Here in Canada, most people refer to Cuba as a destination for all-inclusive resorts (often the cheapest among the other Caribbean destinations) with low quality food. This image of Cuba is quite the opposite of the great adventure that can be lived in this amazing country.
3 Reasons to go
- The ”Casa Particular” experience. In Cuba, locals can rent up to two rooms in their home to international tourists. With dozens of listed houses in every town, this is a great way to get closer to real Cuban culture.
- The food. Yes I mean it. Once you get out of the cheap all inclusive resorts and stay at locals’ houses, you will get to taste great seafood and typical Caribbean cuisine. Plus, servings are usually very generous, just like your hosts.
- The clichés. Cuba still has this postcard image as you picture it. Old American cars and communist propaganda give a unique feeling to this island.
Destination A: Camagüey
Third largest city in the country, it was essentially in my itinerary because it offered the cheapest flights. Even though the city centre is very beautiful with multicolor buildings, it can be removed from the trip to save some travel time if you can land closer to one of the following destinations.
Destination B: Trinidad
Now we’re talking. A typical small town, located between sea and natural parks, where you can swim in clear water, tan on white sand or go horseback riding in the surrounding Valley of the Sugar Mills.
Destination C: Havana
Cuba’s capital has a lot to offer, from the old town (Habana Vieja) with its replica of the Washington US Capitol to el Vedado and the Malecon area, La Habana is definitely worth exploring.
Destination D: Santa Clara
El Che’s city is a historical town where you can learn about the country’s wars and events that happened at the time of Commandante Che Guevarra.
Destination E: Varadero
Although it is the country’s biggest resort place and does not have much to offer, the beach is just too perfect to be missed.
How to book your vacation?
If you enjoy organizing your own trips.
Start booking hotels:
Day 1: travel & arrive in Camagüey
I recommend confirming at least the casa particular for your arrival day so you have a place to go right after leaving the airport. Some can be reached by email so it’s a good idea to contact one of them prior to your departure. For the afternoon, a 1-hour tricycle tour is a good idea to get some information on the city and start exploring.
There is a bus Viazul leaving from Camagüey in the middle of the night that reaches Trinidad at 7am (4h30 long drive, $15 US). If you land in another city you will not necessarily have to go through this, but at least it saves some time.
Since you arrive early, take a chance to negotiate a horseback ride with one of the many local travel agencies to explore the beautiful Valley of the Sugar Mills. At night, try the Mojito at the Casa de la Musica, located in the ruins of the ancient theatre.
Day 3: Trinidad & bus to Havana
In the morning, a first excursion to the beach is well deserved. You can catch a Cubanito that will bring you to la playa Ancón (20min, 5 CUC). Be ready to be impressed, we are talking real paradise white sand beach here. You can then continue with the bus to Havana (five and a half hours, $25 US) leaving in the mid-afternoon.
Day 4 & 5: Havana
Depending on your interest in visiting large cities, you can spend 2 or 3 days here. Spend some time in the old town (Habana Vieja), in the former rich neighbourhood (El Vedado) and on the waterfront (el Malecón).
For more beach relaxing, Playa Santa Maria can easily be reached with public transportation or taxi. On the way back, stop at the fort for a great viewpoint over the city.
Day 6: Santa Clara
There’s a Viazul bus at 8:40 or 9:30am (4 hours, $18 US) for Che Guevarra’s city. This can be the historic part of the trip. You can visit the Che memorial, and the site of the Tren Blendado attacks. The old town is also very beautiful and you can attend a dance show at the old theatre followed by a Cuba Libre or an artisanal ice cream on the main square.
Day 7: Varadero
Ready for a third stop at the beach, you can take a Viazul for Varadero at 7:45 am (3 hours, $11 US). This makes a great last day in Cuba, just sit back, relax and enjoy a fresh coconut on the beach.
Depending where you fly from, you can take a night bus to that city to save some time. For Camagüey, there is a bus leaving from Varadero at 8:20pm (8 hours, $25 US). You can also spend the night in Varadero on day 7 and take a bus in the morning depending on your flight schedule.
Tips & advice
- Stay only at Casas Particulares. It usually costs around 20-30 CUC per night for a double room and this is your best chance to see real Cuban lifestyle and share some time in a local house. They all have a logo on the front so you can recognize them easily. You don’t really need to book in advance (most of them don’t have an email address), if there’s no vacancy they will help you find another one at their neighbours or friends’ house. Expect to pay 8-12 CUC for lunch or dinner and 3-6 CUC for breakfast.
- Check out www.viazul.com for inter-cities public transportation. You can buy your tickets online in advance and their routes are convenient and reliable.
- Cuba is relatively safe, violence is very rare but do watch out for scams. Always reconfirm the price twice before you buy anything (and make sure to clarify if it’s total or per person).