VARADERO, GUAMA, HAVANA, VINALES, PINAR DEL RIO, CAYO BLANCO
As soon as I came out of the airport in Havana and took a first breath of fresh Cuban air, it immediately became clear too me there are 2 amazing weeks full of sun, sea, music, food and rum ahead of us.
After 2 hours bus ride we finally reach the most beautiful but also a little commercial area of Cuba – Varadero. This part of the island is reserved exclusively for tourists, in whose locals do not have access unless they work here. To get a job in Varadero is the dream of almost every Cuban person since the others earn maybe a fifth of what the chosen ones earn here. Varadero is a stunning piece of the world with beautiful beaches and in a real life it looks even better than on the photos in the travel guide. We dropped our luggage in the room, jump into swimsuits and hit the beach.
Beautiful turquoise colour of the sea plus ideal water temperature is my favourite combination and from this point it became clear to my friends it’ll be very difficult to get me out of the water. The beach from our hotel Palma Real was about 10 minutes by walk. There was a cosy restaurant with a small bar and easy going waiter on the beach, which was perfect for us because we didn’t have to go back to the hotel for food and drinks.
It started to get dark and before going to bed we decided to go for a trip around the island. We took Coco taxi which is actually a motor tricycle with round-shaped coconut hood and is extremely popular among tourists. For a few pesos we drove to the other end of Varadero and explored the area. On the way back we took a shortcut through the beach and had a nice walk barefoot in the warm sea.
Our next stop was the Headquarters of the Revolution in Bay of Pigs, well known place of American invasion in 1961. It is a very interesting museum with many photographs, maps and private things belonged and used by Fidel and his soldiers. From here we continued to the next stop which was the crocodile farm Guama. It is the biggest crocodile farm in Cuba and it is a part of the national park in peninsula Zapata. There are more than 10 thousand crocodiles. The tour of these prehistoric creatures took 45 minutes and we found out many interesting things about them. The guide takes through the areas with the smallest ones up to the biggest ones placed behind thick fence. From the farm we moved to the nearby port and jumped into small speedboats. With a full speed we went through the narrow channels to the open lake La Laguna del Tesoro and headed towards the Indian village Taino. There are many trees, tents, gardens and sculptures explaining the history of the tribe and most of the inhabitants are the Indian descendants.
After such an amazing trip we just had to relax a bit and stayed on our beach for a few days with occasional trips in Varadero’s surrounding like for example visit of the bats cave, lunch in fantastic Al Capone’s villa or famous Dolphinarium.
I couldn’t wait the day when we’ll go and visit the capitol – Havana. Colourful and vibrant city with turbulent history is like a magnet for every tourist and can’t be missed. First thing we started with in Havana was the tour of the historic city centre. The guides took us to the museum with huge tank with whom Fidel came to Havana at the end of the revolution. The tour continued through the old town with beautiful building of Capitolio, hotel Inglatera and we finished on huge square Plaza de la Revolucion very well known for Fidel’s speeches, Jose Marti memorial and marching soldiers.
After the lunch we carried on with the tour and passed by Hemingway’s favourite hotel Ambos Mundos, went up to the tower with amazing view of the city and started to move towards the hotel next to the famous promenade Malecon. The entire city is full of colours and good atmosphere. People are very friendly and even though they don’t have that much they look very happy. For car lovers, especially the classic ones from the 50s of the last century, it’s the heaven on earth. The cars strolling the streets of Havana you can now only see in historic movies. They are usually full of smoke but they look spectacular. The locals love their cars, rarely sell them and keep them as a family inheritance.
Our city tour was coming to an end and we started to prepare ourselves for the evening visit of famous cabaret in Tropicana. The club founded in 1939 thanks to its cabaret show is world known and every night attracts hundreds of visitors. Once in Havana, don’t forget to miss the show.
Next day we hit the road early morning and headed west towards the area with the best tobacco in the world – Pinar Del Rio. Cuban cigars still belong to the most important export article and wit the sugar cane and rum they are the main source of income of the country. Before we reached the town of Vinales we stopped for a short boat ride in the cave. Amazing experience… Afterwards we finally reached the tobacco plantation and the owner explained us the whole process from the beginning through the harvest and drying of tobacco leaves. Later on we visited a tobacco factory where we could see the finalisation of the product including rolling, measuring, packing and storing of cigars.
After seeing all these interesting places we were relaxing for a few more days on different beaches of Varadero. During this time we tried kayaking, windsurfing and also visited a dolphin show in local Dolphinarium. It was always my dream to swim with the dolphins one day and here it came true. Right after we came inside, we sat down on the small pier and waited we dolphins to come to us. It’s really amazing feeling to touch them or when you can hug these intelligent creatures. For me it was a lifetime experience and I’ll never forget it…
One of our last and also the best trips during our stay in Cuba was the day trip to Cayo Blanco. We came to the port early morning and boarded a brand new catamaran. On the way there we had a short stop for snorkeling and I have to say the under water life in Cuba is really awesome. The island of Cayo Blanco looks like from the advert of Bounty chocolate bar. Snowy-white sand, turquoise waters, green palms, heaven on earth… Right after we hit the shore we went for a walk to explore the island and then for a swim. We were really surprised with the lunch because the chefs prepared delicious lobsters for us. After the lunch we relaxed in the hammocks, went for a swim again returned from this amazing place back to Varadero.
Our last trip was a snorkeling with our lifeguard Ridel in nearby cliffs known only by locals. This is also one of the reasons we always go for a trips with local people because they know and show you the best places. I’ve been to many places but I’ve never seen such a beauty under the water so far. But this wasn’t the best part. Ridel decided to show us another gem and took us to the Saturn’s cave where we carried on with the snorkeling. I couldn’t think of a better finish of our stay in this Island of Freedom.
I always said we need to visit Cuba while Fidel Castro is still alive and I am happy we made it. This amazing island is more and more opening to the world but luckily it still keeps its character. We hope it stays like this for a long time even though we know the big change has already started.
Cuba is a beautiful island with beautiful people and you won’t get bored here. That’s for sure. Whether it’s the nature or culture or history you like, you’ll find it here and you’ll fall in love with Cuba immediately. We spent here amazing 2 weeks full of sun, fun, adventure and relax. I hope we’ll be able to come back one day and enjoy the Cuba Libre again. Until then, Viva la Revolucion!
Tip 1: In Varadero take Coco taxi and visit Al Capone’s villa, bats cave and Dolphinarium.
Tip 2: In the centre of Varadero is a small market where you can buy cheap souvenirs.
Tip 3: You’ll need at least 2 days to see everything in Havana a don’t forget to visit the famous cabaret in Tropicana.
Tip 4: If you are planning to buy the cigars do it directly in the cigar factory or at the airport. Do not buy them on the streets.
Total costs: 2 weeks All Inclusive (Flight + Accommodation + Meals): £750.00
(Prices as of March 2011)
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