#cuba #travel #havana #trinidad #varadero
Cuba is one country that you could say hasn't seen the changes that time brings. Live music coming from here and there along the alleyways, vintage cars cruising through the streets, and magnificent, grand buildings dating back to the colonial era are all part of mystical Cuba. The country also boasts tremendous natural beauty. Being an island nation, Cuba features a coastline stretching for over 5,000 km. The electrifying blue water with coral reefs glimmering through and the lush forests that surround the beaches have played a terrific role throughout history giving refuge to revolutionaries, hosting presidents from around the world, and giving inspiration to artists such as Hemingway! If you are planning on exploring this diverse island country, read on and find out the attractions that you just can’t miss!
Old Havana, known as Habana Vieja in Spanish, is one of the most well-preserved pieces of Cuban history. It is filled to the brim with historical relics and neoclassical buildings allowing you to be instantly transported to 200 years back! Extensive renovation work is being carried out to bring the old historically significant buildings back to life. The home of the Cuban Baroque Catedral de San Cristobal and the surrounding Plaza de la Catedral are two of the most charming places to visit in Old Havana. You should also visit the Bodeguita del Medio, the restaurant famed to be a favorite hangout of Hemmingway. The military fortress at Castillo de la Real Fuerza is also a majestic structure that you just have to see. A walk down the old gathering spot of commons, Plaza Vieja is also among the top attractions to visit while exploring Old Havana. The Casa del Conde Jaruco, showcasing splendid stained-glass windowpanes and built in the 18th century is located in Plaza Vieja. You should at least spend a day in Old Havana! However, if time permits, you should spend even more time exploring this amazing piece of history.
A visit to Cuba is incomplete if you don’t go to the beaches and what’s better than to start with the best one- Varadero. It is one of the most famous ones in Cuba and is lined along the Peninsula de Hicacos. The peninsula juts out from the northern coast of Cuba into the sea and a drawbridge is a connecting link to the mainland. The white sandy beaches sparkle under the bright sun and the turquoise waves beautifully wash them. The sides of the beaches are lined by palm trees beyond which are lines of about 50 hotels to live in. there are more interesting aspects to Vadadero than just the excellent beaches. You have to visit the two caves in this region- the Cueva de Ambrosio and the Cueva de Musulmanes. You should also visit the Varadero Ecological Park to get a taste of the magnificent flora and fauna that Cuba has to offer.
You could have a terrific lunch or romantic dinner at the small restaurant in Parque Josone, where you will find a magnificent flower garden along with a small lake and a swimming pool. The waves allow for all kinds of activities such as swimming, diving, snorkeling, and especially deep-sea fishing. You could go for other exciting activities such as skydiving or golf in Varadero too.
Cuba is an elusive mixture of the old interspersed with some of the finest beaches in the world. So, if it is the old that you are looking for, then a visit to Trinidad should just do the trick. As you walk into Trinidad, you would instantly feel that you are walking through a world that does not exist today. This city has been so wonderfully restored that it is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cobbled streets and the restored buildings together make way for a magical ambiance in this city. Most of the relics that you see have been constructed between the 17th and 19th centuries allowing you to witness first-hand what life was like back then.
The city’s central, cobbled square, the Plaza mayor is much visited by tourists and even you shouldn’t miss it. The Church of the Holy Trinity is a neoclassical architectural feature looking over the square and another must-visit attraction in Trinidad. The incredible bell tower of the Church and Monastery of Saint Francis, the decorated art gallery in Casa de Aldeman Ortiz, the Palacio Brunet built in the early 19th century featuring excellent frescoes, and the Museum of Colonial Architecture are some of the top places to see in Trinidad. If you are still looking for more, a drive to Valle de Los Ingenious, also listed as a World Heritage Site is going to be a great experience. Several relics and many monuments are dating back to the 19th century in this place.
If you want to have some fun beach time but avoid the crowd that swarms through popular beach destinations such as Varadero, then you should head to Guardalavaca. Situated in the Holguin Province of Cuba, this is a much quieter and calmer beach destination. The beaches are lined by lush vegetation allowing you to easily find a shady corner to enjoy the sea washing the beach while avoiding the hot tropical sun. The seafloor is covered in a plethora of coral reefs and other marine biodiversity allowing divers and snorkelers some exciting sightings.
There are many options for day trips to places around Guardalavaca. These include trips into the jungle and the sea on boats or cruises. You could even go for a day of sightseeing in the nearby Santiago de Cuba. Bahia de Naranjo towards the western coast of Guardalavaca features three amazing islands- Cayo Naranjo island has an amazing Dolphinarium where you could see and interact with these amazing marine animals up close and personal. Chorro de Maita is a nearby Indian burial ground wherein a Taino Indian village has been recreated for your convenience.
