Cuba is not only the largest island in the Caribbean, but also home to a diverse cultural and geographic landscape. White sand beaches, sunny skies and crystal clear waters may be the first thing to come to mind for many when Cuba is mentioned, while others may immediately be reminded of the world-famous music and musicians Cuba has given the world.
Cuba has many fascinating regions to visit, but Havana is where it all begins. With a chaotic collection of colonial architecture – pristine or crumbling, depending on the neighborhood – and enough antique American cars to satisfy any automobile enthusiast, this city has everything except a beach. Even so, there are still some fantastic views from the seaside walking street known as the Malecón, which is the place to stroll in the evenings, watching the waves break over the pedestrian guard rails as the sun sets over the horizon.
Exploring the winding streets of La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is an all day affair, but be sure to visit Plaza de Armas, the oldest public square in the city. For a taste of communist era Cuba, make a trip out to the Plaza de la Revolución and pay tribute to Che Guevara. Once back in the old city revel in the Cuba made famous by gangsters and gamblers with a stop at the La Terraza hotel bar at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This storied building has hosted everyone from Winston Churchill to Ernest Hemmingway to Al Capone.
Of course there’s much more to this Caribbean paradise than just its famous capital. Cuba is home to a complex, multi cultural society, made up of Spanish and African immigrants, as well as its native Indian population, and nowhere is this more apparent than the distinctly Caribbean coastal city of Santiago de Cuba, with its colorful buildings and even more colorful population.
Elsewhere, history buffs will get a thrill out of Santa Clara, site of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s final resting place and also his most famous victory during the revolutionary war that led to the downfall of the Batista regime. Trinidad too, is well worth a visit. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site, Trinidad is home to Cuba’s finest examples of charming, colonial-era buildings.
Cuba also offers some of the most spectacular beaches in the Caribbean. Varadero, just east of Havana, is where the most popular tourist resorts are to be found, while more risqué travelers will perhaps appreciate the nudist beaches on the small island of Cayo Largo. For the best diving and snorkeling meanwhile, few destinations can compare with Maria la Gorda.
No trip to Cuba would be complete however a fine cigar. For the easy option, visitors can take a tour of the legendary Partagas cigar factory in Old Havana, where they can watch master craftsmen roll the tobacco right on the premises. Alternatively, Pinar Del Rio, just west of Havana, is the epicenter of Cuba’s cigar industry, where tourists can view the rolling tobacco plantations for themselves, while taking a detour to see the spectacular Vinales National Park, a breathtaking landscape of jungles, mountains and caves that offers the best tourist facilities of all Cuba’s national parks.
Quite simply, Cuba is a fascinating country. With so much to offer and so much hospitality to go around, one visit is never enough.
Main attractions: Havana, Pinar Del Rio, Santiago de Cuba, Vinales National Park, Varadero, Cayo Largo, Maria la Gorda, Santa Clara, Trinidad.
Currency: Cuban Peso
Budget for one week: €400
Taxes and gratuity: Tipping is recommended
Official language: Spanish
Area: 42,426 sq mi
Electricity: 110V/60Hz or 220V/60Hz (North American, European, or Italian plug)