The other side of Cuba – Varadero

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Cuba is overwhelming, it is a culture shock for those of us who live in the UK, they speak a foreign language and the weather in warm. All in all after 2 weeks of on the go travel we knew we would need a rest. We went to an all inclusive resort in Mexico for our honeymoon so thought we would give it another go.

Varadero is renowned for being the all inclusive centre of Cuba. It’s not far from Havana and is set up on its own little spit away from the rest of Cuba. We were a little dubious that the American orientated resorts wouldn’t be what we were looking for but for 3 days what was the harm!

We opted for a bungalow rather than being in a hotel block, which had its advantages as it gave us more space and somewhere to relax if we’d had enough of people but it was a little walk (or golf cart) away from the main areas.

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Trinidad stole my heart – what to eat & drink

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As I mentioned in post about what to do while you’re in Trinidad, it stole my heart. I still think about spending time there now and it was 100% my favourite place in Cuba.

So, you know how to spend your time there but what to do when you fancy stopping for some food and drink?

Small disclaimer – I am rubbish at taking photos food and drink and I am not a food blogger so you’ll have to take my word on some things – or go and visit yourself!!!

Where to eat

Trinidad has its fair share of restaurants, some of our favourites were Giroud, Los Conspiradores, La Redaccion and Taberna El Barracon.

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If you’re looking for some pizza or Italian food then head to Giroud. Great little place with interesting interiors and hanging tables. The menu is written on a blackboard on one wall and they quite often have live music.

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We opted for a couple of pizzas while we were there, they were pretty good (obviously not Italian standard) but the cocktails left much to be desired.

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Trinidad Stole My Heart – What To Do While You’re There

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Part of Trinidad’s charm is that it’s a small city that has plenty of roads to wander, parks to sit in and architecture to admire. It also has its fair share of museums and things to do but if I’m honest my favourite thing was just sitting and watching the world go by.

I feel head over heels for Trinidad. We spent a good few days here so got to know it’s streets and it’s quirks more than the other places we had visited.

National Museum of the Fight Against Bandits

This museum is recognised more for it’s iconic tower that dominates the skyline as its highest viewpoint.

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The museum itself does have some interesting exhibits around Cuba’s history with revolutions, in particular the events in the mountains between 1959 and 1965. The tower is what you want to go for though. Climb to the top and get some incredible views over the city.

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A half day tour of Cuba’s sugar mills

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Much like Cienfuegos, Trinidad is a great place to base yourself for some day trips. We ventured to Santa Clara and also into the sugar mill area around just outside of Trinidad.

Our first stop on our half day excursion was the lookout point at Mirador del Valle de los Ingenios. A great stop where you can climb up to the top of the hill and look out over the Cuban countryside.

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If you’re up to it you can take a zip line for another angle on the view. If I had one regret from our time in Cuba it was that I didn’t partake in the zip lining!

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Thought of the day

It’s important to remember that travel can make you complacent. It can make you view the world in a skewed way, just catching a glimpse of a place or a few weeks in a country. Stereotypes can build. It isn’t just for those who stay at home.

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A Day Trip to Santa Clara

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Santa Clara is located in almost the centre of Cuba in the province of Villa Clara. It was founded in 1689 but is perhaps most well known for its part in the Che Guevara story.

Santa Clara is home to the last battle of the Revolution in 1958, two groups of guerilla fighters attached the city to gain control. One group was led by Camilo Cienfuegos and the other by Che Guevara. They first gained control of the Formeto garrison and then destroyed the railway line to derail a train full of supplies sent by Batista. They managed to gain control of the city and Bastita fled the country 12 hours later.

As a short trip from Trinidad (1.5 hour drive) its worth a day trip or a stop on the way to your next Cuban adventure.

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How to spend 36 hours in Cienfuegos!

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The further outside Havana you get the less and less tourists you find. If you head all the way down to Santiago-de-Cuba then you’ll barely find any.

One stop that is popular but not as much as nearby Trinidad is Cienfuegos. A small town that’s had a varied history. A UNESCO heritage site known as the Pearl of the South, it’s famous for its French architecture that populates most of the town. It’s different and a refreshing change from the Spanish influenced towns of Cuba.

You could easily spend a few days here, we spent 36 hours exploring that was a perfect amount of time. So, what should you do with your 36 hours, I’d recommend a good dose of wandering but here are my top things to do.

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Top things to do in Viñales

I’ve been struggling recently with this whole blogging thing. There are so many blogs in the universe with travel blogs becoming so much more popular, add in the constant need for social media updates it can be overwhelming to say the least. I have to remember that I’m doing this for me, I’m unlikely to ever have a career out of it, I’m never going to get massive amounts of page views or comments but what I can achieve is a great record of all the adventures we’ve had. Surely that has to be enough!

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Before I crack on with the top things to do in Viñales I’ll explain our rather random experience with a petrol stop on the way from Havana.

