“I come from where there is a river, tobacco and sugarcane …”, this is how the members of the group “Orishas” sing their longing for the big Caribbean island that saw them being born; a place full of paradoxes that make it a unique destination, full of wonders that satisfy the eye and fill the spirit.
With a pleasant and warm climate throughout the year, Cuba is a singular destination: excellent beaches, cities that give images worthy of vintage postcards – for the nostalgic ones – and a particular culture.
The beauty of Cuba is not exhausted on its beaches; there are many more surprises that hide within the naked eye in its cities.
Undoubtedly, Havana – capital of the country – is the most important population center. It is a heterogeneous and charming city that mixes the overwhelming life of any city with a decadent splendor that speaks of a remarkable past.
City of vital importance for the Spanish crown since its founding – given its geographical position -, Havana has always been a meeting point, place of passage and final destination of many people, all at once.
Its historical center, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1982, houses buildings of great architectural value. Its cobbled streets, narrow balconies and corridors enclose a thousand stories that have served as inspiration for many, including the writer Cirilo Villaverde, who details it in his novel “Cecilia Valdés”, an essential work of national literature.
The Paseo de El Prado, the still life around the port, the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, the Hotel Inglaterra with its famous café (El Louvre), the former Teatro Tacón (now Gran Teatro de La Habana) and several fortresses associated with the defensive system, designed by the colonial government, are the vestige of a past worthy of admiration.
government, are the vestige of a past worthy of admiration.
But time passed and the city did not stop, expanded, opened, and became diverse. Today Havana gives away those exciting sights that, in sepia color images, could well be considered tickets for a trip to the past from the present time; at the same time it vibrates with a vertiginous life around neighborhoods like the Vedado or Miramar, where thousands of options accumulate to discover the life of other inhabitants in more recent times.
The Cuban capital is the most important cultural center of the country. There are great stages with very high quality presentations, such as the National Ballet of Cuba, and other smaller ones – sometimes hidden in the neighborhoods – where the best performing artists of the nation perform; also music festivals are held and is a place of renown for the promotion of Latin American cinema, venue for sports, tourism and literary events.
At night, the city is transmuted. The last lights of the day give way to intense nights, especially on weekends, where music, dancing and fun take center stage; there are cabarets, live orchestras, discos and bars.
Right now there are many options to enjoy the nightlife. In a quiet program, everything can begin with watching the sunset sitting on the wall of the malecón (always a classic), then continue with dinner in any of the restaurants that fill the city, and close the night enjoying an excellent craft beer in the Old Square; or, if you prefer something more intense, everything can lead to the emblematic Tropicana or the Galeano’s House of Music (or Miramar). In short, Havana nights are a challenge: warmth, music and people willing to enjoy is what is left over, choosing where to go is just a matter of taste.
Approximately 180 km away from the capital is the Viñales Valley in the middle of the “Sierra de los Órganos”, in the province of Pinar del Río. Declared Cultural Landscape of Humanity by UNESCO in 1999, it is a geographic accident of great value that gathers the biggest cave system of the island. Cave of the Indio stand out because it is crossed by an underground river.
The flora and fauna in Viñales, with a high degree of endemism, allow visitors an approach to nature that promises memorable sensations; the freshness of the air, the green of the landscape and the species that can be found on the way, are a gift.
Particular attraction is the “mogotes”, capricious formations in the middle of the valley that, to a certain extent, have contributed – by their singularity – to highlight this region within the Cuban landscapes; in fact, one of the focal points is the well-known Prehistory Mural: pictorial creation that shows on the wall of one of the mogotes the evolution of life from the reflection of large animals, molluscs and human figures that represent the first settlers of the island.
The city of Cienfuegos, known by the nickname of La Perla del Sur and founded by French colonists, is located in the inlands southern part and settled on the shores of the Jagua bay.
