Cuba - A Colorful and Cultural Experience


Culture and history, a relaxed atmosphere and excellent food, all perfectly complemented by a choice cigar and a glass of well-aged rum. Get to know Cuba, a truly unique country, still evolving, where you can witness the interplay of the old and the new: immerse into Cuba’s music, dance and arts, its food and culture, its architecture, vintage cars and natural environment; and get close and personal with its spontaneous people.

• Be transferred in a pink convertible Cadillac from José Marti Airport to your hotel in downtown Havana.
• Listen to the all-female chamber orchestra, Camerata Romeu, in the basilica on San Francisco Square.
• Let Reynaldo, the toreador, introduce you to the art of rolling your own cigar while tasting original local rum.
• Ride the nostalgic Hershey train, built in the 1920’s by the famous American chocolate manufacturer.
• Meet the Gaudi of the Carribean, Jose Fuster, who as an artist, changed a whole neighbourhood into a ceramic art museum.

Cuba Country Information



Cuba’s identity owes a great deal to the fact that it is surrounded by sea as well as to its geographical position. It is sometimes called the “key of the gulf” because of its strategic location between North and South America at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, and the island has been a crossroads since the beginning of the Colonial period.

Images of Cuba show hot sun and fields of sugar cane, tall palm trees and deep, clear blue sea. Cuba is indeed all these things, but it is also a country with a deep-rooted, complex culture in which old traditions and new intellectual developments co-exist. It is a young and vital island, a place of music and colour, which despite severe economic difficulties in recent years has held on to its unique identity.


Washed by the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba is the largest island in the Greater Antilles, situated just south of the Tropic of Cancer. It lies only 180 km from Florida and 210 km from Mexico, while Haiti and Jamaica are slightly less than 80 km and 140 km away, respectively. Cuba is not a single island, but a varied archipelago.

The easiest way to reach Cuba is by air. Jose Marti International Airport in the capital of Havana is served by Virgin, Air France and KLM, as well as Air Canada, Aeroflot, AeroMexico and the national carrier, Cubana. Other regional airports are in Varadero, Cienfuegos, Camaguey and Santiago.

Havana Harbor is the port of Havana, the capital of Cuba, and it is the main port in Cuba (not including Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, a territory on lease by the United States). Most vessels coming to the island make port in Havana. Other port cities in Cuba include Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba.


Forming part of the Caribbean, one can always expect the signs of a tropical climate, ie. a very high humidity; this, together with an average high of 30 degrees Celsius between May and September, makes the best time to visit March – April with some 8 – 9 hours of sunshine. Temperatures will still be in the high twenties.


'The road is life,' wrote seminal American author Jack Kerouac in the 1950s, inadvertently summing up Cuba's post-Special Period transport system in just four words. The ways in which Cubans get around, often quirky, anachronistic and on hybrid machines cobbled together with amazing ingenuity, drives to the heart of the often inscrutable ways of Cuban daily life. Consistent with most of the island’s infrastructure, Cuba’s transportation system lurches between inadequate and non-existent. There have been few upgrades to roads or modes of transport in the years since the 1959 revolution, and almost none since 1990 when the Soviet Union collapsed and all aid to Cuba was suddenly and unceremoniously stopped.

The good news is that Cuba's empty roads, beautiful countryside and cities make for great motoring. The bad news is that all of the car hire agencies are state-owned, prices are high, the cars are rarely new and though the roads are generally not in a bad way, you do have to watch out for pot-holes and other hazards. However, unlike in many countries the police do not consider foreigners in cars as an opportunity to gouge cash - in fact they have been instructed to make life as easy as possible for dollar-bearing tourists.

Most of the island’s roads are in poor to dreadful states of repair. Many are impassible in the wet season. Even the major highway into Havana is discontinuous and pot-holed. The sidewalks are in the same deplorable and dangerous condition – manholes with no covers, inexplicable gaps in the pavement, loose cobble stones, and litter and excrement of all kinds, including human, everywhere. The expression “watch your step” takes on a whole new meaning here.

