Havana isn’t the only place to be in Cuba, it’s worth visiting the surrounding areas to get the true experience of this country. Here are a few places that I visited:
The small town that was purpose built to cater to tourism and located about 2 hours from Havana. Although this shows crap, it’s not actually bad as it helping with tourism for the local families. Vinales is home to a beautiful valley where a lot of cigar farms are located so you can do a tour to see how they grow and make cigars and maybe try one too.
At the time this post is published, the cigar farmers sell 90% of their stock to the government so they only have 10% that they are allowed to sell privately and they rely on the tourism that comes in who visit in Vinales. I would highly recommend buying them as they are A LOT cheaper as they are not branded and the money are going straight to the families.
Vinales has a main strip where most bars and restaurants are located. You can find food to cater to most tastes including lots of seafood, suckling pig, Italian dishes and some cheap mojitos (like 1.50 CUC / $1.50 USD / £1.20 ).
On the same strip, there are two ATM’s, exchange bureau and off one of the streets, there is a ETESCA wifi place where you can buy your wifi cards (don’t forget to bring your passport). There’s a strict 3 people in at a time and max 5 cards per day but this is a lot quieter compared to Havana so stock up here.
Off on one of the side streets; there is a handicraft market where you can buy souvenirs and handmade products.
After you’ve see the beautiful valley, you can do extra excursions like horse riding or find a place to take a sunset view of the valley. We only found one restaurant that didn’t have a name but it’s the one up high enough to see the valley and as it’s always hot, we were outside and under the stars. Coming from a polluted city environment – it was actually quite magical to see the stars over the valley.
The dinner itself was about $15 USD including a drink so quite reasonable for both dinner and view.
Whilst we were there, there was a stage in the square where they played live music on our first night BUT THEN Coronavirus decided to appear in Trinidad so the government announced that there will NOT be any public events or mass gatherings….so salsa in the square was out :(. But there was a outdoor lounge bar ‘Jardin del Arte Sano’ that was playing live music and had some performers – you have to walk down a long a side of a souvenir shop.
Translated as 100 fires but the irony is that there has not been one fire here.
One of was Venezuelan guy who came to Cuba to work and built a successful business so he was in love with this town for making him success. To give back to Cuba before returning to Venezuela to love the latter years of his life, he built a theatre so the town could come together to watch major events together like a show or a musical concert.
With one night here and MANY restaurants were closed, our tour guide recommended a restaurant that’s on a rooftop of a Casa Particular/B&B called Hostal Marina. It was actually quite good food and good pricing with nighttime views of a very quite city. There is a Tropicana show here but due to the ‘Rona, it was quite a quiet town and this was the only place that was open/
There isn’t much to do here but admire the beautiful architecture buildings. This was essentially a stopover for us on the way to the Bay of Pigs and to Trinidad.
Bay of Pigs
You may have heard of the Bay of Pigs story or heard it referenced in some places including in the blockbuster X-MEN movie as it’s a story that’s worth knowing before you visit.
There is a little cenote that you can visit which is calm and clear waters (but very rocky so have your aqua shoes ready). But you can actually dip into the water here, experienced the waves and cool down. There are people who go scuba diving here so it’s a option but you need to prebook this with a tour to get all the equipment etc.
Personally, I only dipped my legs in and sat on the rocks whilst trying to get a little of bit of vitamin D :).
We stopped at Santa Clara to visit the famous Che Guevara Mausoleum which was quite impressive.
For me, I heard bits about Che Guevara’s role in the liberation of Cubans but I didn’t know too much about the details so it quite a good history lesson.
For reason Santa Clara was picked as a spot for the Mausoleum is that this is the first spot that Che Guevara managed to take back successfully so this became a main base for future plans.
Just because I can share, I’m going to share other random facts about this guy. Che Guevara is Argentinian and was trained to be a doctor but didn’t practise medicine yet and then joined the Cuban Revolution so in which he was the main guy people went to for help. A lot of people who encountered Che Guevara always advised that he was the type that was friendly and saw everyone as friends. Che is LOVED by Cubans and became a senior figure of the government. There’s a story of a guy riding his bicycle on the road and gets hit by a car so he gets knocked over and his bike is dented, so this guy is ready to get angry but then see’s its Che Guevara who comes out of the car and was checking if he was ok – Che offered to take him home, pay for the repairs or get a new bike as it was dented but the guy was so starstruck and said no, he wants to keep the bike dented as he felt he was struck by luck as he met the person that helped him gain his freedom. The story shows how down to earth Che was, how Cubans perceive him as a hero and adore him.
The death of Che Guevara is interesting as after many years have passed from liberating Cuba, he wanted to help other countries that were in a similar situation. Let’s fast forward time as Che Guevara wanted to help other third world countries to combat social injustice where in went to Africa and resurfaced in Bolivia. Sadly, he was caught and executed in 1967. Bolivia cut of his hands to prove he was dead and buried him in an unmarked grave. All Cubans were destroyed by this and Fidel Castro spent many years trying to get his body back to Cuba so they can bury him in a proper ceremony. It was only in 1997 when they finally got his body back to be reburied by Fidel Castro and the whole of Cuba attended his funeral.
However, not everyone considers Guevara a hero: He is accused, among other things, of ordering the deaths of hundreds of people in Cuban prisons during the revolution.
There is a museum that you can go to find out more about Che Guevara’s life then you go into a separate building (you’ll see and know which building this is). When you get here, there are strict guidelines when you go inside the Mausoleum (like any other Mausoleums in the world) where you can’t take photos or talk inside. But outside the Mausoleum, there are statues where you can take photos.
Be sure to check out my other posts on Cuba and let me know if there’s any other places that I should visit to… as I will be back one day.