I actually went to Cuba back in 2014 but I’ve decided I want to start doing throwback Thursdays of some of my favourite trips. So often I take pictures of trips never really to revisit them again so I think it’ll be a nice way to re-live those memories.
We started the trip in Old Havana. More than anywhere else in Cuba, it was here that I felt like I’d been transported back in time to the 1950’s. There was not a single modern structure I saw in those old cobblestone streets that interrupted the view of the beautiful Spanish colonial houses, churches and piazzas. Of course I was aware before I went of Cuba’s political situation, but I didn’t realise quite how unique and distinctive it actually was. I thought that the 1950’s cars you see in pictures were mainly tourist attractions, and few and far between. I was so wrong! Everybody drives them – you might see the odd modern car but it’s quite rare. That nostalgic feeling of being in a 1950s film was an amazing one that I’d never felt before and probably never will again – even if I go back to Cuba in the future. I think my favourite moment in Havana was hanging out on the Malecon watching the sun go down with a bottle of Havana Club rum.
Viñales, our next stop, is most famous for it’s tobacco plantations and huge, lush limestone mountains. One of my fondest Cuba memories was sitting in our cabin here with views of the mountains watching a far-off storm and smoking the local cigars. The next day we did a horse-riding tour through the plantations where they take you to watch locals wrap cigars and have coffee and chat. They do this in their workshops which are dark and have huge, tobacco leaves dangling all over the walls and ceiling – the smell and atmosphere is amazing.
We took the amazingly comfortable bus to our next stop at Cienfuegos. This is a smaller, less well-known town with wide, empty streets lined with pretty pastel-coloured colonial buildings. Outside of the centre, though, it felt weirdly more 1950s America rather than old Cuba, with lots of cute vintage style fast-food places. We probably had our must fun night out here. We met a local man on the beach that said he would take us out to a good Salsa place in town that night. To get there we ended up taking a rickshaw with blasting music and disco lights! I later discovered that I am totally hopeless at salsa dancing. Apparently, according to the local guy that had the misfortune to dance with me, I move too fast!
Our final stop, and probably my favourite one of the trip, was Trinidad. The town is quite small and centred around a beautiful Cathedral silhouetted against the Escambray mountains. Being higher up, not only do you get amazing views but the temperature is also slightly cooler. Trinidad is also a UNESCO world heritage site and is the best preserved colonial town in Cuba – from the Cathedrals and museums to the amazingly colourful and neat little houses lining the cobblestone streets. If you’re into your photography there’s a photo op here at every corner.
We stayed at photographer and horse-rider Julio Muñoz and his wife’s Casa Particular. They were amazingly friendly and have the most lovely home with tiled floors, arched ceilings and beautiful colonial, dark-wood rocking chairs. Julio organized a horse-riding tour for us to the nearby mountains for our first day. The scenery was beautiful and we had an amazing lunch at our destination but on the way back I got a really bad stitch from the trotting. It was so embarrassing but it got so excruciating that they had to call some friends to come and pick me up and take me back to the hotel! It wasn’t embarrassing for long though as I got to chat in my bad Spanish to the couple that picked me up and they were so friendly and kind that it ended up being a total non-event 🙂
On our second day here we took a Rambo tour – that’s a tour in a converted Russian army truck (!) to the nearby mountains and waterfalls of Topes de Collantes. About two-thirds of the way we blew a tire and were stuck in the middle of nowhere on terrible dirt roads. As annoying as it was at first, it ended up be being one of the most fun parts of the trip. Luckily (we hadn’t seen a person or miles) there were some road workmen further up the road and one very kindly offered to take all of us (this was about 10 people in one normal-sized car!) the rest of the way. The guide, who was amazing, kept telling us that he was glad this had happened as this was a true Cuban experience! We made it to our destination where we had fresh ground coffee and swam in the waterfall. I’ve still no idea how he did it, but the guide made a few calls and even though we were in a ridiculously remote place and presumably needed special tires, he had the truck all fixed up by the time we left.
Although we purposely avoided the more touristy beaches to the north of Cuba (though I’ve heard they’re very pretty) we thought we’d we’d spend our last few days in nearby seaside town La Boca. This is where J thought he saw he saw the most enormous spider leg in the world coming out of the cistern. Obviously I started freaking out so we (he) opened it and it turned out to be the cutest little frog! The next two days we took it easy and rode bikes to the beautiful tropical beaches and snorkelled. I can’t stay far from the sea for long 🙂
Eating: We had prepared ourselves for terrible food in Cuba as everything we heard about it was so negative. I was surprised to find that it was actually really good, not only at selected places but everywhere. I think it’s gotten a bad rep because a lot of it is quite basic – pork chops and rice, beans, grilled fish etc But while you won’t get any ‘braised, Tuscan kale with reduction of whale saliva foam,’ the basic meals are actually really tasty. One restaurant that was a bit fancier and had great food and beautiful decor was Sol Ananda in Trinidad. They also had amazing live music in the evening. There is amazing live music everywhere in Cuba, and if you go you’d better learn to love Guantanamera. They play it. all. the. time.
Sleeping: Hotel Raquel in Havana is a colonial style hotel and has a gorgeous, luxurious lobby and rooms (pic above). Loz Jasmines in Viñales has amazing views (from the pool as well) of the mountains and has room or cabin options. We opted for the cabins that had their own balcony and garden area with a stunning view. Breakfast is a huge affair in a lovely old building – again with stunning views. Julio Muñoz’s Casa Particular in Trinidad.