Plan Your Adventure In Havana Cuba
Taking a step onto the island of Cuba is like taking a step back in time. Those classic vintage cars still roam Havana's city streets. Women strut along with an air of in-your-face sensuality and yes - grandmothers do smoke Cuban cigars while lazing on the steps of their front porch.
Cuba is one walking contradiction of a country. It is poverty-stricken yet culturally-rich. Its fine architecture is magnificent even as it crumbles before your eyes. The country can be utterly confounding with its many, many layers. You will have to travel here a thousand times and then some before you even begin to scratch its perplexing surface. Cuba was once a Spanish colony, however its culture is a diverse mix of French, African, American, Jamaican, and indigenous Taino. Cuba is a place that pulls on the romantic's heartstrings, a place lost in time, but present with musicality, lush, green landscapes, sandy beaches and works of art birthed from a people who have seen it all - and live to tell their tale.
Havana, Cuba's capital, is the largest city in all of the Caribbean. Its nightlife is legendary, its people wise beyond their years, and her vivacious energy palpable - all set against the backdrop of colorful colonial palaces and tropical sunsets. Havana is celebrated in literature, poetry and art. It's a very special place. However, its beauty lies beyond the surface, because on the surface it is crumbling. But venture into the abstract and you will find small groups of Habaneros gathered in a back-alley sweating out salsa rhythms. Then there's the mysterious Santeria ritual still alive and well today. Mural art lines the street as does iconography of Che Guevara. The beauty of Havana and the reason it has attracted truth-seeking writers and artists lies in its ability to be real. Havana is authentic - not groomed. It's a living, breathing melange of a lot of stuff - perfect for dissecting and exploring and expressing. In fact, the entire city was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. Don't forget to strut down the Malecon, where crumbling colonial buildings overlook waves crashing against the sea wall. Sit atop the sea wall and watch Habanero life pass by.
No trip to Havana would be complete without taking in the vibrant nightlife of the city's legendary bars and jazz clubs. Some of the more famous haunts include the Cafe Taberna, dating back to 1772, and La Factoria Plaza Vieja, the only microbrewery in the city. Sling back a couple mojitos in any bar and wait for the musicality of the city to enter your soul.
You'll also want to visit the Capitolio Nacional, the former seat of Cuba's government. The shopping in Havana is of an intellectual and artistic nature. An endless array of books and posters are for sale from informal stands on the Plaza Vieja. The Plaza de Armas book market is another treat for intellectuals. Stalls sell photos, posters, vinyl records, postcards, magazines and books galore from Cuba as well as the United States.
Exploring Outside Havana
Beyond Havana there is much to explore. It's essential to take respite from the addictive and intoxicating nature of the city, and thankfully the countryside provides just that. Fifty kilometers of coastline stretches along Cuba's eastern coast. The beach town of Guanabo is a good place to settle in for a few days.
Then there's the antiquated electric Hershey Train, which takes train-lovers across Cuba's more pastoral side. The perfect day trip from Havana, there's a four-hour trip through Cuba which departs from Havana's Casablanca station. For the less adventurous traveler who wants a resort-like beach experience, the Varadero is a 20-kilometer long stretch of sand, sea and hotels. It's a great place to unwind after a few chaotic nights in Havana.
The Vinales valley is an otherworldly place in Cuba's interior. If you have the time, it's a must-see place to get a feel of the country outside of its cities and beaches. It's another UNSCO World Heritage Site where tobacco farming prevails and dramatic mountain peaks dot the landscape. The Vinales Valley is another trip back in time, as the locals have preserved a way of life untouched by outsiders. The Pan de Azucar is a ruin of haciendas used to educate African slaves. You may wish to don your hiking boots and explore this natural landscape of verdant valleys and refreshingly old ways of living.
Tours of tobacco plantations are also wonderful ways to see the surrounding countryside beyond Havana. Check out Alejandro Robaina's Tobacco Plantation for small and authentic tours.
For scuba divers, it's in the southern part of Cuba at Maria La Gorda, Punta Frances, and the Jardines de la Reina where diving is classified as world-class. And last but not least, be sure not to miss a baseball game at one of Cuba's classic stadiums.
There's much to discover in Cuba, and with the doorways opening to outside visitors, a trip to Cuba is no longer an impossible reverie.
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