If you're wondering ‘Is Cuba worth visiting?' Yes it is! I share my personal experience of visiting this Caribbean island that is stuck in time…
Fascinating, stuck in time and a mecca for salsa fans, Cuba is one of the most fascinating countries I have ever been to…
Flying into Holguin in Cuba on Thomas Cook airlines I felt like a tourist, sat with men in Bermuda shirts and families ready to get some sun on their two week package holiday deals.
It had been a few years since I had taken this type of ‘holiday’ but as we stood outside of Holguin airport and watched the coaches with hoards of holiday makers depart, I found myself wishing that we had booked a transfer and remembered the ease of package holidays: someone meeting you at arrivals, crossing your name of their manifesto before allocating your coach to your resort.
With all of the taxis gone, we changed our money then joined forces with the only other people left stranded at Holguin Frank Pais International Airport. Then as four of us with the lady speaking amazing Spanish, we arranged a cab and started our hour’s journey to Guardalavca, a town in the Holguin province, with our bags tied on top, past lush greenery until the sky turned the wrong shade of grey.
“Will it rain?” I asked the driver who hesitated unconvincingly then replied “no.”
Within minutes the heaven’s opened and the rain fell upon my new pink backpack tied to the top of the 50’s American-style car. After a brief pit stop to drag our bags over our laps and doubling up as an airbag for the man in the front seat, we were off again – first stop our resort; Hotel Club Amigo Atlantico.
If you’ve never been to the Caribbean, you are missing a treat. The beaches are just like they are in the glossy travel magazines and Cuba is no exception. With white powdery sand and the sea a rainbow of blue hues, it is the cliche of ‘paradise.’
From the hotel there's only a couple of excursions you can take. A red hop-on hop-off bus (yes, they even have them here!) which takes you around the resorts, the craft market and the Indian Village which is more of an historical site with models and wooden huts showing the history of the ‘Indians' who are actually the original Cubans. Nearby is the Skeleton museum which is okay if you're into skeletons and it's pretty cheap to get in.
If you want to stay away from the touristy areas (and Guardalavaca is very touristy) then get a local driver to take you to a local farmers house. The cost is ‘free' to enter but you pay a tip to the farmer once he has shown you around his farm and introduced you to his exotic fruits (he even chops open a coconut for you).
Then it's a fresh Colombian coffee, grown on his premises, guava jelly and cow cheese on fresh bread, which may sound like a strange combination but it's surprisingly good. Nene is the third generation of farmers and his family have lived on the farm for 70 years!
Guardavalca is just 45 minutes from Holguin and a bus tour takes you into the city. It’s a small city with not much to do except walk around and admire the colourful buildings and listen to live Cuban salsa blaring from music halls.
However, it's a great place to observe the locals though as they queue for ice-cream, drink local beers in bars and just chill in the parks, or you can choose to climb the steps towards the Hill of the Cross which has a great view of the city. It only takes 20 minutes to climb up and back down past Cuban sellers, selling hand-made jewellery.
After 5 days of getting acclimatised to the heat, eating fresh fruit, lobster and basically spoiling ourselves rotten, it was time to move to a more cultural part of the island; Trinidad (coming up in the next post!)
The town was quiet except for the sound of the horse’s hooves as it trotted quickly along the cobbled stones. Flashes of pastel colours passed by in a haze as we turned sharply into streets, each one as pretty as the next. Then we arrived and standing before us was a round smiling lady; ’Welcome to our home.’
This is Trinidad in Cuba and it really is like stepping onto a film set. A set with cowboys in Cuban hats, striding horses carrying carts, with pedal rickshaws and cobbled streets lined with colourful houses and live salsa blaring from every street corner.
If you’re looking for culture in Cuba, Trinidad is your place. You can spend hours just wandering around the pretty streets or sat in one of the bars drinking rum and listening to Cuban salsa.
Cubans love to dance (they even dance on the streets!) and it seems that nearly everyone you meet is either a salsa teacher or a musician. Going to music halls by yourself is so safe and all you have to do is just stand (or sit) around looking pretty and within minutes, a Cuban man will approach you and ask you to dance.
Staying in a Casa particular is the best way to experience the hospitality of the Cuban people who open up their home to tourists and cook you breakfast and dinner. If you need more interaction with locals then just wander around and speak to the locals playing games outside or just sat on walls watching life in Trinidad go by.
Trinidad has got to be my favourite place in Cuba. The best thing about it is that every single picture you take will look amazing even if you're not a great photographer!
Even the doors are amazing!
Have you been to Trinidad?