Cuba: complete guide from Havana to the beaches

When Columbus first sighted Cuba — on October 27, 1492 — he described it as «the most beautiful land the human eye has ever seen.»

With about three hundred beaches and one of the largest coral reefs in the world, the island of Cuba is one of the favorite destinations for Italians. Every year thousands of our compatriots go to this fantastic archipelago with crystal clear waters located in the heart of the Caribbean Sea, to know, to the rhythm of salsa, one of the most beautiful places in the world.

What to see in Cuba: Havana
First, among all the places to visit, is the capital: Havana. It is the largest city of the entire island, a dynamic and lively center but, alas, also very polluted: the cars and the chemical and thermoelectric plants impregnate the air emitting continuously smelly gases, and often the high humidity rate makes it even less bearable.

Still, Cuba’s capital has much to offer its visitors. Damaged by the revolutions of the last two centuries, the historical center — L’Habana Vieja -, the most evocative part of the city, can be visited entirely on foot. You can start from Plaza de la Catedral and its imposing church, and then reach Plaza de Armas, populated with used book stalls, and the Museo de la Ciudad. But there are also places for numismatics and car enthusiasts: the Numismatic Museum and the Museo del Automòvil. Very popular with tourists is also the Habana 1791, a laboratory where different floral fragrances are mixed together to make very good perfumes. Halfway along Obrapìa stands the Casa del Abanico, where precious handcrafted fans are made: a special gift idea to take home with you.

Do not miss the Museo de Naipes, with its unique collection of playing cards.

For those who want an overall view of the city, you can go to Plaza Vieja, from where you can admire one of the most striking views of Havana.

Other unmissable destinations in Cuba
Cuba
With its extraordinary colonial buildings and numerous performances by street musicians, Trinidad is definitely a destination not to be missed. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city boasts an enviable location: squeezed between the coast and the Topes de Collantes mountains, it offers unparalleled scenery. But the reason that makes it one of the most visited Cuban cities is its colonial atmosphere. Restored houses, majestic churches and paved courtyards tell its story.

Holguin. Known as the «city of parks,» Holguin is Cuba’s fourth largest city. Theater of great struggles during the two wars of independence (XIX century), it is currently going through a phase of rebirth with the renovation of its most important buildings. A visit to the many parks that make it so unique is a must: there are six in the city center alone.

Camaguey. Among all the cities of Cuba is perhaps the most fascinating, with its narrow streets that lead unexpectedly in charming colonial squares. There are many churches with pastel-colored walls that can be visited in Camaguey. According to an old legend, anyone who drinks the water from the tinajones — the large clay jars that in ancient times were placed in the courtyards of the city as a reserve of water from which to draw in times of drought — falls in love with Camaguey and cannot help but return.

Cuba’s Historic Places
Don’t leave without visiting some of Cuba’s most famous historical sites:

La Comandancia de La Plata, including a museum, a field hospital, a command post and Castro’s residence during the revolution; la Fortezza de San Carlos de la Cabana, one of the largest in the Americas, built to prevent the enemy from reaching the long ridge overlooking Havana;
the Presidio Modelo, the prison dating back to the repressive regime of Gerardo Machado;
the Monument to Ernesto Che Guevara in Santa Clara, with its mausoleum dedicated to the other guerrillas who died during the failed attempt at revolution in Bolivia.
the cobblestones of Habana Vieja, the ramparts of Santiago de Cuba and the ruined sugar mills in Valle de los Ingenios
the very long beaches with palm trees, with white and fine sand, real postcard places such as Cayo Coco, Cayo Levisa, Playa Ensenachos, Playa Giròn, Marìa de la Gorda, Playa del Este and the famous Varadero
the works of the main Cuban artists, guarded in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Plaza de la Marqueta and inside the Conjunto Folklòrico de Cuba.
What to eat, where to sleep and how to move in Cuba

The typical Cuban meal — called Comida Criolla (Creole cuisine) — is characterized by fried food, salad — that is any kind of raw vegetable, with the prevalence of cabbage, tomatoes, and cucumbers -, plàtani (green bananas) and congrì (rice and beans).

Pork and pescado (fish) are also widely used. Among the most popular second courses are: lomo ahumado (smoked and aromatic sirloin), chuletas (fillet with sauce), filete uruguayo (fried cutlet stuffed with ham and cheese), ostiones (small oysters with tomato sauce or lime juice) and pargo colorado (lobster).

Remember that Cubans have a sweet tooth for helado (ice cream), a product that is very easy to find and a fresh idea for a nice snack between visits.

More than two million people visit Cuba every year, which is why, especially in high season, it is very difficult to find accommodation. There are two possibilities offered by the island to its tourists: hotels and casas particulares. The latter offer to those who choose them a real «Cuban vacation», a fascinating and economical experience; they are houses rented by the owners to tourists, to whom they provide meals. It is possible to recognize these original lodgings thanks to a blue sign affixed on the door of the rented house, with the writing: «Arrendador Divisa».

Getting around Cuba is no small feat. Buses are few and often too crowded, cars are a luxury, so there are not many cabs to rely on. The best way to visit the island is probably to rent a car. Of course, this is not a cheap choice. Buses, on the other hand, are decidedly low cost but dirty and slow; there are two main companies: Astro and Viaje Azul.

There are many air connections between the main cities, a possibility not to be underestimated, especially considering that the rates are more than reasonable. The airplane is among other things the only means by which to reach some islands of the archipelago.

 

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