of the must sees in Cuba. It was my last stop when I visited, and it felt like the cherry on the cake. A pretty and relaxed, yet lively small town, it is a great starting point to visit the valley, something that can be done on a hike, on bikes or even on horses. I biked it, and I found this a good way to get closer to the mogotes – isolated steep-sided residual hills generally having a rounded, tower-like shape and normally surrounded by nearly flat alluvial plains, typical of the Valley of Vinales.
A good tour takes visitors to the Mural de la Prehistoria, which portrays world history up until the age of humans on a rock wall and which can actually be seen from a distance. Another stop is one of the many tobacco plantations, where tobacco is still cultivated and picked in the most traditional way to then make some of the best cigars in the world.
Other places that can be visited are the Cuevas de Palmerito, a cave system with an underground river it is pleasant to swim; and Los Aquaticos, an isolated and tiny community whose people believe in the healing power of water. The view from there is magnificent. Another stop should be the view point from Hotel Los Jazmines, to take incredible panoramic pictures of the valley below.
Trinidad is one of those Cuban jewels that one simply can’t miss. It is a perfectly kept colonial city, UNESCO World Heritage Site, packed with museums, such as the Museo Historico Municipal, from whose tower I enjoyed an incredible view, painters’ studios, artesania shops, and markets. Restaurants in Trinidad are located in antique colonial homes: while waiting to be seated in a lush garden on the patio, I would browse to the antique forniture collection.
Trinidad is very lively. At every turn one may take, somebody will be playing some salsa tunes. At night, locals and tourists alike all meet next to the cathedral to have a drink, listen to live music and dance.
One of the best places to visit from Trinidad is Valle de Los Ingenios, where most of the sugar can plantations used to be located. There are many haciendas here, the most popular one is the Manaca Iznaga, which has a 44 metres high tower which was used to control the slaves working in the plantation. There even is an antique mill to crush the sugar canes and extract sugar, which used to be pushed by slaves.
Cienfuegos and the Bahia de Cochinos
I have heard people say that Cienfuegos is not worth visiting, and wondered if we were even talking of the same place. I totally loved it, so much so that it may well be my favourite city in Cuba. Like Trinidad, this is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is right by the sea and has a waterfront too, so it is breeze and the temperature is pleasantly fresh at night. Cienfuegos is the perfect starting point to explore the gorgeous Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of the Pigs), where diving junkies and people who love snorkelling will have an amazing experience browsing the incredible coral reef and swimming in the crystal clear waters.
Most people don’t even know where Baracoa is. Check your map, and plan to go. It is a beautiful little city in the Guantanamo Province, a bit hard to reach (the only road connecting it to the rest of the country is La Farola, which was built in 1964), that enjoys a very tropical weather: sunny and hot, with every day rain to cool down a bit. Baracoa is a great starting point to hike the mighty El Yunque, a flat top mountain that can be seen from the city, and to navigate one of the 29 rivers that surround it. From Baracoa I also went to Playa Maguana, one of the best beaches in Cuba.
The bonus? Baracoa is the gourmet capital of Cuba. Food there is simply tasty. I highly recommend to try shrimps and octopus in coconut sauce: they are delicious!
Have you been to Cuba? What are your must sees there?
Claudia Tavani is from Cagliari (Sardinia) and is obsessed with travelling. A former human rights lawyer and academic, after devoting her life to the protection of cultural identity, in November 2013 Claudia decided to give in to her biggest passion and started travelling around Latin America, and she has hardly stopped since. Blogging came as a natural consequence, for Claudia wanted to let her family and friends be updated with her adventures.