Cuba is the largest, and undoubtedly one of the most interesting islands of the Caribbean, boasting a long history still visible in the architecture and culture of the place. In 1492 Christopher Colombus claimed it as the new kingdom of Spain, stating that Cuba was ‘the most beautiful country that human eyes have ever seen’, and by 1511 the first Spanish settlement had arrived on the island, a move marking the beginning of an exciting, at times tumultuous, yet always enlightening and historic country.
The island has maintained its Latin origins throughout the centuries, despite lying just 90 miles from Key West, Florida, and although geographically lies within the realms of North America, culturally most definitely identifies as Latin American, from language, to food and drink, culture, music and beyond.
Of course, there is far more to Cuba that the beaches, but one image search for Playa Sirena in Cayo Largo del Sur will not disappoint. Cayo Largo largely caters to holidaymakers looking for all-inclusive trips, as the island lies off the coast of mainland Cuba and was developed in the 1980s purely for the tourism industry. While this may seem like a somewhat soulless experience of Cuba, day trips are available to the island to visit the breathtaking beaches, and it’s definitely a sight we want to see. 26km of vast planes of white sand and turquoise oceans that are mostly empty and peaceful will be everything you expected and more from a Caribbean paradise. Not only this, but during summer turtles nest on these coastlines, along with a plethora of other wildlife on the island such as lizards like iguanas, and birds like flamingos, cranes and hummingbirds. As any good tourism hotspot has, there are water sports, bar and restaurants available, however we would recommend travelling to the beaches here briefly, and leave time in your holiday to explore the rest of what the country has to offer.
The flora and fauna of Cuba is doubtless one of the richest in the Caribbean, with over 6,350 species of Native Cuban plants. Not much has changed in more than 500 years since Colombus landed in certain areas of the island, and you don’t have to travel into the middle of nowhere to experience the beauty of Cuba. Many locals living in cities take day trips to these places of natural beauty, often in the hills, to go swimming in pools under waterfalls – it sounds like something out of a dream, but in Cuba this really is possible. El Nicho Waterfalls in Cienfuegos is a particularly popular area, and guided tours are available to navigate your way through the mountains and forests. The streams of the mountains are far cooler than the ocean, and lounging on the waterside rocks will dry you off quickly in the hot Caribbean sun, but you have to make sure to get there quickly as many of these areas are protected and crowd controlled to minimise damage to the natural environment.
Drinking in Cuba is dangerously cheap. A bottle of beer will typically cost you about 70p, with shots of rum costing the same, and cocktails usually ranging between £1 and £2. It’s common in a group to order a bottle of rum for the table, usually costing around £1.50 for a cheap bottle – frankly if we were charged these prices for booze in Britain, we would probably have some drinking problems, so it’s worth taking advantage while you have the chance, in our opinion. It’s important to experience a true rum cocktail (or many) while you’re there, with Cuba famous for their Mojitos, Daquiris, Pina Colada and Cuba Libres.
The history of Cuba is vast, and there is plenty to indicate this just from a stroll around the streets of Havana. The city is a mash up of old and new; flats formed from former mansions, 18th century convents converted in to government buildings, Neo-gothic churches alongside Art Deco theatres, all usually closely packed together into one eclectic mix. There is a story told on every street of the history of the country, whether it be that of economic hardship, colonial glory or revolution, and it’s not just Havana that narrates this past. Santa Clara, lying far away from Havana, has a rich history of its own, as is the case with many other Cuban cities all over the country. Santa Clara was the site of the last battle of the Cuban revolution in 1958, with one of the two guerrilla movement famously led by Che Guevara, and as such, the city is home to the most extensive Che Guevara museum in the world. The Che Guevara Mausoleum can also be found in Santa Clara, a memorial containing the remains of the executed revolutionary alongside 29 of his fellow fighters who were killed in 1967.
Undoubtedly Cuba is one of the most diverse countries we have looked at for our Travel Tuesday blog, and if you get bored while you’re visiting, you’re doing something wrong.