Cuba Things to Do Tips by toonsarah Top 5 Page for this destination
Cuba Things to Do: 329 reviews and 443 photos
The catamaran trip to Cayo Blanco is apparently one of the most popular activities for visitors to Varadero, and it’s easy to see why. The sea here is a beautiful blue and very calm, so a boat ride seems a must. The destination is beautiful too – an uninhabited tropical island with white beaches backed by shady trees. You get several hours here to sunbathe, swim or explore.
On our way to the island the catamaran had stopped beside a local fisherman’s boat to buy some of his catch (see photo 4), and the lobsters were cooked immediately in the small onboard galley and shared out among us. While at anchor we also had an opportunity to snorkel. The coral reef off the coast here is apparently home to a large number of fish, but I found the water a little too cloudy, possibly because we’d had rain the previous evening. The rest of the fish and prawns bought from the fisherman were later cooked on the beach for our lunch, followed by fresh papaya.
On our return to the mainland, a visit to the local dolphin show was also included in this excursion. I have my reservations about performing animals and although these looked well-cared for, and their antics were both fun to watch and impressive (photo 5), I would rather have given it a miss and spent longer on the island or at sea.
Beach in Varadero
Varadero is a beach resort on the north coast of Cuba. We came here for the last few days of our holiday to wind down and enjoy the sunshine before returning to London’s chilly early spring weather. It isn’t really a good place for enjoying Cuba’s history and culture, but if you want sun, sea and sand you’ve come to the right place!
We stayed at the all-inclusive Sandals Resort. It’s the only one of the chain that we’ve been to so I had nothing to compare it with, but I would say that it didn’t quite live up to the marketing. It was nice enough, but didn’t have the air of exclusivity that the adverts I’ve seen would suggest. But as a base for a few days relaxation it was fine, and although normally I prefer to get out and about and explore local restaurants rather than have full-board, I was happy enough for the few days we were here.
As well as relaxing, you can do a few excursions in the area. We had a lovely trip by catamaran to the small island of Cayo Blanco (see separate tip) but mostly spent our time enjoying the hotel’s pool and the surprisingly uncrowded beach. In the evening there were shows on the outdoor stage – again, not my usual thing, but fun to see just the once and the dancing was very good – or maybe the excellent margaritas coloured my judgement?!
Museo Romantico, Trinidad
When in Trinidad make sure you visit the Museo Romantico - even if you're not usually keen on museums, this one's worth it for the lovely views of the Plaza Mayor. The museum is in the Brunet Palace on the Plaza Mayor, which was built in 1812 by José Mariano Borrell y Padrón, head of the wealthy Borrell family. The house takes its name from Count Nicolás de la Cruz Brunet y Muñoz, a wealthy sugar mill owner and husband of Borrell's daughter who inherited the house on her father’s death. You can visit several of the rooms in the house which contain furniture, ornaments and decoration as they would have been in the Romantic Period, i.e. around 1830-1860.
The house has a central courtyard, and still features the original marble floor, frescoes, and neoclassical decoration. In the kitchen you can still see the original painted earthenware tiles.
The lady who showed us round sold us some beautiful crochet work - strictly illegal, but none of the locals could live without the black market economy so we didn't feel guilty about buying from her. Our guidebook said no photos allowed but we found out that for a small fee it's not a problem (maybe because we'd made that purchase!)
Directions: On the Plaza Mayor next door to the church
Plaza Mayor, Trinidad
In the centre of Trinidad is the pretty Plaza Mayor, a raised square edged with white railings and with a few tall palms which tower over most of the surrounding buildings. On one side is the late 19th century Church of the Holy Trinity (see photo 2) and next to it the 1812 Brunet Palace which now houses the Romantic Museum.
Other notable buildings include the Casa de los Sánchez Iznaga (House of the Sánchez Iznaga) and the Casa de Aldemán Ortiz (House of Mayor Ortiz), which dates from 1809 and is a good example of typical Trinidadian architecture with its large entrance door with two smaller doors cut into it, the barrotes (wooden grilles) covering the large windows and a terracotta tiled roof with large wooden supports. This is the ochre coloured house with blue doors and windows in my main photo.
Typical house, Trinidad
Trinidad is a beautifully restored colonial town (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Its compact historic centre is very well preserved (or rather, restored) and is only a few square blocks so easily explored on foot. The cobblestone streets are closed to traffic and the whole place has something of the air of a museum but don’t let that put you off – it really is lovely and a must-see while in Cuba.