It is distinguished by its buildings and the layout of its streets, resulting in a city that exhibits great architectural values, among which is distinguished the Tomás Terry Theater, expression of an eclectic style that integrates along with theaters like La Caridad (in Santa Clara) and Sauto ( in Matanzas); it is an architectural trilogy that identifies constructive styles of the nineteenth century. Other attractions are the “Castillo de Jagua”, vital for the defense of this population in the eighteenth century; and the Botanical Garden, which is the oldest in Cuba and treasures, in its 97 hectares, species of great value.
Continuing along the south coast you will reach Trinidad, another of the places recognized by UNESCO with the seal of Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 1988.
The former villa is set in an agricultural region which, in colonial times, experienced an impressive boom by concentrating large plantations in the surrounding area and extensive cane plantations belonging to rich landowners, whose ruins now refer to a time of Cuba’s history, where sugar production was the central axis of the country’s economy. Around it were political and economic interests, urban development and a great number of other subtleties, from which emerged diverse positions on many topics, such as – for example – slavery.
To get lost in the cobbled streets of Trinidad, sit in the doorway of one of the houses and let the time run or walk around the square contemplating buildings and facades that lead back to the past, allows you to live at an entirely different, much calmer pace , without the typical troubles of modernity.
Considered a museum city, this is a point of Cuba that should not be overlooked, a place that not only enchants the conservation of its buildings, some are centuries old, but also the charisma and hospitality of its inhabitants. The Trinitarians stand out for their welcome, for their way of opening and offering their villa.
In addition, from here you can enjoy other places nearby, such as the Natural Park “Topes de Collantes”, with its spectacular nature and its well-known health tourism options; or Ancón beach, with white sands and calm waters.
In the east of the country stands Santiago de Cuba, founded over half a century ago by the conqueror Diego Velázquez on the banks of the Parada River, establishing itself as the first Cuban capital.
This city is distinguished by its narrow streets in a geography marked by the elevations, in addition to the charisma of its people. It has a typical urban nucleus structured by Spaniards: the center of the city is marked by the square of arms, at the moment called: Céspedes Park, and around the city hall, the cathedral and the governor’s house; which makes of this foundational point a unique space given its historical, architectural and patrimonial values.
Típico núcleo urbano estructurado por los españoles: el centro de la ciudad está marcado por la plaza de armas, actualmente parque Céspedes
A point of forced passage for the Cubans in Santiago is the Basilica of El Cobre, home of the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba. Located in the town of the same name, a few kilometers from the city, this religious center has become a place of pilgrimage and adoration that every Cuban has as a reference; the image of the virgin has been recognized and venerated by three leaders of the Catholic Church: John Paul II (1998), Benedict XVI (2012) and Francisco (2015).
Other attractions include the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, the castle of San Pedro de la Roca, at the entrance of the bay, and the ruins of the coffee plantations settled high on the mountains surrounding the city, these last two also members of the list of patrimonies endorsed by UNESCO on the island.
Santiago de Cuba is also recognized in the country for the particular way of life that its people has, always affable and distended, bustling, cheerful and welcoming. The festivities of the city, including the carnivals and the Caribbean Festival, are an outstanding celebration, honoring every year the culture of the peoples of the Caribbean basin and making the city the scene of a giant party that overflows the streets with music, dances and big parades.
Cradle of “son” and strong cultural square, where artists such as Sindo Garay, Miguel Matamoros or Compay Segundo; the capital of the Caribbean – as it is also known – is a place not to be missed when passing through Cuba.
Cuba is not just another destination …
The largest of the Antilles today arouses a renewed interest in its natural qualities and the charm of its culture and its people; when traveled it must be enjoyed as it with the greatest pleasures, with the entire senses alert.
You have to walk with your eyes wide open so that nothing escapes from your sight, with the ear attentive to be able to capture each note and its voices, with the smell and the palate ready to experience unique smells and flavors, with the skin ready to absorb the sun and the heat.
Cuba is not just any other destination… you have to prepare yourself to live it all, you have to let yourself be seduced, you have to enter the game of curiosity to look a little beyond what you see with the naked eye, because there are simply always things to discover.