13th April to 1st June 2012
Salsa has totally won my heart over the last few months. I might still have two left feet compared to those whose effortless mastery of their own bodies transfixes me every time i watch a rueda but I don’t care. Take my hand, spin me round the room and I forget who I am. It’s one of the few times I’ve been willing to do something I’m not perfect at, I just want to get better, quickly, so I can do what they do.
Add that to my love of mojitos and making Cuba the first stop on my trip was a no-brainer.
Cuba doesn’t yet have widespread internet access. Certainly until last year and perhaps still now, Cubans are only allowed access to the internet if their work requires it. This means two things – I’ll be going cold turkey on my FB / Twitter habit, which is exactly what I need, and I’ll have to wait til I get there to arrange the salsa and Spanish lessons I hope to take.
The idea is to spend a couple of weeks around Havana then perhaps take a tour of the island and return for a final few weeks in the capital city. Or I might spend some time by the beach. I’m pushing myself to not pre-arrange everything (the curse of being a project manager) and leave it up to chance.
If I do head out on a trip round the country then there’s one arranged by a company specialising in Cuba tours, Cuba Adventures, that has caught my eye. I find their use of hyperbole endearing, here’s hoping they don’t talk this way for the full two weeks or the charm might wear off:
Day 1 – Havana
Adventure among the splendorous crumbling architecture of the streets of old Havana and sit on the famous sea wall (malecon) to take in the view and some fresh air, and to socialize with the colourful and friendly ‘Habaneros’.
Day 2 – Bay of Pigs / Cienfuegos
Head to the French founded city of Cienfuegos through the densely vegetated Peninsula de Zapata swamp-lands, and along the beautiful Bay of Pigs. This is where the landing of counter-revolutionary exile militia occurred in 1961. There is a museum here that recounts the events of this conflict which resulted in the first defeat of a U.S backed take-over in Latin America. Stop at a beautiful swimming hole (cenote) which resembles a huge natural tropical fish tank, and if the conditions are favourable, at a beach for snorkelling. Cienfuegos’ appeal lies partly in the European flavour of its colonial hub, with a wide Parisian-style boulevard and elegant colonnades, and there is an ambience to inspire Cuba’s most celebrated Son singer to write the words “Cienfuegos is the city I like best”.
Day 3 – Trinidad via Santa Clara
On the way to Trinidad take a detour back inland to Santa Clara, a key city in the Cuban Revolution. Upon entering Santa Clara, there is a huge statue of Ernesto Ché Guevara, to commemorate his death and that of the revolutionaries who were murdered along with him in Bolivia. There is also a museum here dedicated to his amazing life (free entry). Wander the city centre, and to see a few other historical sites mostly to do with Che.
Santa Clara isn’t a thriving tourism hub, and that in itself creates its own interest as you can experience a more authentic Cuban city. Head back to the Caribbean Coast and the beautiful colonial city of Trinidad.
Day 4 to 5 – Trinidad
Trinidad is home to numerous churches and many beautiful colonial buildings. The city is near the lovely Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of Sugarmills) and Playa Ancón, where you can enjoy long stretches of unspoiled, white sand beaches. Scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming in waterfalls and horse-riding are other optional activities.
The nightlife in Trinidad is probably the most accessible and intense in all of Cuba, with numerous live music venues and many dance performances everyday of the week, all amongst the enchanting setting of old colonial buildings and the cobblestone streets.
Day 6 to 7 – Camagüey
Cuba’s third largest city lies about half way between Havana and Santiago de Cuba – about a 5 hour drive from Trinidad. Camaguey was designed in the 17th century to disorientate potential invaders such as pirates and plunderers, so the street layout is a jumble of narrow alleys where no two streets are parallel. There are large parks, various private art galleries, and a thriving market garden, and one will enjoy strolling through this city. This is also a university town and has a rich cultural tradition, and like just about everywhere in Cuba, there is plenty of night time entertainment to be had.
Day 8 to 9 – Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is known as the “cradle of the Revolution” and is home to much of Cuba’s famed music, like the Son. There are also museums, colonial churches and buildings of more recent historical importance, such as the Moncada Barracks, which are well worth exploring.
Santiago de Cuba has a very vibrant traditional music scene, which will entice even the shyest dancer out to experiment with some salsa moves. Culturally, Santiago has a different feel to the rest of Cuba, undoubtedly coming from the mix of French speaking slaves from Haiti and its proximity to Jamaica.
Day 10 to 12 – Baracoa
A spectacular drive past the region’s most controversial leasehold of Guantanamo Bay, then along the coast and finally through lush mountains of eastern Cuban, brings us to Cuba’s first colonial capital. When Christopher Columbus first encountered Cuba it was here, and he duly noted in his log-book that this was the most beautiful land that human eyes could set upon. You will understand what he meant when you see the beaches and verdant mountain landscape that surround Baracoa. Situated on a beautiful bay with the mountains of the Sierra del Purial in the background, Baracoa was the first settlement founded by the Spanish in Cuba, and was only accessible by sea until the end of the 1960s. There are numerous options for outdoor activities in the nearby mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and beaches. There is wide variety of delicious seafood available in Baracoa.
Day 13 to 14 – Havana
The Caribbean’s largest and most exciting urban concentration. Havana is one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere, and was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.
Summary of Travel Times
- Havana to Cienfuegos – 6 hours
- Cienfuegos to Trinidad via Santa Clara – 4 hours
- Trinidad to Camaguey – 6 hours
- Camaguey to Santiago – 7 hours
- Santiago to Baracoa – 6 hours
- Baraoca to Havana – 4 hours (flight 1.5 hours)