Paya Paraíso is a stunning beach located on Cayo Largo del Sur Island in Cuba. It is a beach destination and a marvelous one at it! It is one of the most calming and best beaches in all of Cuba! The strand of sand adorning the coast is powdery white and fine. It is washed by the amazing baby blue waters of the sea in this region. The effect is very dramatic and wholly mesmerizing. On the western edge of this terrific island, the sea waters merge with the similarly amazing Playa Sirena.
If you are looking for a solitary respite among the beaches away from the everyday crowd, going to Cayo Coco could just do the thing for you. It could be regarded as one of the most idyllic and isolated beaches of Cuba. The islands of Cayo Coco and the nearby Cayo Guillermo are mentioned in the novels Islands in the Stream and The Old Man and the Sea, both written by Ernest Hemingway. Cayo Coco is a part of the archipelago of Sabana-Camaguey and located in Jardines del Rey. Though the island is connected to the mainland through a bridge, most travelers take an aerial approach to the island and travel by air.
The prime attraction on this island would be the many beaches dazzled by the tropical sun. On the Atlantic Ocean side, you would find the beach of Playa Los Flamencos. It stretches out for 5 km and holds an amazing appeal to any incoming visitor. Playa Prohibida is unexplored and underdeveloped and offers a much more solitary, natural atmosphere to revel in. There are plenty of exciting birding opportunities available on the island. While you are on this island, you should make it a point to also visit Cayo Guillermo which is connected through a causeway. There are ravishing beaches to be explored on this island too such as the stunning Playa Pilar.
Valle de Viñales
Situated towards the northern side of Pinar del Rio in the Sierra de Los Organos region, Valle de Viñales features an amazing national park (Parque Nacional Viñales) featured in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The steep hills composed of limestone abundantly found in this region are called mogotes and give rise to a scenic, dramatic landscape.
The floors of this valley area are rich in nutrients and generally used for cultivation purposes. Tobacco and various fruits and vegetables are grown in this region. The best thing about this national park is that it offers terrific opportunities to adventurers to go hiking expeditions or simply go horseback riding. If you are short on time you can come to Valle de Viñales as a day trip option from Havana- numerous tour companies arrange such trips.
Castillo de San Pedro del Morro
Castillo de San Pedro del Morro is situated about 10 km towards the southwestern side of the second-largest city in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba. It is a grand, magnificent fortress built in the 17th century by the Spanish and stands tall near the entrance to the Bay of Santiago. The gigantic structure was designed way back in 1587 but it took decades to build it and was finally completed in the late 17th century. Initially, the purpose of building the gigantic fortress was to prevent unprecedented attacks from pirates. It was then converted to a prison for a while in the late 1700s followed by conversion to its former glory as a fortress.
This is an interesting place to visit if you are up for a dose of pirate history. The grand structure has many secrets to tell you and you have to be there to experience the majesty of it. There is a small museum within the fortress that shares such stories along with multiple viewpoints that look out into the stunning bay.
Since you’ll be staying in Santiago de Cuba while exploring this fortress, you should also note the other places of interest in the city. You should visit the Diego Velazquez Museum and also Cementerio de Santa Ifigenia where some of the famous military personnel of Cuba rest in peace. If you want to see the natural side of Cuba, drive to the nearby Parque Baconao. It is a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve and gives you a first-hand look into coffee plantations around with terrific, photographic natural views of the surrounding area from the top of a volcanic rock standing tall at a height of 1234 m.
Havana, Cuba’s cultural center has a lot to offer in terms of museums, fortresses, churches, public squares, and a terrific promenade. A visit t Cuba shall not be complete if you do not visit Havana. The first thing to see here would be the Malecon. It stretches for 7 km between Habana Vieja and Vedado and is the exclusive seafront promenade that Havana has to offer. It was conceived in 1901 though construction had started in 1902 and has progressed since then. There are a plethora of well-preserved buildings along the promenade built around the 20th century featuring an interesting confluence of various architectural styles such as Art Deco and Neo Moorish. These buildings have a unique yellow and pastel pink hue making them quite the subject for photographers.
For art lovers, the grandeur of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana is a must-visit site. There is a huge of Cuban as well as international artworks collected over the years housed in this museum.
Parque Historico Militar is another one of Havana's unmissable attractions. It features two fortresses- the Castillo de Los Tres Ryes del Morro, also called El Morro along with the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana. El Morro towers over the Bay of Havana and was constructed between the late 16th and early 17th centuries. This fortress too was built to fend off pirate attacks. There is a lighthouse in the area that was reconstructed in the 19th century with stone. However, the centuries-old lamp from the original lighthouse still shines strong even today!
Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana is a short walk away from this impressive structure and was built in the 1770s. it is the most expensive and the biggest fort ever to be constructed by the Spanish. During the Batista regime, the fort was converted into a prison. Che Guevara's headquarters. Be sure to be around this fort around 9 pm when a canon-firing ceremony is hosted by costumed performers dressed in 19th-century attire.
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