Travel notebook: Cuba, island of treasures

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Travel notebook: Cuba, island of treasures

Architecture, culture, music, local cuisine… In Cuba, get your fill of images and sensations to the tune of salsa!

Beyond the predictable tourist routes, discover the unexpected beauty of the pearl of the Antilles through extraordinary landscapes and solidly rooted traditions. From the sumptuous neighbourhood of Old Havana to the unique mogotes of Viñales, then onwards to Che Guevara's city, Santa Clara, before a last stop at the extreme tip of the island in Baracoa, all of Cuba is waiting for you!


Travel notebook: Cuba, island of treasures

Days 1 and 2: Havana

Old Havana: the historical centre

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Old Havana or “La Habana Vieja”, the historical centre of the city, spreads over close to five kilometres along the western side of Havana Harbour. The arrival point for colonists and gold prospectors alike, protected by the El Morro fort and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the city already had a significant population as of the 18th century. It is today a must-see neighbourhood, just as lively as ever: stroll in the shadows of the columns of the Plaza de Armas and admire the Baroque Havana Cathedral or the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asís.

San Cristóbal Cathedral

Plaza de la Catedral
La Habana Vieja

Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asís
La Habana
+53 7 2040624

A walk with Ernest Hemmingway
Fan of the famous American writer? You can follow in his footsteps in Cuba! Visit room 511 of Hotel Ambos Mundos where he often stayed and in which he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Just next door, you can have a daiquiri at the Bodeguita del Medio, a favourite watering hole for Hemingway, nicknamed “Papa” in Havana. You can also go over to El Floridita, another of his favourite bars further along Obispo street. Finally, head to Finca Vigía, the house he purchased in 1939 that is today the Hemingway Museum.

Hotel Ambos Mundos
Calle Obispo 153
La Habana
+53 7 8609529

La Bodeguita del Medio
Empedrado 207
La Habana
+53 7 8671374

El Floridita
Calle Obispo 557
La Habana
+53 7 8671300

Finca Vigía
Finca Vigía, km 12 ½
La Habana
+53 7 6910809

All the tastes of Cuba in the agromercados
To taste local produce and get a feel of Cuban terroir, there is nothing better than strolling through the famous agromercados of the capital, these covered markets where fresh produce is sold at low prices. Three markets are to be found right near one another in the Nuevo Vedado district near the Tulipan boulevard, each with a unique character and all with rare and top quality produce.

Lazing on the beaches of the east
About ten kilometres from Havana, the sandy beaches of the Playas del Este will amaze you. Pop onto a deck chair to enjoy the Cuban sun or take a swim in the azure sea. The most athletic can opt for surfing or even kitesurfing for a few thrills! If you feel on the romantic side, paddling in the moonlight will seduce you for sure.

Where to eat?

El Cocinero for typical Cuban cuisine
Share some delicious tapas while savouring a cocktail in an industrial but sophisticated setting – the restaurant is housed in a former peanut oil factory! For the most gourmet amongst you, do not miss the specialities of the house made with local products: Cuban lamb, or duck with bitter Caribbean oranges.

El Cocinero
Calle 26
La Habana
+53 7 8322355

Where to sleep?

An authentic night at Habana Hotel 612
A few steps from Plaza Vieja, discover an old structure renovated by the Habaguanex company that strives to glorify the iconic monuments of the island to better welcome tourists. The stone archways, stained glass windows in red and blue and, above all, the intimate atmosphere won't fail to impress you. Rooms are decked out with caramel-coloured wood, modern art works and ultra-modern furniture in this historic building. You can choose any one of the 12 rooms spread over three floors for a cosy stay.

Habana 612
La Habana


Travel notebook: Cuba, island of treasures

Days 3 and 4: Off to the Western tip of the Island

Eco-friendly outing at Las Terrazas
Just 50 kilometres from Havana, nature lovers and ecotourism fans can meet up in the village of Las Terrazas. Founded in 1968 by a handful of Cubans worried about the ravages of deforestation, the town is a model in terms of sustainable development and environmental preservation. A superb trip into nature, perfect to discover Cuban flora and fauna and to have a relaxing day.

