Cuba has been a top destination on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I dreamed of balmy nights infused with salsa music, azure waters, antique cars and cobbled streets lined with cigar smoking locals.
Sitting at the airport, waiting to board my flight, I realised in all my excitement and with my fantasies firmly intact, I didn’t actually know what to expect.
Would it meet my expectation of dreamy Havana nights and Hemingway tales?
Well, after two weeks of touring around Cuba, eating the local food, talking to people in the streets, swimming in waterfalls, rolling cigars, drinking Mojitos, learning about the revolution and of course bathing in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans, I can say that Cuba did not meet my expectations – it exceeded them!
When deciding what to write this post about, I had so many options, it was hard to decide. The effects of a 55 year embargo on a small country? How the country is being affected by the progressive relations with the U.S? What to expect when you visit Cuba? Tell you about my trip?
There is so much to cover and tell that I decided the best way for you to discover it is for you to go there for yourselves! However many people are unsure whether Cuba is the right holiday destination for them. The answer is yes. Cuba has something for everyone, so even if you were looking for a varied holiday or have different holiday expectations from your travel partner, Cuba is a place for everyone to enjoy and return home excited about.
Stepping out the late-70s style Jose Marti Airport in Havana, I was greeted by the hot humid tropical air, throngs of locals dressed in their brightly coloured, figure hugging clothes and historic cars picking up and dropping off excited visitors and my enthusiasm started to mount.
Two weeks later, arriving back at the airport with my new Caribbean suntan and more questions than I arrived with, I looked back on my trip with disbelief at all I had done over the last fortnight.
Cuba is more than just a beach destination or an interesting story on the evening news. It is a country bursting with offering and waiting to show off to the world all her best sides.
Here are my 7 reasons why Cuba should be the next destination on your bucket list.
One of the main reasons we travel is to explore other cultures. Cuba will not let you down here. After 55 years of being embargoed, visiting Cuba is like stepping in to a time machine and living in days gone by. Just walking through the streets of any Cuban city or town is like an open air theatre, as you watch the locals escape the evening heat of air-conditionless homes by meeting outdoors and playing music or smoking cigars and drinking the famous Cuban rum. Children playing in the streets rather than with their faces glued to screens. Old Chevy’s and Buicks cruising down the streets. Horse drawn carriages waking you up the as they trot past early in the morning to get a start on the day before the oppressive heat takes over. The communist governance is clear after any short conversation with a local or seeing the queues outside the bakeries and butcheries. Not many places in the world are tourist so submerged in the local culture without having to even try.
I think this was probably one of the aspects of Cuba I had least expected; the abundant nature and greenery surrounding you everywhere. Cuba has extremely fertile land due to it’s ample rainfall, creating one of the most important natural habitats in the Caribbean in terms of size, biodiversity and the number of endemic species and conservation.
Travelling through the Cuban county-sides you are surrounded by lush tropical greenery, not to mention hidden waterfalls and secret cenotes. Not only is does this make is a fantastic destination for nature lovers and bird watchers, but also for those looking for a more active holiday.
One of the most popular ways to see Cuba is by bicycle and it’s no wonder; with so much to see off the beaten track, visitors come in droves to cycle along the coastlines and through the forests of Cuba. Hiking is also hugely popular, with activity lovers stopping en route to swim in natural pools and zipline over valleys. As if Cuba didn’t have enough to offer on land, it’s underwater nature is just as beautiful, leading to it’s growing diving tourism.
4. BEACHES AND RELAXATION
Many holiday goers enjoy getting away from the daily grind by submerging in total relaxation and sunning themselves on a beautiful beach while being waited on hand and foot. To me and many others, this sounds fantastic and Cuba doesn’t disappoint! With resorts like Varadero, just a two hour drive from Havana, having approximately 50 hotels stretching along the peninsula of sandy white beaches, clear blue waters and tropical breezes, there is no reason to ever leave your sun chair – unless it’s to go snorkelling out on the reef to see the beautiful underwater life.
One my first days in Havana, I said to a member of my party as we set out exploring, “ I kind of expected music to just be emanating from the streets.” They laughed at me told me to check my expectations. Less than a minute later we turned a corner to be greeted by a bunch of friends sitting in a corner playing guitar and dancing salsa. This sound pretty much stayed with us through the city as musicians moved through the streets and cafes with their instruments and melodic voices, causing hips to sway and locals and visitors joining in the festivities. A visit to town’s like Trinidad will have you drinking Cuba Libre’s and dancing salsa in one of the open air live music bars!
Cuba is drenched in a rich history that Cuban’s are proud of and talk about constantly. With the face of Che Guevara plastered on every available surface, it is difficult to ignore the state pride of the Triumph of the Revolution. Cuba has over 256 museums which is sure to keep any history buff busy. Not only will a visit to Cuba allow you to follow in the footsteps of famous revolutionaries, but this is such a rapidly changing time for Cuba. A trip to Cuba now enables you to watch change happening in front of your eyes, weaving you into tapestry of Cubans’ current history.
Whilst I would not describe Cuba as a “cheap” destination, it is highly affordable. Due to the multiple Casa Particulars and various ways to get around, Cuba can be explored by those on a budget as well as those looking to stay in 5 star hotels. With the local monthly salary of Cubans being around $25, there is always a way to cut costs, especially if you’re guided by a local!
Cuba is an amazing destination to visit, especially with the right expectations. Some visitors can be turned off by the lack of their home luxuries such as the (very) limited internet and wifi, no guarantees of hot water, relaxed time keeping and occasional power outages. But this is Cuba! What is the point of visiting a new destination and culture and expecting it to be like home?
After two weeks in Cuba, I felt relaxed due to the lack of internet and no need to be constantly communicating – and of course the Mojitos.
Cuba stimulated every part of me that needed this trip and I arrived home full of questions, stories and pictures and of course, bragging rights that I HAVE BEEN TO CUBA! Have you?
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