Our lovely Sofia continues to share her gap year adventures with us. Check out her stunning photo diary of Cuba and read her five top tips for anyone travelling to the island.
With each footstep I take through Havana, the further I become suspended in time. Tall, crumbling buildings, once full of grandeur and wealth, now crumbling but still full of character. Music spills into the streets, people tapping, clapping, singing; they rise to dance. They seem almost physically unable to resist the urge of the music around them. There’s colour and vibrancy everywhere – bright pink and yellow paint that flakes away from the deep orange brick. Blue soft top 1950s cars that roar past. There are no adverts, very few shops. Just roads filled with history and music. Women with cigars, men carrying the weight of a cello on their back, old cars fill the streets (spot a new one and you’ll be sure to find a ‘gringo’ inside – it’s a rental!)
Part of the reason visiting Cuba feels like entering a time warp is the revolution, the resulting US embargo and the isolation that the island has felt ever since. Throughout Cuba there are museums, monuments and evidence of the revolution everywhere. Particularly in the noisy, bustling city of Santiago de Cuba, where street art depicting the political situation covers the walls. However, it’s apparent that despite the official communications celebrating the communist way of life the reality is very difficult for many. I spoke to a couple of taxi drivers who discussed smuggling American branded clothes and illegal satellites for WIFI, as life in Cuba is a simple one. Food is basic but tasty – meat, rice, beans and plantain. People dress simply in lycra and denim. They’re laid back and there’s a slower tempo to life.
If you head to Vinales or Cinfeugos, you can expect to get around on horse and carriage. Just be glad you’ve got a seat – unlike the cowboys you’ll see galavanting through the fields on horseback without even a saddle! You’ll see the farmers wearing their cowboy hats with a cigar in their mouths as they walk through the fields. They’re heading off to one of the many sugar, coffee or tobacco plantations set in the countryside. If you stroll into town you’ll see the locals sitting in their rocking chairs watching the world go by. Pull up a chair and join them.
Whilst these sleepy towns may seem quiet, at night salsa music fills the air. Every town has a Casa de Musica, a square where live music is played in the evening and the locals dance all night. Be prepared to be asked to join them! You’ll be escorted to the dance floor to be swirled to the beat of salsa, then returned to your table at the end of the song. Forget cinemas and tv shows, the evenings here are for socialising, dancing, and almost certainly a rum or two!
The other joy of Cuba is its natural beauty. Outside of the charismatic cities, you’ll find beautiful waterfalls such as El Nicho, pristine white beaches with crystal clear waters, the most famous being Varadero (if you don’t mind crowds, it’s only two hours out of Havana), and brilliant spots for snorkelling and diving, such as the Bay of Pigs. There are big open fields, surrounded by caves and mountains – great for hiking and horseriding. If you are considering a two week holiday, the classic Havana, Vinales, Trinidad, Varadero loop will show you the diversity of the country. You’ll have a laid back adventure, where you’ll find yourself simply getting lost in the streets and soaking up all the rich culture the country has to offer.
Sofia’s Cuba Top 5:
- Visit the Fabrica de Arts in Havana – wander around this old peanut factory, sipping on mojitos whilst admiring the modern art. Make sure to get there before 8.30pm if you want to get in, but stick around as the live gigs, DJ sets and contemporary dance acts start to kick off around 10/11pm.
- Indulge in happy hour at Oasis de Creperie in Havana, the most amazing daiquiris for just £1.50!
- Spend an evening dancing with locals at the Casa de Musica in Vinales
- Go horse riding through the beautiful national park of Parque el Cubano in Trinidad
- Stay in a casa de particular. In Cuba, families will rent out a few rooms to guests. You can eat with them and if you speak Spanish have a chat and learn about the local way of life. An authentic experience, which can be so charming. You’ll definitely feel looked after!
Thank you Sofia! Don’t forget to catch up with the rest of Sofia’s journey here.