Las Terrazas
Pinar Del Rio

Green getaway in Soroa
Wishing for a peaceful retreat just a few miles from Havana? Soroa is exactly what you need. With its paradisiacal waterfalls, its multitude of exotic birds and its refreshing greenery, this little haven of rest has it all. Enjoy the beauty of the site for a short bike tour or admire the Orquideario de Soroa, a sumptuous botanical garden with the largest collection of orchids in Cuba.

Orquideario de Soroa

Mogotes and tobacco in Viñales
A real paradise is hiding a two-hour drive from Soroa. Here you can admire the sublime lush valley mountains and the enigmatic “mogotes”, these characteristic limestone formations unique to the island. Make the most of your excursion in the valley and take a stroll through the tobacco fields as well – one of the greatest specialities of the region is cigar production!

Valley of Viñales

The great outdoors at the Guanahacabibes Península National Park
Less than 200 kilometres from the Viñales Valley, you can visit the Guanahacabibes Península National Park. Classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1987, it was the last refuge of the native Cubans when the Spaniards arrived. Enjoy this little corner of paradise for scuba diving or admire the sight of turtles laying their eggs!

Parque Nacional Península de Guanahacabibes
Pinar del Río
+53 8 2750366
Where to eat lunch?

A unique meal in a mogote
For an unusual meal with live Afro-Cuban music, head to Palenque de Los Cimarrones, a small restaurant located on a mogote. Opt for one of the many rice-based dishes that you can top as you please with sauces and spices. In the evening, from 10pm to 4am, the place turns into a nightclub and you will have to taste their specialty, the Ochun cocktail, with a honey base, lemon, orange juice and rum!

El Palenque de Los Cimarrones
Carretera to Puerto Esperanza, km 33

Where to sleep?

Relaxation in Los Jazmines
A short walk from Palenque de Los Cimarrones restaurant, Hotel Los Jazmines is the perfect place for a rest in the heart of Viñales. Put your luggage in one of the cosy and comfortable rooms before settling into a deck chair by the large outdoor pool to sunbathe. From your balcony, admire the magnificent view of the Viñales Valley.

Hotel Los Jazmines
Carretera a Viñales, km 25


Travel notebook: Cuba, island of treasures

Days 5 and 6: The Centre of the Island

Santa Clara, Che's city!
You must visit Santa Clara, 300 kilometres from Havana! Part museum, part memorial and with statues of all kinds, most of the attractions of the city relate to the famous revolutionary Ernesto Rafael Guevara, who is buried here. But many other monuments are also worth visiting, including the magnificent neo-Gothic Santa Clara Cathedral in Asis.

Catedral de Santa Clara de Asís
Marta Abreu
Santa Clara
+53 4 2202078

Trinidad, a multi-coloured city
Further south, a few kilometres from the Topes de Collantes Natural Reserve Park, the charming Trinidad has everything of a typical Cuban city! Multitudes of houses with colourful facades line the cobbled streets of the village. The sparkling yellow bell tower of the Convent of San Francisco de Asis stands in the middle of the city's houses and offers a breathtaking view of the sea and surrounding areas.

Convento de San Francisco de Asís
Calle Cristo

Camagüey, Cuban wonder
Exploring the southeast of the island, you will discover Camagüey and its historical centre classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Stroll through the city's narrow streets and admire the architecture of the buildings that surround you. If you have some time ahead of you, take a cultural break at the Martha Jimenez Perez art gallery, named after the iconic Cuban artist who exhibits her works there.

Galería Taller Martha Jimenez Perez
Hermanos Agueros # 282, e Carmen and Honda
Plaza del Carmen, 282 Marín Varona
+53 3 2257559

Where to have lunch?

Authentic musical atmosphere at Campana de Toledo
A short walk from Ignacio Agramonte Park, on the charming San Juan de Dios Plaza, you can take a seat at La Campana de Toledo for a local lunch. Order the boliche mechado – a mixture of beef and bacon prepared according to a traditional recipe – which you will enjoy in the shade of the patio and to the rhythm of some Cuban songs performed live.

La Campana de Toledo
Plaza San Juan de Dios
+53 3 2286812

Where to sleep?

Get some rest in a charming building
A short walk from the Museo Romantico of Trinidad, the Casa Colonial Muñoz is where you will stop for a relaxing night. The bicentennial building has retained all its charm! Take a few minutes to chat with Julio, the friendly host, and let the charm of this house of character seduce you.

Hotel Casa Colonial Muñoz
Calle Jesús María
+53 4 1993673