Cuba has always held an allure for the intrepid traveler but recent developments in US-Cuba relations have burst open its doors to North American visitors as well.
A visit there is a historical, cultural and educational journey that really shouldn’t be missed. If its on your bucket list don't hesitate; the time to book is now.
When you get there, try these five things.
1. Take a leisurely walk through the old town
Like Venice, Old Havana is a walking city. Think narrow streets, pedestrian-only zones and beautiful architecture. Built in the early 1500s, this part of the town showcases buildings from the colonial era. Many border the Plaza Viaja, the Plaza de la Catedral or the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis. The level of detail on the buildings is incredible and they form the perfect backdrop for memorable photographs. When you get tired, stop to have coffee or grab a meal in any of the local eateries along the cobblestone-lined walkways.
If you are free, return in the evening to enjoy some of the Cuban nightlife. Beautiful melodies are always in the air!
2. Stock up on local music and art
If you enjoy listening to Latin jazz, salsa and mambo, or collecting inexpensive originals from local artisans around the world, you can’t leave Cuba without stocking up on some of its distinctive music and art. Ask your hotel concierge for the location of the nearest street market where you can buy compact discs, oil paintings, watercolors, wood carvings, basket work and hand-made jewelry.
Warning: be prepared to negotiate for that extra special item.
3. Visit the Museum of the Revolution
Lovers of Cuban history must visit the Museum of the Revolution. Located on Calle Refugio 1, this museum’s artifacts are housed in the former Presidential Palace once used by ousted leader Fulgencio Batista.
The displays are on different levels, ranging from the country’s pre-Colombian culture to its current communist regime. Many exhibits pay homage to the Cuban Revolution and the War of Independence that the country waged with Spain. Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto “Che” Guevara are all prominently featured, and you will see everything from blood stained military uniforms to satirical commentary on former US presidents.
Across the street, you also can find open air exhibits such as tanks and vehicles, a part of an alleged American spy plane, and the yacht Fidel and Che sailed on from Mexico. Go at the right time, and you might catch the changing of the guards.
4. Book a day trip to the Viñales Valley
Take a 3-hour drive out of Havana up into the hills and down into the Viñales Valley. The entire trip will be a breathtaking view of one of the most popular areas for tobacco production and farming. On the way there, you can stop and have lunch at the Mural de La Historia, a 120m-long painting on the side of Mogote Dos Hermanos. Cuban painter Leovigildo González Morillo designed the mural in 1961 and it was painted by local farmers. The dinosaurs, sea monsters, snail and humans in the painting symbolize the theory of evolution.
On some tours, visits to a rum factory, a small limestone cave called Cuevo del indio, and a traditional tobacco drying can be arranged. I stopped at La Casa del Veguero and saw a live demonstration of how to hand roll Cuban cigars.
5. Sip afternoon cocktails on the lawns of the Hotel Nacional
No trip to Havana is complete without a visit to the Hotel Nacional, one of the oldest properties in Cuba. It was the host hotel for a notorious mob summit, The Havana Conference of 1946, which was attended by leaders of the United States and Sicilian Mafia. Walk through the public spaces, loiter on the lawns or order a mojito and savor it while you imagine all the A-type personalities who converged on the island to discuss transnational mob policies, rules, and other notable “business interests” back in their heyday.
Whatever you do, go before it gets too commercial and be sure to enjoy yourself.
Travel tip shared by My Travel Stamps