Cuba, with all of its humidity and blazing sun, kind of stole our hearts. It was such an enigma before, so mysterious, with the travel bans and regulations. Our curiosity drove us to book a flight to Havana as soon as we could before American tourism destroyed the naïve beauty of the island. With the vintage cars, lack of constant stimulation from technology, and old cobblestoned streets, Cuba served as a flashback to a more simple time.
We stayed in a casa particular in Havana for four nights. It was a mix between a home stay and a bed and breakfast. We fell in love with the “abuela” of our casa immediately and wished that we could take her home with us. In Havana, we meandered along curving streets, navigating between plazas and famous dwellings. We hit up the usual sites: Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza Vieja, and San Francisco de Asís square. Our guide boasted a plethora of historical facts, giving us a timeline of Cuban history from native culture through Spanish colonization to the brief English colonization to American influence to Fidel’s rule.
We toured the Havana Club Rum factory and learned how the famous Cuban alcohol is made from start to finish. We drank more mojitos than we can count, all freshly made with Havana Club Rum.
We also happened upon an African religious ritual in the Havana Forest where two women in all white were slathering honey and cinnamon over their bodies after dunking in the sacred waters.
Ernest Hemingway is one of the more well known figures associated with Cuba. Cuba was his home for many years. He left when the United States threatened to revoke his citizenship if he didn’t return stateside in the early 1960s. We visited his favorite spots: the Floridita, Las Terrazas de Cojímar, the Ambos Mundos hotel in Havana, his home on the outskirts of Havana, and La Bodeguita del Medio. We added our names to the brightly colored walls in La Bodeguita del Medio, along with thousands of other Hemingway fans.
The magical wonderland of Fusterlandia was a must see for us in Havana. We loved Gaudi’s work in Spain, and knew that we had to see his influence represented in Cuban ceramic art. The work of art centers around Fuster’s Home, but spreads throughout the surrounding community with ceramic inlaid walls and signs.
We took a day trip to Viñales, also known as the Halong Bay of Cuba. The mounding hills and cliffs tower over tobacco fields and palm trees. We toured a small tobacco farm and learned about the process of growing tobacco, drying and curing the leaves, and rolling into cigars. We also took a small boat ride through a nearby cave, admired the Prehistoric Art Wall, and stopped at many beautiful viewpoints to admire the scenery.
We strolled through an orchid conservation where thousands of species of orchids dotted the hillsides and even spotted the national bird of Cuba, majestic in its red, white, and blue decor.
On the way to Cienfuegos, we stopped in Guámo, a small village on the banks of Treasure Lagoon. It depicted native islanders lifestyles with palm frond huts, sacred rituals, and local food. Our drive was less hectic than we had imagined with only a few crabs on the road. We had two spare tires on board in case of crabs puncturing the tires, which is quite common there. We stopped at Playa Girón as well, the famous site of the Bay of Pigs and toured the museum. Our final stop that day was Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos has an incredibly relaxed vibe with open storefronts, palm trees swaying in the boulevards, and the typical bright colored buildings of the Caribbean.
Our last town of our week stay in Cuba was Trinidad, a coastal town renowned for its sugar plantations and predominant slave trade. After exploring the historic city center, we visited the surrounding hillsides and sugar plantations.
Cuba enchanted us with its warm hospitality, captivated us with its ecological bounty, and bewitched us with its simple way of life. Cubans enjoy the moment, surrounded by live music and dancing, constantly swaying to the beat with broad smiles on their faces. They are truly connected people, relying on true social connections and presence rather than an internet bandwidth. We relished this alluring country and will forever savor the memories.