Our casa owner booked us onto a taxi collectivo to transfer us from Havana to Viñales. This involved picking up some extra tourists and dropping off at our destinations. It takes a couple of hours to drive their along one of Cuba’s autopistas and then down a long windy road into the valley.

Not long after we’d left Havana we pulled off the main road and reversed into someone’s driveway. We didn’t really know what was happening when the driver got out the car until a man walked out of a small room with a massive plastic bucket full of petrol! The car got filled up and then we were on our way. It was not your normal fuel station experience and definitely no nectar points!

Walk around the town

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Viñales has a small centre with loads and loads of roads coming off full of casas. Havana has a lot but Viñales takes the crown. As a massive tourist spot it’s unsurprising. It was so good to be out of the city and the pollution for some fresh air and nature.

You’ll find a central square with a church and high street filled with shops and restaurants, grab a roadside seat and a drink to watch the world go by. There is also a small market selling handicrafts and hats!

 

Visit the WiFi park

The church square is home to Viñales’ WiFi section. We had held out of internet access throughout our whole time in Havana and until our last day in Viñales but it was time to give it a go.

We purchased two WiFi cards from a hotel (smaller queue then the official store) and set about sitting down and staring at our phones. It is so out of place in such a beautiful country to have loads of people, Cubans and tourists alike, sat in a small space scratching off their cards and surfing the web.

Mural de Prehistoria

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Another unusual experience in a country that never ceases to amaze you. The Mural de Prehistoria, a giant wall mural representing the evolution of the world. It covers everything from dinosaurs, snails, sea people to regular human people in bright technicolour.

The mural took 18 people 4 years to paint and has taken a great effort and cost to maintain. The entrance is fairly pricey for what is essentially an imposing wall painting but if you’re lucky like us and catch the last hop on hop off bus of the day they’ll let you in for 5 minutes for free!

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Some call in art, some call it an eyesore but it really has to be seen to be believed.

Drinks at Hotel Los Jasmines

For a birds eye view of the amazing Viñales countryside you have to head up to Hotel Los Jasmines. A pink hotel sat on the edge of a cliff with sweeping views across the whole Viñales valley. The perfect place for a drink.

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The hotel has an outside pool that you can pay to enter, if you have a day to kill then I’d recommend doing this – as long as you like the sun. For us the experience wasn’t great as they were completing some building work so there was a lot of drilling.

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After a quick drink we went back up to the viewpoint where there are also some nicely located bars. A massive bonus was the serve your own rum top as you go pina coladas. Bring a book and while away a few hours with a killer view.

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Horse Riding

It’s the quintessential thing to do in Viñales, horse riding in the countryside. There are plenty of companies offering full or half day tours, I’d suggest if you haven’t been on a horse before you make this very clear as not much instruction is given before you’re off!

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Everyone tends to follow the same course but it’s good to ensure you pick a company who really looks after their horses. We visited tobacco plantations, rum distillers, a beautiful lake and a hidden cave.

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Riding horses is not a pastime I’m choosing to take up as it did not come naturally. After being told the horses were on autopilot mine decided to go for a jog making the guide shout “Lady, Lady slow down!”

If you aren’t up for horse riding I’d recommend taking a hike out into the countryside instead.

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Tobacco plantations

Viñales is renowned for its cigars and tobacco plantations. Most of the Cuban cigars you buy (the proper ones anyway) were grown in Viñales. We had a quick demo on rolling a cigar before being taken down to the field and drying hut.

Tobacco leaves are pretty cool and our guide showed us the differences between the cheap and the expensive cigars in terms of the leaves. He also explained the difference with cigarettes and why they deem cigars to be safer. That’s still up for debate but you can’t deny there isn’t something special about them.

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We did get to have a puff and experience a real Cuban tradition, which given the setting was pretty awesome. If you’re going to buy cigars in Cuba buy them here. The growers have to give 90% of their plants away to the government to make into cigars and sell under famous brands like Cohiba. The extra 10% they can keep to sell on themselves.

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So, those are my top things to do with a couple of days in Viñales. There are of course LOADS of other things you can do. The hop on hop off bus will deliver you at everything from zip lines to cave bars, although with only a pick up every 90 minutes it makes doing much a bit difficult. My advice, book a local taxi to take you on your own tour instead.

 

The heart of Cuba may be in Havana but there is life in Viñales, you’ve just got to go!!

 

A night at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano

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Our last day in Havana was pretty action packed but we wanted to make the most of our last evening before moving into the country.

After a brief rest (read nap) we got ready and flagged down a taxi collectivo to take us to a restaurant for some dinner and drinks before seeing what all the fuss was about at the FAC.

The taxi ride was entertaining trying to give directions to someone who obviously couldn’t really understand what we were saying. Nonetheless we made it there and managed to talk the Australian guy on the desk into getting us a reservation.

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El Cocinero is a trendy restaurant in the old smokestack of the boiler house for the Havana Tramway. It’s quirky and requires you to walk up a windy staircase to get the the restaurant level.

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