Cuba is a fascinating country, with such an interesting history. Not so long ago, back in 1959 Fidel Castro along with Che Guevara & others successfully overthrew the American backed Cuban dictator Batista, taking back the 75% of foreign owned land & nationalised it all. When all the Americans quickly left Cuba they had to abandon all their cars. These vintage cars have been maintained ever since & many of them kept in pristine condition. The Cubans are such happy & welcoming people. They may not own much materialistic things- like houses or cars but they have a love of life that you cannot help but be drawn by. They love their music & dancing- it is everywhere you go in Cuba.
I have been to Cuba I think 7 times before & apart from the first ever trip, this last one in February was the best.
I had never been to the city of Santiago de Cuba before & I loved it. Santiago is located at the southern tip of Cuba- a very long drive or domestic flight from Havana. Rather than wasting time travelling I opted to fly with Cubana from Gatwick to Holguin (flight then continues to Havana). I was pleasantly surprised with Cubana, the plane was comfortable & although it does not have the individual tv screens as Virgin have, the flight was fine. On arrival into Holguin airport we could have had a few nights @ Guardalavaca beach, but we wanted to get to Santiago straightaway. So we had a 3 hour private transfer to Santiago arriving at the colonial Casa Grande Hotel in the centre of the historical part of the city. The Casa Grande is a beautiful building & yes it may not be in pristine condition but is in a great location & has lots of character. There is also the Melia hotel which has a swimming pool, but we were in Santiago to enjoy the city & would have plenty of time later in the trip to relax around a pool!!
Santiago is a very different city to Havana & has more of a Caribbean feel to it. It is certainly less touristy than Havana, but that will be because it is harder to get to!! We only had 3 nights here & the first night we arrived quite late so really only the 2 full days. Now I have been to Santiago I would recommend it to clients who want to experience a city a little less touristy than Havana. Santiago is reputed to be the birth place of reggae music- so here you have a huge mix of music. On the Saturday night in the park across from the Casa Grande Hotel there was a group of men playing guitar & singing – they were fantastic & would take requests. They were not doing it for money but because they enjoyed it- the bottle (s) of rum no doubt helped!! It was a great atmosphere & no loutish behaviour!!
After our 3 nights in Santiago we took the domestic flight up to Havana. Being in Havana is always a real highlight for me. It is a city that really makes you feel like you have gone back in time by several decades, back to the 1950’s. The city is so vibrant & with a little imagination you can picture how beautiful the buildings were in their hey day. Much of Havana is being renovated so the buildings are getting back to their original splendour- it is a slow & expensive job but they are getting there little by little. A walk along the Malecon on a Friday or Saturday night is like going to several parties. All the Cubans are along here playing music, drinking rum & courting.
On the Sunday we made our way to “La Rumba de Cayo Hueso”. It is a fabulous Afro-Cuban musical get together every Sunday from 12pm. Really highly respected musicians & dancers come here to play Rumba, not the ballroom version but a complex rhythmic music generally only found in Cuba. The dance is flirtatious between a man & woman. The singers & dancers change as people take their turn, it is fascinating a great experience. This was my first visit & I wondered why I had never been before..
When in Havana there is a lot to see & do. We had 5 nights this trip & that was perfect. We also had some relaxation time by the hotels roof top pool. My favourite hotel in Havana is still the Parque central. The rooms are great, the huge buffet breakfast wonderful & the 2 roof top pools are ideal to cool down in when the mid day sun hits..
I also went to Trinidad, the Cuban city for the day- just to see some hotels. It was a long day trip & not one that I would recommend taking from Havana. It was 5 hours each way!! But there was no availability in any of the hotels so it was either go for the day or not at all!. Although it was a long way for a day trip it was worth seeing Trinidad. It is a really pretty city with very old cobbled streets & colourful buildings. It is much better to go & stay there for 2 or 3 nights so that you can visit the old town etc in the morning or late afternoon- when the hundreds of day tourists are not there. It is a popular day trip from the beach area of Varadero so by lunch time there are lots of coaches & too many people. So if by staying a night or so you can avoid the middle hours of the day when this little city is busy & enjoy it at it quietest time. The 5* Grand Hotel is a beautiful colonial hotel in the heart of the city. But if you want to have some beach time but only be a 20 minute drive to the city then I really like the Costa Sur Bungalows. The hotel is the Club Amigo Costa Sur & is the smallest beach hotel in the area. The regular rooms are not so good but the bungalows are lovely & on the beach. For me the perfect way to enjoy Trinidad is to have 2 nights @ the Grand Hotel & then move to the beach hotel. This is perfect for clients that really do not want to stay in the large resort area of Varadero. By staying at Trinidad beach you then also have the opportunity of going back into the city.
After 5 nights in Havana we were ready for a rest, so with a heavy heart we said goodbye to Havana having the short transfer to Varadero beach, for our final 5 nights in Cuba. Varadero gets slatted a lot by people but it is a gorgeous beach & yes it is very touristy with lots of big international hotels- but at least Cubans live there. I am not a big fan of the Cayo’s, the islands along the coast. Yes they are on lovely beaches but as they are so isolated Cubans do no actually live there & are brought in to work for a week & then go home for a few days before returning to the Cayo to work some more. We went into Varadero Town one evening to the Casa de la Musica & were so lucky to see a famous Cuban band called Los Van Van playing. It was a great night & full of local people. This band is huge in Cuba & we were so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. They have played in the UK before with the tickets selling @ £30. Here in Varadero we got in for 10 CUC’s – £7!! Bargain. The rest of the time we relaxed on the stunning beach watching the Pelicans & drinking cocktails. At the internationally managed resort hotels the food & drink are an excellent standard- maybe too good as we drank & ate far too much!!
So we than had to come home :[ . Any spare currency was spent on buying more bottles of Havana Club @ duty free. The Cubana flight, as on the way over, was perfectly on time & even arrived 10 minutes early. We arrived to grey skies & rain- welcome home!! But at least we had got away from the UK’s miserable weather & had a fantastic holiday – one that I will never forget..