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Top Destinations for 2016: Cuba

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Cuba, the mysterious country with a rich, revolutionary history, has always been a top tourist destination for people intrigued by the country’s history. Its well preserved natural habitats also attract nature lovers and adventurers in droves, as many people seek to experience the unique Caribbean environment for themselves.

Located where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet, the Republic of Cuba is the largest Caribbean island in Latin America. You can discover a plethora of unique flora and fauna in Sierra Maestra, amidst of the hot and sunny tropical climate.

The long and beautiful coast and beach resorts in Varadero are the best places to spend a long, relaxing holiday; but if you fancy learning more about the Spanish colonial and revolutionary history of the island, you must pay a visit to the capital city Havana.

Currently undergoing significant economic reforms, such as increased trade with other countries, this might be the last chance you have to experience the ‘real’, authentic Cuba before globalisation truly takes hold. 

Where to go  

Old Havana 

With a population of 2.1 million citizens, the city centre of the capital city is one of the most charming tourist attractions. Discovered by the Spanish in the 16th Century, the city is deeply influenced by this colonial culture.

Plaza de la Catedral is an example of Cuban Baroque architecture completed in 1777 by the Franciscans. It’s legendary for supposedly holding Christopher Columbus’s remains between 1796 and 1898.

When you visit the cathedral, you should wander inside to admire the vaulted ceilings and statue of St Christopher. After the visit, you can take a break at one of the cafés and enjoy the fascinating façade view.

Plaza de Armas is the social hub in the city; apart from the wide variety of cafes and restaurants where visitors can have a coffee break, it is also home to several local landmarks. Palacio de Los Capitanes, a former mansion that hosted more than 60 Spanish generals over the years, has turned into a city museum for visitors to have a glance over history and allows music concerts to be held in its courtyard. Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the mid-16th-century colonial fort, is another hot spot.

Trinidad

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trinidad was originally established for sugar and slave trade. The colourful 16th-century town is one of the most well-preserved in the colonial community. It’s home to the some of the most impressive Spanish colonial mansions, plazas and churches in Cuba.

Plaza Mayor is the historical centre of Trinidad and is an ideal starting point for sightseeing. You can pay a visit to MuseoHistorico Municipal, a museum located in the neoclassical Palacio Cantero mansion. The mansion was built in the early 1800s with Italian marble floors and large open rooms.

After stopping by to learn the history of Trinidad, visit the world heritage-listed Valle de Los Ingenios for information about the industry of slave trading and the wars of independence.

About 12 kilometres away from Trinidad is Playa Ancon, one of the finest white sand beaches on the south coast of Cuba. This beach tends to be less crowded than others nearby and makes an ideal spot to relax and unwind.

Sierra Maestra

Sierra Maestra, the country’s largest mountain range, has served many purposes: it’s been the location of three wars of independence against Spain and it’s hosted a revolutionary war against dictator Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Today, however, the area if far less violent. The range is now known as the best place in the country to experience the natural landscape of Cuba. It’s also a bird-watching hub, home to the Cuban Green Woodpecker, the Cuban Vireo, the Red-legged Honeycreeper, the Cuban Solitaire and the Giant Kingbird.

The surrounding area, in the Santiago de Cuba Province bordering on the Granma province, was the heart of the insurrectionary movement against Spain. The Comandancia De La Plata was Fidel Castro’s rebel headquarters during the revolution, located three kilometres west of Alto de Naranjo. The trail is well marked but it is uphill and the terrain is rocky and muddy. Make sure you have your hiking boots on before following Fidel’s revolution routes!

What to do  

Hike La Plata Mountain Trail

To explore Fidel Castro’s revolutionary base camps, plan for a day of mountain trekking. You can visit the small museum near the beginning of the complex and seven concealed escape routes designed by Fidel Castro. If you want a challenge, you can try to climb up to the radio building in Radio Rebelde, where the rebel’s early broadcasts were aired.

Aspiring guerrilla-watchers should hire a guide at the park headquarters in Santo Domingo. The journey starts at Alto de Naranjo and continues on foot along a rocky and muddy 4-kilometre track – so be sure to bring water and a snack.

Plaza De Armas Book Market

In the 16th century, Plaza de Armas was used for military and government ceremonies. Today, it’s a renowned open book market that attracts local citizens and travellers from around the world. The main market covers about 100 square metres in front of the old Palace of the Captains General, now home to the Museum of the City of Havana. Booksellers with portable bookcases gather here every day, offering a wide range of second handed or new print collections to passers-by. If you are a book lover with a keen interest in communist history, you cannot afford to miss it.  

Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation

Located in the Vuelta Abajo region, Alejandro Robaina has one of the most fertile fields in the country and produces the finest tobacco in the world. Join a tour to explore the tobacco plantation; start by seeing how the seeds are planted in plots of land covered by cheesecloth, and then move on to see how the leaves are strung up in bundles and fermented in drying barns. At the end you will be shown how to roll a cigar. The best time of year to visit is between October and January, as this is the tobacco’s prime growing season.

Go scuba diving

Cuba’s diversity doesn’t end on land – the country is home to hundreds of sites to explore in the ocean, including the popular Los Paraguas de Baracoa, Punta Frances and Piedras del Norte Cay Marine Park. These scuba diving spots are made up of beautiful coral reefs, over a thousand types of fish and a variety of sponges, algae and crustaceans. The water is warm, thanks to the region’s wide insular shelf, making it perfect for exploration. Just watch out for sharks!

Check out our top scuba diving spote in Cuba here

Enjoy some classic Cuban music

The Casa de Las Tradiciones, part of the Trivoli neighbourhood in Santiago de Cuba, is home to some of Cuba’s best musicians, improvising live for their audiences. Listening to the music is the best way to feel like you’re jumping right into the Cuban culture. Eat some traditional Cuban food as you listen and enjoy.

Ride a double-decker bus around Havana

Ready to explore the city but not ready to let go of your British roots? You’ll feel like you’re in London – albeit a much warmer version of London – while riding a “Hop on, hop off” bus that runs all day. It’s a convenient way to see the city, as Havana itself is quite spread out.




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