A lot of things are said about Cuba. Some are good and some are bad, but having travelled around half of the island (it’s quite big and we only had three weeks) we can’t recommend it enough. Cuba is a safe way to experience a country still largely in a socialist state. We were always welcome in everybody’s home, treated to their food and helped around the beautiful little island. We were also plied with alcohol continuously. As a rule, Cubans, and all people in Cuba, are drunk.
Lots of package deals from the UK to Cuba will give you a couple of days in Havana, and then a couple of weeks in the beach resort of Varadero, which in itself is an amazing holiday. Havana truly is the real Cuba, and Varadero has the perfect white sandy beaches of a Caribbean dream. Me and Gemma had caught the travelling bug on our previous adventures though, and decided that, for our nice relaxing honeymoon, we would put on our backpacks once more, and set out to see as much of Cuba as we possibly could.
And it was worth it, here are our top 10 things to do in Cuba:
1. Trek in Viñales – The tobacco fields and rice plantations completely surround the town so as soon as you leave any roads (of which there are 2) you find yourself in the most picturesque landscape imaginable. We tried genuine Cuban cigars straight from the farm (they’re allowed to make a small personal profit from tourism these days before selling the rest to the state), drank rum from a coconut, and swam in pitch black caves. This is trekking in Cuba. This is as hard as it gets…
2. Hire a moped in the Bay of Pigs – We arrived in the bay of pigs (famous for that battle with America, I forget what they call it… The bay of something) and realised that we were in the middle of nowhere. We were staying in a Casa next to a gorgeous lake in a town that must have had a population of about 3 including me and Gemma. That was an exaggeration. What we didn’t know when we first arrived was that a 40 minute walk down the road would take us to a holiday destination for Cubans (so much rum) and a moped rental which would allow us to moped all around the massive bay. We snorkelled in the crystal clear water, explored tiny museums and drove alongside those really cool old American cars they have in Cuba. And then in the evenings, we chilled by that gorgeous lake, alone in our one person town (I’d call it a one horse town, but actually there were a quite a lot of horses).
3. Snorkel/scuba dive – Any guidebook will tell you to scuba dive in Cuba. I don’t know where the best place to do it is, but we snorkelled in the bay of pigs, and scuba dived in Varadero and both were amazing. People will recommend places to do it, and you should probably listen to them. They’ll know better than me.
4. Drink too much rum in Havana – As if you’ll need persuading… But if you do need persuading there are plenty of people in Havana who will do just that. You can have as many different types of cocktails as you like because they’re all rum based so you never really mix your drinks. It’s worth going for drinks even if you’re not a drinker though, amongst the best places we went were a small wooden bar which had a lively band playing (the live music scene is totes everywhere), the Hotel Nacional for piña coladas overlooking the coast, and a bar where Ernest Hemingway stayed for mojitos. We didn’t mix, but my advice of ‘as many as you like’ may not be the best. Boy did we have hangovers.
5. Cayo Levasa – From Viñales we took a bus to Cayo Levisa for a day of sunbathing and chilling out on the beach. It’s a beach away from the built up tourist area of Varadero but it still has a warm clear sea and white sand (and a huge chess board should you be inclined).
6. Explore Trinidad – You can actually do this as a day trip from Varadero, but we went on our way to Varadero for a couple of nights. Its a Unesco heritage site, and therefore reasonably untouched. We got a taxi to Trinidad from the bay of pigs (it was our honeymoon so we just went crazy). Nothing felt cooler than being driven around the narrow cobbled streets of Trinidad in our old American car and pulling up to the ruined cathedral of a Casa. Trinidad gave us real life Cowboys and an outside Salsa nightclub. A true delight! It was also here that I spent all night laughing at Gemma trying to sing Kid Rocks ‘Bawitdaba’, but I can’t guarantee she’ll be there doing that if you go. Sorry.
7. Learn ‘Cuba’s side of things’ – We’re taught a lot about Cuba in the West. I’m not saying what we’re taught isn’t true, but there are two sides to every story, and Cuba certainly tell it differently. The museum at the Bay of Pigs and the Museo De La Revolución give a little insight.
8. Eco resort getaway in Las Terrazas – This is the one place we booked before we left (planning a wedding takes time) as Hotel Moka apparently books up quick. The whole town is considered an Eco-town and is very beautiful set around lakes and green hills. No one really told us what made this town Eco friendly, but we’ll take their word for it as we totes enjoyed their pool! There’s also a zip wire in the town. Instead of zip wiring though, we decided to watch a storm and have a drink. Did I ever mention that you can drink as many cocktails that you like in Cuba?…
9. Gorge on lobster and shrimps – In the UK lobster is one of the finer foods. In Cuba, it’s a regular everyday meal. And I do mean everyday. Personally, I wouldn’t rave about Cuban food, but the lobster is pretty special. We tended to stay in people’s houses (like a B&B in England. In other countries we’ve visited, the lonely planet always tells you to try to bag yourself a ‘home visit’ to learn about local customs, in much of Cuba it’s pretty much the only option) and nearly all the meals were fresh lobster. Oh, and shrimps in Garlic are great too!
10. Stay in a five star resort – Varadero is resort heavy, tourist populated, and the only part of Cuba that has completely succumbed to capitalism (Cubans weren’t even allowed into Varadero when tourists started coming) but my word it makes for a cracking holiday. The food was all of a sudden varied, and the beaches were the best we’ve ever seen. We were treated like a king and queen (once they’d worked out we were actually meant to be there after rocking up in our backpacks and mud worn trainers), enjoyed massages, chilled out on a beach all day, drank at a swim up bar and shared seafood in the beach restaurant (just one of the many all inclusive restaurants at the resort). This was a wedding gift from my dad and his wife Paula, and it was spectacular, neither Gemma or I had ever been anywhere quite so relaxing!
So that’s our top 10 things to do in Cuba. But like I said before, we only saw half the island, who knows what’s on the other half… In fact, that gives me an idea… Gemma? Gemma?.. GEMMA!!!!