A trip to this country will fill you with bright emotions - with its beautiful scenery, the monuments of its revolution, with its fascinating cities and with the coast of sparkling turquoise sea! Of course there is the real local rum the handmade, high class cigars and your head will spin with fiery dances and Cuban guitars! Welcome to Cuba!
This island state is separated from North America by just the narrow Straits of Florida and Yukant. The "Liberty Island" (the informal name of Cuba) lies in the northern part of the Caribbean (it is part of the Greater Antilles and the largest island in the West Indies) and comprises the Isle of Youth (La Isla de la Juventud) to the south and many smaller islands (around 1600). The island resembles the shape of a lizard, and is bordered on the south by the Caribbean Sea, in the north-west by the Gulf of Mexico and in the north-east by the Atlantic Ocean.
A large part of Cuba is plain land, however in the south-east is the highest mountain range of Sierra Maestra (with Turquino Peak at 1972m) and also smaller mountains in the west. There are many caves and "mogotes" - isolated karst hills with flat tops and vertical slopes.
The climate of Cuba is tropical with the average temperature in the coldest month (January) at about +23C and in the hottest month (August) about +28C. With the high humidity during the hot months living conditions are slightly uncomfortable. The rainy season stretches from May to September, with October to April being dry. There can be periods of typhoons, which originate in summer and autumn. Woods are small and grow only in the mountains and in wetter areas of the island and animal wildlife is poor. Rivers are small and mostly dry, although the country boasts a great variety of fish and seafood.
Cuba is divided into 16 provinces and one municipality (the Isle of Youth). The population totals 11 million, with 2 million living in the capital city of Havana.
The population is 64% white, 27% mulatto and 9% black. The official language is Spanish. The most prevalent religious group are Christians (60%; mostly Catholics); one quarter of the population declares itself as not affiliated with a religion.
Within Cuba you can travel between cities by domestic flights as there are three airlines are operating between the main Cuban cities. To really get to enjoy the country, the best transport connection are by road. The best form of tourist transport are the special buses (one ticket is 1 euro or 4 pesos, and you can ride all day with changes). You can always use the local taxi for tourists (with yellow numbers and payment in dollars) but they are more expensive, although they are comfortable and safe or you can use special shuttle buses. Conventional buses are more suited for the adventurous person :-) It is no problem to rent a car, but remember that traffic travels on the right-hand side of the road and streets are often without road markings. The local people very much like hitchhiking and if you pick up a hitchhiker (choose wisely and carefully!), you will be sure get to know a lot about the locals' exuberant temperament, mentality and their living conditions.
Many resort hotels are part of the networks of global chains and are mostly Spanish, with almost all of them situated on the islands' splendid beaches and offer "all inclusive" food and drinks. The beaches are free, but each hotel has its own protected beach area where- sunbeds and umbrellas are for free. Water from the tap is not safe to drink and eating in public institutions is delicate. It is forbidden to photograph military personnel and buildings, or industrial plants.
In Cuba, two types of currency are in use: for the tourist is the Cuban convertible peso (1 CUC = 1.14 euro) while the locals use the Cuban peso (CUP). Due to the hard political situation with regard to relations with America, it is better not to bring dollars or credit cards issued by US banks, although things are slowly changing! It is better to take euros with you which can be exchanged in banks, exchange offices or at the hotel (dollars can be exchanged, but the commission is up to 20%).
Security can be an issue so it is better to keep valuables in the hotel safe and watch your valuables at all times.
Cuban cuisine is influenced by Spanish, Chinese, African and Latin American traditions. Try "Creollo ajiaco" or "Cuban Ajiaco" which is a dish of pork and vegetables (with spices). La Caldosa - braised chicken, ham, sweet potatoes and vegetables and, of course - spices. Yum! Cuban cuisine is considered to be more of the "investigative" kind, like French cuisine. Sauce is popular on dishes. Seafood restaurants are more plentiful and accessible and you should try the simple classic lobsters with lemon. The island offers a lot of Creole cuisine, mostly with chicken and pork. Possible meat dishes may include turtle and crocodile! What is really special is that lots of fruit are served with all dishes. There are restaurants only in the major cities although it is possible to take a snack with hot dogs and sandwiches to many smaller places.
