When you think of Cuba, you think of the beautiful old cars, colourful little houses, rum, tobacco and music first. And that is exactly what has been waiting for us on our journey through Cuba, which we were doing with 4 friends in 2014.
The first days we spend very stylishly at the Hotel Nacional in Havana. The house is already a bit old, but you can feel the spirit of all the filmstars and Mafiosi, who were here in the 1940s. From here you can take a beautiful walk along the Malecón to the old town. The Cubans are very communicative, speak great English and so it does not take long before we close our first contacts and also learn to mix Mojitos and dance the first salsa steps. All around the Unesco Cultural Heritage Center, visitors are thrilled. But if you walk a few streets, you will find the real Havana. Half-decayed buildings, dusty streets where life takes place, and small warehouses where people can exchange their food cards for food. Anyone who does not have a job in the tourism sector has a hard time in Havana.
Also, the Plaza del Revolution is within walking distance of our hotel. Only for the drive to the fortress El Morro we take one of the classic cars. "La Parisienne", a show that is almost as good as in the world-famous Tropicana, takes place at our hotel and is the perfect ending for our last evening in Havana.
On the fourth day, it's time to go on tour. Luis, our guide, who has studied German in Dresden, and our driver Oskar pick us up. This was a recommendation from friends and we already contacted Luis from Austria. It is a lot of fun to be on the road with these guys because Luis tells very exciting and entertaining about the changing history of Cuba. Especially the time of the revolution is still omnipresent. It almost seems as if it was only 5 years ago and not over 55 years. Ché Guevara always meets us during our trip.
From each day to the other we decide how far we drive and Luis takes care of private accommodations. The families, who also cook for us in the evenings, like to tell us about their everyday life and we are glad to experience Cuba so close.
The first section takes us to the Val de Vinales. Here we saddle horses and ride cross-country to a tobacco farmer who shows us how to make a good cigar. We go on and meet some young farmers. In their hut, we eat fruit salad, for which all the ingredients are freshly harvested behind the house. Nearby there are caves with huge stalagmites, which can be visited by boat. Also the "Mural de la Prehistoria" is impressive. It is a modern painting, painted in 1961 on a huge limestone mountain.
In Pinar del Rio, we visit a rum factory, before continuing on to the Bahía de Cochinos.
Since the trip there takes a long time, we put in a few intermediate stops. By boat, we drive through Mangrove swamps to an island where an artist has set up clay figures depicting the life of the Indians. The huts are also original replicas. The nearby crocodile farm is not particularly impressive - we prefer watching animals in the wild. But Luis arranged lunch there, which tasted really great. Late in the evening we arrive in the bay of pigs and are lucky enough to get rooms right by the sea. Since we also have a birthday to celebrate, we end the day at the beach with music and rum. It is so nice here that we spontaneously take a beach day.
A few kilometres away there is a bay, which is great for snorkelling and diving, an opportunity, which we can’t miss. Only separated by a road, there is also a lake next to the sea, where fresh and salt water mix. Here the water is much cooler than the approximately 30-degree warm sea.
Via Cienfuegos, a sparkling, bustling city called the Pearl of the Caribbean, the journey continues to Trinidad.
Our host has built a totally colourful, crazy house. He tells us that he helped with the renovation of the Cologne Cathedral and liked the architecture and the paintings of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. And that is exactly what it looks like. It is the first time that we all can sleep in the same house because normally one gets only the permission to rent max. 2 rooms. On the roof terrace it is eaten and drunk and in the evening spontaneously 2 musicians come from the road and play for us.
In the outback of Trinidad, there were the large sugar cane plantations in former times. Disused train routes recall the transport of the cane to the nearby port. The landscape is fantastic, but we are upset when we are told that from the towers, the slaves were controlled while working.
Trinidad, which is also Unesco World Cultural Heritage, can be explored on foot. We try a speciality called "Canchanchara", which is made out of rum, water, lemon and honey. It is served ice cold. In a ceramic studio, we can watch the potter at work and also buy a small souvenir for home. In the city centre there is a square surrounded by bars where you can sit on the steps and everyone meets for salsa dancing in the evening.
From the warm south, a steep mountain road leads up into the mountains. Because of the clear air, many lung diseases come to Topes de Collantes. The spa centre there was formerly reserved for military and our hotel "Los Helechos" also reminds us of military barracks. Here, Luis and Oskar leave us and we explore the surrounding nature reserves with rainforest and waterfalls on our own.
A jeep tour to the waterfall "El Nicho", an adventurous hike in the Parque Caburni and the visits of the nearby "Casa del Café" are the highlights of our stay in the mountains. 4 days later, Oskar picks us up again. In Santa Clara, we visit the Mausoleum and Museum of Ché Guevara. This is the last stop before spending a couple of relaxing days at the beach of Varadero.
Varadero is a tourist peninsula and has absolutely nothing to do with the real Cuba. After a day at the beach, we are already bored. Since we are still in contact with Luis, he organizes a boat for us, with which we explore the surroundings. We anchored at a small island, then go on for snorkelling and eat fresh fish on board. A nice change.
The Dolphin show and a visit to the Varadero Park complete our program. We are full of impressions and are firmly committed to coming back to explore the other half of the island.
We were lucky to experience Cuba in its former charm - before Mc Donalds and American hotel chains spread. Even if many thing remind us of the post-war years, it is the incredibly beautiful, varied landscape, the culture and, above all, the wonderful people who are worth a trip to Cuba.
Our top ten tips:
- A trip with a classic car and a Cubataxi has to be made
- Watch a show at La Tropicana or La Parisienne
- Cross the Val de Vinales by horse
- Indian village and food in the nearby crocodile farm (located on the way to the Bay of Pigs)
- Try some Canchanchara in Trinidad
- Casa Dianelys y Ricardo Leon, Trinidad - the most colourful accommodation we have ever had
- Take an old military jeep to the waterfall "El Nicho"
- Casa de Café in Topes de Collantes
- Mausoleum of Ché Guevara in Santa Clara
- Our guide Luis - we would like to give you the contact to interested parties (mailto: email@example.com)