The Travel 2
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We went to Cuba in April, and had 12 full days to explore the island. From Malta, we hopped on a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, and then continued our journey to Havana. We booked all our accommodation beforehand, through Airbnb. Ourexpectations about the island were all over the place, since this was our first long haul trip.
We landed in Havana but this was not our first stop. We got a taxi from the airport (TIP: barter your way around prices) to get to Viñales. Viñales is a very rural town, West of Cuba and South West of Havana, in the province of Piñar del Rio.
While in Viñales we stayed at Jose’s casa particular. The casa was in a quiet area in Viñales and just a 5 minute walk from the centre.
Here are 5 things to do while you’re in Viñales…
1. Smoke a pure, Cuban cigar
It is said that the tobacco in the Piñar del Rio area is the best in the world. I urge you to go find out for yourself! Here you can revel into a plantation tour and learn how to hand roll your own cigar. Finally, enjoy your rolled cigar with some fine Cuban rum.
2. Visit the Gran Taverna de Santo Tomaso
This is going to impress you even if you’re not into caving. Do not opt for the tour if you’re claustrophobic.
3. Go horse riding
A horse riding tour will leave you bewildered by the enormity of the valley, and you’ll acquire an equine friend by the end of it.
4. Visit Cayo Jutias
A white Caribbean beach. Need I say more?
5. Have lobster for dinner
This is a speciality in the region. The lobster is served in its own sauce, which makes the dish tasty and salty.
We were helped by our casa particular hosts to organize all of these activities. We did not plan beforehand and planned our itinerary upon arrival.
While in Viñales we booked a bus with the help of the tourist information office in the village. We caught the bus early in the morning and braved our way through a 9 hour journey from Viñales to Trinidad. The bus stopped at a small village, and after a satisfying lunch we continued on our way.
Trinidad is a picturesque and colonial city in the region of Sancti Spiritus. In my opinion this city is not as laid back as Viñales and offers an awesome night life scene. We stayed at Regla’s casa particular. The hosts were awesome! Apart from being very helpful and welcoming, they came for us at the bus stop to take our luggage and show us the way to their house. The room was very clean and upon request, breakfast was served every morning on the rooftop of their house. It was beautiful to wake up with the smell of coffee brewing, and enjoy breakfast with Trinidad’s panoramic view under your nose.
Here are 5 things to do while you’re in Trinidad…
1. Go to Plaza Mayor
Every night there’s live music being played on the famous stairs of the plaza. Just follow the music, and you’re there. The entrance fee is around 2 CUC, and you could chill on a chair with a mojito in hand, or join the crowd and dance to some live salsa.
2. Playa Ancon
Playa Ancon is another Caribbean gem. This stretch of white sand and turquoise waters is magical. To top it off, you can buy freshly cut coconuts for as little as 1 CUC.
3. Museo Nacional de la Lucha contra Bandidos
Follow the yellowish bell tower and you’ll find yourself in a post-war museum highlighting weapons, armoury and other objects used during the war. The entrance fee is of 1 CUC. This is also the the place to go to get stellar views of the city. Go at sunset for warm hues and romantic views.
4. Admire local art
Trinidad is the place where we saw a lot of honest, raw local talent. Local talent is anything from dancing to playing musical instruments, weaving cane, lace making, painting; the list is endless.
TIP: If you would like to buy some beautiful paintings to hang in your house, this is where you should buy them from!
5. Roam the streets
The streets of Trinidad are where most of the postcard-like, colourful photos of Cuba are taken. We did a walking tour around this photogenic city, following suggestions from our Lonely Planet book*.
After our three days in Trinidad, we went to Santa Clara with a taxi collectivo. This was a short journey and we arrived on the doorstep of our Airbnb in Santa Clara at around midday. Santa Clara is a historical town in the region of Villa Clara. We only spent two days here, but it was just enough to understand and immerse ourselves in the rich history of this city. Our casa was very central. The host also gave us some history lessons. She was a lovely woman of 80+ years that was happy to share her unfortunate experiences of past Cuban regimes.
Here are 5 things to do while you’re in Santa Clara…
1. Tren Blindado
We visited the memorial where the Battle of Santa Clara took place. The train involved in the battle is still there and the derailed cars of the train are used as the rooms for the museum.
2. Che y Niño
Ten minutes on foot from the Tren Blindado memorial and you’ll find yourself in front of a statue portraying Che with a kid in his arms (symbolizing the next generation). This is such a delicate and complex piece of art, and if you look closely, you will notice smaller sculptures incorporated on the late national bank President’s statue.
The Boulevard is a pedestrian area with plenty of local clothes and shoe shops on each side. If you walk the Boulevard, it will take you to Santa Clara’s Parque Vidal. This park is the hub of the city, and the only wi-fi spot in Santa Clara.
4. Murals and frescoes
Graffiti are a thing in Santa Clara thanks to artists that contributed to these marvellous works of art. Each mural depicts a strong message, mainly about war, poverty and the embargo with the US.
5. Che memorial and mausoleum
A grand memorial for Che was in order in the town where Che himself made his first triumph against the brutal regime of Batista, and Cubans made it a point to be exactly that.
The memorial is on a hilly area of Santa Clara, and Che sits on the top, facing an enormous plaza. Under Che’s statue lies a museum, which has a lot of Che’s memorabilia inside. Entrance is free of charge and photo cameras are not allowed. In front of the museum there’s a huge mausoleum with all the fallen people in the communist war.
Since they all make part of the same island, it was special to find out that Viñales, Trinidad and Santa Clara are quite different from each other. We recommend the three villages/cities to everyone visiting the gorgeous island of Cuba. From the tobacco in Viñales, the coloured streets in Trinidad and the rich history in Santa Clara, we believe that our stay in all three locations was unforgettable. All three locations helped create a unique depiction of Cuba. After two days in Santa Clara we continued our journey to our last stop – the fascinating Cuban capital, la Havana.
*Referring to the Lonely Planet book, Trinidad walking tour – ISBN: 978-1-74321-678-1, page 279.