Cuba Libre Anyone? By Exodus' Sophie Ashworth
Its been almost 50 years since the illustrious Castro strolled into Havana and made revolutionary history and having read so much about the country I thought it was time I visited this unique place that was on my never ending list of places to visit.
Cuba is famous for its politics and history and is steeped in culture that would make any culture vulture amazed. Sat in my garden discussing with friends my next adventure, it was easy to decide why it had to be Cuba - pre-revolutionary time warp, American cars, Caribbean rhythms, a quirky way of life, salsa and not to mention, my favourite pastime, drinking cocktails!
The trip I went on was ‘A Taste of Cuba’ and it really was a taster of what Cuba has to offer - a cocktail of history, culture, sun, salsa, rum, cigars blended nicely with a sprinkle of music from the Buena Vista Social Club and there you have it. Cuba.
So, being November, I expected it to be warm and showery, but on day one, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive to gorgeous sunshine with a nice breeze. It stayed like this for the whole 8 days of my trip.
The first few days were spent exploring the colourful capital and largest city in the Caribbean, Havana. Covering just 4.5 sq km, Havana is a perfect city for exploring on foot. Busy and bustling with energy, it is easy to feel that you have stepped back in time, described as a ‘living museum’ – it’s easy to see why.
As the only surviving Spanish colonial complex in the Americas this city really shows off its greatest assets – cathedrals, monuments and palaces. Havana is made up several small plazas, which are bustling with cafes bars, restaurants and shops, all offering something different from the last. We also spent time in the Miramar district, on the outskirts of Havana, and visited the Museo de la Revolucion, before retiring to the infamous Hemingway haunt ‘The Floridita’ for a much-deserved strawberry daiquiri or two.
After soaking up all the colourful sights of Havana for a couple of nights, we then headed south to the beautiful and charming colonial city of Cienfuegos. This city has recently been given Unesco World Heritage listing. Here we spent the afternoon walking around the plazas, soaking up the Cuban way of life and sampling what is traditionally known as the drink of Cuba – a refreshing Havana Rum and Coke aka ‘The Cuba Libre’.
As with much of Cuban culture, some of the most captivating art can be found within the walls of most galleries but walking through the city you'll notice an eclectic variety of art on the city walls depicting the ‘Heroes of Cuba’ - Jose Marti, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. You’ll also notice the rainbow of colours that are painted on houses throughout the town.
From Cienfuegos we headed further south to the delightful city of Trinidad – another Unesco World Heritage Site since 1988 and probably the ‘best preserved’ colonial town on the island. Here we explored the quaint cobbled streets and courtyards. Trinidad is situated between the rainforests of Sierra del Escambray and the tropical Caribbean waters, creating a scene of stunning tranquillity.
In the evening, the group ventured into town to sample a real taster of Cuban nightlife, walking down the cobbled streets to the wonderful sounds of drums, saxophones and guitars is quickly noticeable and is echoed around each corner. We had a lovely dinner in the central plaza followed by salsa lessons (optional, but a definite must!) at Trinidad’s famous ‘Casa de la Trova’ a traditional Cuban dancing bar, where we enjoyed a night of singing and dancing as well as a few Cuba Libres (for dutch courage of course).
The morning after we set off to have a true taster of Cuban beach life. From the small beach of Playa Ancon we set sail on a catamaran to Cayo Macho. It took approximately two hours to get there. Along the way the crew anchor up for what seems to be a refreshing swim or snorkel in the lush green waters, you do have the choice to have a dip, but when the crew jumped in, they came out with almost 10 huge lobsters. Lunch.
Once moored up, we headed onto Cayo Macho ‘paradise’ island, and were immediately greeted by lots of inquisitive but friendly iguanas. Here we spent the day soaking up the sun, eating fresh fish, rice, beetroot, mango and coconut. The island is tiny and you can walk around it in less than 15 minutes.
We were the only people on the island, miles away from civilisation - looking out to miles of turquoise waters. The full day is yours to spend at your leisure and the boat is equipped with snorkelling gear so for water lovers, you can enjoy the tropical reef and colourful marine life or for those wanting to relax, then you can sleep in the hammocks or take a dip in the tropical waters.
Day seven is an early start driving up to the Topes de Collantes National Park. The scenery is stunning, we travelled by bus (air conditioned!) through the 2nd largest mountain range in Cuba (1,150mt). Once we arrived at the park, we were greeted by ‘Rambo’ our guide for the morning. Rambo by name, Rambo by nature - he guided us through the jungle teaching us all about the flora and fauna of the Cuban jungle.
In the afternoon we headed to the small town of Santa Clara. A young ‘university’ city. Santa Clara is most famous for being the site of the last battle of the Cuban revolution in December 1958, just before Fidel took Havana. It was also here that Che Guevara and his troops ambushed an armoured train carrying arms to Santiago de Cuba and hence was a major turning point in the revolution.
Here we spent the afternoon visiting the armoured train museum and the burial place of Che Guevara and his comrades who died in Bolivia. In the evening, we headed to our hotel where we spent the night eating, dancing and reminiscing about the fabulous week we’d all had on this wonderful island.
As it was the last night, it would have been cheeky to not have enjoyed what was an integral part of my Cuban experience, the band came on, the music was turned up, I got to my feet and salsa(ed) my way over to the bar – and this time I made it a double.
Sophie went on our "A Taste of Cuba" holiday. (Trip code: AUW)