A couple of weeks back I posted my answer to that difficult question for a seasoned traveller ‘What’s your FAVOURITE travel destination’, and If you missed it, my responses were Canada, Peru, Cuba, South Africa and Nepal.
I’ve since posted the reasoning behind my decisions for Canada and Peru, and now its Cuba’s turn.
I should admit early on that I only spent 2 weeks in Cuba, so I’m not going to proclaim to know all there is to it or that I experienced everything that Cuba has to offer. However, when asked the question about my favourite travel destinations, Cuba always pops into my head and the fact that a place can get under your skin, in such a short amount of time, definitely means something to me.
There is also this one photo of myself that whisks me back to a moment in time, when I can truly say that I was blissfully happy, and I love that it was when I was in Cuba.
So, what is it that makes CUBA one of my favourite destinations and a ‘must’ (in my opinion) for everyone’s travel bucket list?
For me it’s the CULTURE, BEAUTY, PEOPLE (and possibly the Mojitios!) that has kept Cuba as a stand out in my mind, even after visiting almost 50 other countries.
If you’re looking for culinary greatness, Cuba is NOT for you. While the food can be tasty, it’s still pretty limited due to government rationing, BUT if you like your RUM, then you’re in luck. Cuban rum is renowned for being some of the best in the world, and I have to admit that the Mojitos are amazing!
If you’re looking for brand names, shopping, McDonalds or any sign of western civilisation… then stay well clear of Cuba too, as you won’t find any of that there either.
What you will find?
Vintage cars, cruising the streets of Havana that beckon you for a ride. We spent an hour at sunset, cruising around town in a 1950’s Cadillac convertible, oh and it was hot pink!
Spontaneous dancing in the streets and a ‘Buena vista social club’ music vibe. There is no shortage of live music, and the locals are soon by your side, offering their hand to show you some moves. Warm up your hips, down a Mojito and get amongst it. Santiago de Cuba is the BEST place to immerse yourself in the party vibe, but all over Cuba you’ll find locals dancing to the beat.
Stunning beaches. Yep, Cuba is paradise with plenty of sun and sand to entice you to their shore. It’s pretty much postcard perfect in Cuba most of the year, so make sure you grab your lilo, pull up a deck chair and take it all in.
There is great snorkelling and diving in Cuba too, so heading to places like Jardines de Reina, María la Gorda and the Isla de la Juventud, would be a must if that’s what you’re into.
Cigars and Che Guevera! Distinctly CUBA and both equally a part of what makes this country who and what it is.
You can’t walk around a corner without seeing a portrait of Che Guevera, Cuba’s famous revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. On T-shirts, hats, walls, cars, everywhere!! Cuba’s revolutionary war is definitely like something from a movie, and it’s worth taking a walking tour of Havana with a guide, to learn more about it.
The Cuban Cigar. An Icon in its own right, and it wouldn’t be a visit to Cuba without experiencing it 1st hand. That distinct, pungent smell of a Cigar lingers in the air all over Cuba, and Havana particularly is dotted with Cigar factories to visit. Immerse yourself in the making of the Cigar, and learn all about why Cuban cigars are still some of the best in the world.
Stunning UNESCO protected architecture & sites, are littered across Cuba and of course help to maintain Cuba’s distinctive charm. From stunning Trinidad, to the Old Town of Havana, you could lose yourself for hours and hours, wandering the cobblestone streets, taking in the pastel houses, and vibrant town squares. We hired bikes, and took it all in at our own pace. We were able to interact with the locals we met along the way, and explore the outskirts of town, where tourists rarely venture.
The opportunity to stay with a local, in a Casa Particular which shouldn’t be missed!
In Spanish, Casa Particular means ‘private house’ and is similar to a B&B, where private families rent rooms to travellers. Super economical, and yet something that will provide you with more of a distinct cultural experience, than staying any big budget hotel or any kind (not that Cuba has many of those anyway).
You may also have the opportunity to dine with the family, and despite their perhaps limited English language skills, it’s fantastic to get to experience life behind the walls of the homes you wander past, and interact with the locals in their language. That is part of the reason we travel after all.
And this of course links to the friendliness and charm of the people.
Reading back through my travel journal from my time in Cuba, I’d written that I had found the people to be mostly happy, hospitable and gracious, but I also reflected on the fact that real life in Cuba was tough.
It wasn’t all smiling faces, and friendly locals, happy to offer their assistance for the love of it. There were definitely moments where I caught a glimpse of the hardship, particularly off the tourist trail or in Havana, where you are approached constantly (almost to harassment levels) by touts offering to show you around… But that’s real life here in Cuba, and any opportunity to make a little extra for themselves is jumped at.
However from the kids we met who were chasing a chicken and playing baseball in the streets, to the famous old woman who charges $1USD for her photo with a Cigar, I found the Cuban people to be happy & welcoming to foreigners.
Overall, there are plenty of ‘Cuban Must See’ lists, and a heap of travel guides or tours that will tell you exactly when and where you should go, so I’m not going to go into all of that here, but If you do find yourself in Cuba someday, I hope that you are left with the vibrant and fond memories of it that I have, and If the reasons for why I loved Cuba encourage you to get there one day… let me know and If I can help, I’ll gladly point you in the right direction.
Have you been to Cuba? Why do you love it, hate it? What are your ‘must see’ destinations? Share your thoughts!
Thanks as always for reading! Go explore your TraveLust.