Something to drink? Cuban rum, of course, and cocktails derived from it! If you have been served well, leave a 10% tip from the check.
Souvenirs? A cool one brought back from Cuba for men is undoubtedly the national shirt - the "guayabera". Stylish souvenirs for the ladies would be articles of tortoise shell and black corals. Other classics include bongos or tumbadora (musical rhythm instruments), T-shirts with images of Che Guevara (the revolutionary icon!) berets, shoes and of course - rum, coffee and cigars !! You can buy everything you need from the stores, but dont forget about the traditional siesta during the day, which makes shopping in the afternoon difficult ;-)
The island of Cuba will enchant you with many bright and unforgettable impressions. Hot and amazing, it does not leave anyone unimpressed. As well as the incendiary dances and intoxicating rum there is so much to see!
You have a full choice: Some will prefer the splendid white sand beaches with the cleanest water imaginable, some will remain in the taverns and mansions of Havana, and some will want to enjoy the beautiful parks, the monuments and the historic places of the revolution.
La Havana, the capital of the island state is undoubtedly worth the trip alone. Its colonial and architectural charm has survived, allowing you to drive into the neighborhoods of Old Havana, check out Revolution square (Placa de la Revolucion) and the immense monument to Jose Marti (the legendary Cuban writer), or go and visit the beautiful Havana cathedral.. You are best to take a city bus tour or rent a car and cruise around town and take the spectacular Malecon (the Avenida de Maceo), the broad city road alongside the sea.
There are many museums located in Havana - from the Museum of the Revolution to the Chocolate museum. The Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the fortress, is one of the oldest buildings in the Americas (the oldest one being the Tower of Honors in Santo Domingo in the Fortress Ozama). This building was erected in the harbor of Havana (next to the Plaza de Armas) and was built in the sixteenth century to protect the capital from pirate raids. Although many years passed, more then four centuries, the castle of the royal power is still standing strong and happily invites visitors to the Naval Museum, where on the big screen you can experience the life of the sailors of the eighteenth century, and you can look at the four-meter model of the ancient ship Santisima Trinidad. In the maritime museum are presented silver and gold objects, and navigational instruments.
In the south-east of Havana is the house-museum of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway (Museo Casa Ernest Hemingway, San Francisco de Paula). In the 1930s, arriving in Cuba, he would first stop at the capital's hotel "Ambos Mundos", and in 1939 he decided to move to Cuba permanently. Even though he did not want to live away from his favorite bars "Floridita" and "Bodeguita del Medio", he eventually moved to the Finca Vigía estate in San Francisco de Paula because of Martha, his third wife. The atmosphere here is peaceful, being situated on a hill, with a view of the sea. The house is completely dedicated to his hobby - Ernest loved fishing on the high seas and hunting big animals. His wife gave the house to the authorities of Cuba, after the writer's suicide. Discover the Hemingway spirit - everywhere there are books and newspapers, hanging trophies and posters and his fishing boat is still available to view. The farmstead is open from 09.00 to 16.00, and on Sunday until 13:00. Tickets are $3.
The Marina Hemingway (30 minutes drive from the center of the capital) holds competitions in catching swordfish each May. There is also the hotel Marina Hemingway.
Going south to the historic town of Trinidad is the Museo National de la Lucha Contra Bandidos. You should definitely not miss this most famous place in Trinidad - the National Museum of the "Struggle against the counter-revolutionaries". For everyone interested in history a visit to the monastery will be very exciting. Once it held the imprisoned anti-Castro rebels now there are photos and historical materials documenting these times.. Another must-see here is the yellow bell tower of the former Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. Iif you climb the top of the tower you can enjoy panoramic views of this beautiful city..