Highlights for us included the Museo Romantico (see separate tip), an opportunity to learn about the local religion of Santeria, a visit to a one-man cigar factory where we were allowed to take photos (unlike the larger and more commercial ones elsewhere) and a leisurely lunch in a pretty courtyard café, whose name I have sadly long-since forgotten. But primarily Trinidad is simply a beautiful place in which to wander and allow serendipity to offer you its own selection of special sights and moments. I took far too many photos - around every corner is another lovely old house or fascinating street scene. A colourful house; a musician strumming a guitar in a quiet courtyard; a donkey and cart rounding the corner in front of you; a shuttered window or brightly painted door; a basket seller carrying all his wares on his back ... Everywhere you go there is likely to be something to charm you.
Street in Cienfuegos
The Boulevard Paseo del Prado in Cienfuegos is apparently the longest street lined with trees in Cuba, and has more attractive 19th and early 20th century buildings. You can take a horse-drawn carriage to ride round the city, which seemed to be a popular activity for local families on a Sunday outing, though we didn’t try it. Other streets in the centre are arranged in a grid pattern, with Avenidas running east to west and Calles north to south. As everywhere, this makes exploring easy, and it’s fun just to wander around, camera at the ready, to capture the old buildings and street activity.
Plaza de Armas: triumphal arch (Cienfuegos)
We spent a couple of nights in Cienfuegos, staying in the slightly faded grandeur of La Union Hotel, using it as a base to visit Trinidad (see separate tip). Cienfuegos is less well-known perhaps than some other destinations in Cuba, despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site – its neoclassical centre was cited as “the the first and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order, in urban planning as these developed in the Latin America from the 19th century”.
At its heart is the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by colonial style buildings such as the one in photo 2, in the south-west corner.
The cathedral also stands on the square, on its eastern side. It is dedicated to la Purisma Concepcion and dates from the mid 19th century. In the centre of the square is the José Marti Park, with a statue of the eponymous hero, and at its western end this triumphal arch which commemorates Cuban Independence Day, 20th May 1902.
There are several bars and cafes on the square – we loved the interior of the one in photo 4, which also had a few tables out on the pavement. I don’t remember the address but it was on the south side, very near the museum and (I think) the Tomas Terry Theatre, another of the attractive buildings worth seeking out.
In Pinar del Rio
We stopped here for a quick look around on our way to Viñales. It’s a colourful town, and the historic centre has been largely restored. The rows of brightly painted houses, mostly single storey, are decorated with neo-classical columns and other colonial touches, and make for great photos.
The city was founded in 1774, making it one of the last major cities in Cuba founded by the Spanish. The original population was mainly Filipino, having been brought here by the Spanish to work in their huge tobacco plantations. These fairly quickly integrated with the local Cubans, sharing their language and their dislike of their Spanish rulers. Today the city is still heavily dependent on tobacco growing and cigar-making. Apart from the ubiquitous cigar factory tours it doesn’t have a lot of obvious tourist attractions, but it has a relaxed unhurried feel compared with Havana and is a good place to spend a couple of hours in if you’re in the area, especially if you are interested in colonial architecture.
Cueva del Indio, Viñales
Cueva del Indio, or the Indian Cave, is one of the main tourist draws in the Viñales Valley. As such it is quite developed (some might even say over-touristy), but no amount of development can detract from the fact that this is an impressive cave with all the usual eye-catching stalactite and stalagmite formations as well as a lovely little underground river. Part of the tour takes places in a boat on the river and it was a pleasant way to view the tunnels.
The cave was used as a hiding place by the Arawak Indians and some of their remains were found here, which explains its name, and when we were there local people were demonstrating traditional music and dance just by the entrance (see photo 2) – again, somewhat touristy but quite nicely done. However from what I’ve read it’s become even more commercialised since our visit a few years ago, so bear that in mind if you plan to visit. There are other caves in the area, such as Santo Tomas, which are less developed but which require a greater level of fitness to visit.
Directions: Three miles north of Viñales
The Viñales Valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 in recognition of its “cultural landscape”, which blends natural beauty with distinctive local architecture and traditions. The karst landscape is dominated by huge limestone outcrops known as mogotes. Tobacco and other crops are grown, using equipment and methods that have remained largely unchanged for decades. The tobacco is dried in the unusual barns constructed of thatch which dot the landscape here (see photo 3).
While locals go about their lives much as they have always done, using these traditional farming techniques and more likely to travel by horse and cart than by motor vehicle (see photo 5), the area has also become popular with tourists. They are attracted here by the hiking and climbing activities or, like ourselves, to visit one of the many caves that are found here, as is common in all limestone areas.
Directions: In the western state of Pinar del Rio
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