Cuba Travel Guide
Anywhere in Cuba
Baseball, or as Cubans call it béisbol, is considered the national sport in Cuba and they are pretty damn good at it. They won Olympic gold in '92,'96,'04 and silver in '00,'08. Going to a baseball game is dirt cheap (1 MN peso, about 4 cents USD) and it is a fun, non-touristy, thing to do. Food stalls are lined up outside the stadium while bags of nuts, popcorn and pork sandwiches are sold by passing vendors inside. Smartly dressed teenagers patrol the walkways in a seeming attempt to impress the opposite sex, not giving a hoot about the game. Find a seat in the shade, lean back and enjoy... Oh, remember to throw back the ball if you happen to catch it, souvenir baseballs don't exist in Cuba.
Cienfuegos is a cool harbour town. Though it is semi famous for its French architecture, which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it doesn't have the cuteness of Trinidad or the grandeur of Havana. Luckily this means the tourist hordes skip this easy going town, letting those who are interested in the "real Cuba" explore the place in peace. The back streets behind the historical centre of Parque José Martí have real character and charm. Here people hang out and gather on their front steps and porches and there are small shops selling, well, not much. The beautiful waterside setting can be enjoyed along the Malecón, which leads on to the spacious neighbourhood of Punta Gorda. Come here to savor Cuba and Cubans.
Capital of Cuba
You probably have some cliche idea of how Havana should be: Decayed colonial buildings, grand old American cars cruising down tree lined broad boulevards, old fat cigar smoking men resting in the shade, young beautiful Latinos chilling on balconies with salsa music pumping in the background. And yes, it is just like that - and more. The old historical centre, La Habana Vieja, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been done up finely to the delight of the many tour groups. Away from the tourist pleasing historical centre, every street looks - and feels - like a movie set. Dilapidated houses with old American car (wrecks) parked out front, kids playing baseball outside empty-shelved government shops, a complete lack of billboard adverts but, in their place, worn walls painted with colourful revolutionary slogans (Socialismo o muerte = Socialism or die) and images of national heroes like Che Guevara and José Martí. Funnily enough, you hardly ever see a picture of the Castro brothers.
In every town
You can't say Cuba without rum - it is that simple. The place is famous for its mojitos which can be had for about $1.5 to $4 (convertible pesos which is equal to USD) anywhere tourists are likely to show up. This might not sound like a lot, but it is an hefty amount for Cubans. So, instead they head to a government owned street bar which charges in moneda nacional (MN). Here locals skoal down rum (straight, warm and without ice) for as little as MN 2.5 (about 10 cents USD) for a huge shot. They might not sell the sophisticated mojitos, but you can mix your rum with a tuKola (local coke). It is a great place to meet the friendly Cubans and talk about politics, baseball and British football - probably all at the same time.
Mural de la Prehistoria
4 km from Viñales town
We are not sure what to think of this. A giant wall painting on a cliff face. It should symbolize the theory of evolution and took four years to complete in 1961, but has since been repainted. It's more odd than anything. Have a look and make up your own mind.
12 km from Trinidad
This long stretch of white sand is a worthy contender for being the best beach on the south coast, but it is not as drop-dead gorgeous as some of the northern ones. You can choose to lick up the sun at the resort sprawled section where sunbeds and parasols are on offer, or you can wander off to the deserted eastern part if you want a bit of solitude and Robinson Crusoe vibe. The trip from Trinidad through the village of La Boca to Ancón can easily be done by bicycle and it is a pretty journey, particularly the part along the coast.
Playas del Este
Bus ride from Havana
Playas del Este is the most accessible stretch of beach from Havana. Some locals, and tourists alike, will probably claim that the holiday ghettos of Varadero and Cayo Coco have the best beaches, but Playas del Este isn't any less gorgeous with its white sand and swaying palms. The few resorts that are here are old and ugly, but there are plenty of beach shacks serving food and drinks. The crowd is mostly locals and day trippers from Havana giving the beach scene an "authentic" feel that is lost at the tourist enclaves further east.
Sancti Spíritus Province
Tiny Trinidad defines charm. Cobblestoned streets, pretty pastel-coloured colonial houses, and a cute palm fringed town square; it is no wonder Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and every traveller's darling. Some past sugar baron villas have been restored and turned into museums, while the streets leading up to Plaza Mayor are filled with small restaurants, art galleries and casa particulares. At the outskirts of town, green hills arise and the warm Caribbean ocean is only a bicycle ride away. Despite the bus loads of tourists visiting every day being dragged around the few central squares with the accompanying town touts in tow, the atmosphere remains relaxed and slow. The further you venture from the historical centre, the more potholed the cobblestoned streets become and the more lively the street scene gets. Here the houses remain prettily pastel coloured but they are more derelict and with plenty of old folks hanging out simply watching the world go by.
Pinar del Rio Province
Viñales town is not much more than a small square and a main street with a few rows of houses on each side. You can easily walk from one end to the other, meaning it is not so important where you are going to stay. Hardened local farmers on either bicycle or ox cart come to town for a bit of shopping and mingling with the tourists that come for Viñales' real attraction, the surrounding gorgeous countryside Valle de Viñales.
Valle de Viñales, Pinar del Rio Province
The green lush valley at Viñales, Valle de Viñales, is truly unique and a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the remarkable landscape. Tobacco, coffee, sugarcane, banana and pineapple are grown on flat red soil farmland at the foot of big limestone knolls, so called mogotes, which rise dramatically into the air. Palm thatched barns dot the otherwise green carpet of fields and plantations, which are connected by a network of trails only passable on horseback or foot. There several caves in the area that can be visited, both tourist caves (Cuevas de San Miguel and Cuevas del Indio) and on your own (Cueva de la Vaca, Cueva de Palmerito). To reach some of the more far fetch sights in the valley, a local guide will be useful. Otherwise, local farmers are friendly and happy to point you in the right direction.