The Church of the Holy Trinity - the actual building was constructed in the 19th century on the same site where a church had been entirely destroyed by a cyclone (which also took half of Trinidad). The cathedral hosts a wooden statue of Jesus Christ which is the main attraction for believers. It is said that at first the statue should have been carried on a ship from Trinidad to the church of Veracruz in Mexico, but that the ship had to return to the shore because of bad weather three times and that only after leaving the statue and part of the cargo ashore it could continue its voyage safely. Locals referred to this special event as divine intervention and took the statue as the greatest relic to the city's main church.
Cantero Palace, the Municipal History Museum is a mansion that was built in 1828 by the owner of a sugar empire, the immensely rich Jose Mariano Borrell, who died three years later under strange circumstances and, until today no one knows the real reason. What is known though is that in 1841 it passed in possession of the Cantero-family of businessman and trader Justo Cantero. Here you will find the exposition of the Historical Museum and from the tower of the Palace you can also enjoy a magnificent view of the whole town of Trinidad.
More to the south is Parque Nacional de Baconao which is a National Park - a nature reserve and theme park rolled into one. It's very impressive and under the palm trees on the territory you will discover a Dinosaur Valley with life size replica's of prehistoric animals (200 animals!!). You will also find the well-known "Tree of Peace" (under which was signed an act of surrender of the Spanish in the American-Spanish war in the 19th century), the reconstruction of native Taino village, and a very beautiful little museum commemorating the revolution. Be sure to visit this place in Santiago de Cuba.
The province of Pinar del Rio in the west of the island will open the world of the tobacco plantations and beautiful nature! In the city of the same name you can visit the the Provincial Museum of Natural Sciences, the theater "Milanes", the Guasch Palace, get a behind the scenes insight of the Cigar industry by visiting the factory "Francisco Donatien" and enjoy nature in the park "Valley of Viñales" and the Soroa Falls.
There is so much to Cuba, too much to mention it all. An example is the Province of Havana which attracts visitors to the unfrequented beaches and adventure, with many cliffs and caves. In Santa Cruz del Norte they produce the famous rum Havana Club. On the Isla de la Juventud you can visit the jail "Presidio Modelo" - a copy of the American "Joliet Prison". Today this highly visited museum commemorates the time when Fidel Castro and his colleagues were imprisoned there. Matanzas province - Plaza de la Vigía, Freedom Square, Montserrat Chapel, the Castle of San Severino, cave "Bellamar" and much more ...
Santa Clara (province of Villa Clara) is called the city of Ernesto Che Guevara, with mausoleum, monument and a museum dedicated to the Argentine leader of the Cuban Revolution. The Park Vidal is the heart of the city. Don't miss the Church of St. John the Baptist which is considered one of the most interesting churches on the "Island of Freedom". All around Cuba there are national parks and beautiful islands.
Cuba is one of the best diving spots in the Caribbean because of a the large number of coral reefs and small islands around the main island. This is a unique unspoiled underwater world where the flora and fauna of Cuba will surprise even experienced divers. Diving here is an all year round pleasure as the water temperature does not fall below 24C! Because there are many protected areas - to preserve the purity of water and a variety of species of its inhabitants - a special diving adventure is guaranteed. You can see the coral gardens, the colorful underwater landscapes, the unique species of fish and a beautiful underwater world and both the beginner and the experienced diver will discover this fairy tale! The best areas are Havana and Santiago de Cuba Provinces, among the largest - is the city of Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Bay of Pigs. There are so many species of fish, underwater caves, turtles ... that the eyes will bulge. The "Island of Youth" Juventud showcases turtles, rays, parrot fish and barracudas, which are the main inhabitants of the local waters. It's well worth a try!
Cuba? Cuba! This will be one of the travel highlights of your life!