The vehicles on offer are generally second-hand Hyundais, Toyotas and Nissans bought in Canada and Mexico, though there are a few Fiats and Peugeot/Citroens are also now common. The vehicles are generally knackered, but well-maintained and they will get you about. Most agencies also have good networks of depots which will get you out of trouble, and almost any Cuban will know a mechanic honed on years of keeping 50 year old American cars on the road, so a 5 year old/100,000km Toyota Yaris will present few problems. $10 will usually get you back on the road.

Most Cubans either walk or ride bicycles. A few – especially in Havana – have motorbikes. In the cities, if they have longer distances to go, some Cubans may use bicycle or motorcycle rickshaws. Or catch a ride in a ‘collectivo’ – a wagon pulled by a horse or an old tractor – that follows a standard route, like a bus.

Cuba is legendary among cyclists and you’ll see more bicycle enthusiasts here than divers, climbers and hikers put together. Cuba’s status with cyclists dates from the mid-’90s when it first opened up to tourism, when cars were still few and far between. Sadly, conditions aren’t quite as good as they once were: as driving becomes more affordable for many Cubans, the roads are getting busier with ancient Soviet lorries and 1950s American cars belching out plumes of pollution wherever they go. However, Cuba is a largely flat country, with a driving population used to sharing the road.


• Full of Bustle: Lively colourful capital “Modern Havana”

Beyond Habana Vieja, this lively, colourful metropolis of two millions people is remarkable for its architecturally significant districts in various stages of dilapidation. Radiating inland from the harbour and coastline like a Spanish fan, the city emerges from compact 19th-century barrios into more spacious 20th-century municipios and post-Revolutionary working class suburbs. Functional apartment blocks give way to once-noble, upper-class districts full of Beaux Arts, Art Deco, and Modernist mansions, while concrete office blocks, government buildings and hotels from the 1950s lend the city a retro feel.

Only a fool comes to Havana and misses out on the Malecón sea-drive, 8km of shabby magnificence that stretches the breadth of the city from Havana Vieja to Miramar and acts as a substitute living room for tens of thousands of cavorting, canoodling, romance-seeking habaneros. Traverse it during a storm when giant waves breach the wall, or tackle it at sunset with Benny Moré on your iPod, a bottle of Havana Club in your hand and the notion that anything is possible come 10pm.

• Biking through the Valle de Vinales

With less traffic on the roads than 1940s Europe, Cuba is ideal for cycling and there’s no better place to do it than in one of its most quintessential rural environments – the Viñales Valley. Viñales offers all the ingredients of a tropical Tour de France: craggy mogotes, impossibly green tobacco fields, bucolic campesino huts and spirit-lifting viewpoints at every gear change. Fortunately the terrain is relatively flat and, if you can procure a decent bike, your biggest dilemma will be where to stop for your sunset-toasting mojito. The Valle de Vinales has spectacular natural scenery with many unique cave formations. The most significant cave is the Cueva del Indio.

• Youthful nightlife of Santa Clara

Check your preconceived ideas about this country at the city limits. Santa Clara promises to be everything you thought Cuba wasn’t. Erudite students, spontaneous nightlife, daring creativity and private home-stays in abodes stuffed with more antiques than the local decorative-arts museum. If you thought of Cuba as just another totalitarian state damping down debate and stifling artistic creativity, then pop into the drag show at Club Mejunje, or hang out for a while with the enthusiastic students in La Casa de la Ciudad.

• Trinidad

Soporific Trinidad went to sleep in 1850 and never really woke up. This strange twist of fate is good news for modern travelers who can roam freely through the perfectly preserved mid-19th-century sugar town like voyeurs from another era. Though it’s no secret these days, the cobblestone streets lined with pastel coloured houses have barely changed since the colonial era; Trinidad feels like a town that time has passed by But this is also a real working town loaded with all the foibles and fun of 21st-century Cuba.

• Labyrinthine streets of Camagüey

Get lost! No, that’s not an abrupt British put down; rather it’s a savvy recommendation for any traveller passing through the city of tinajones, churches and erstwhile pirates – aka Camagüey. A perennial rule-breaker, Camagüey was founded on street grid that deviated from almost every other Spanish colonial city in Latin America. Here the lanes are as labyrinthine as a Moroccan medina hiding Catholic churches and triangular plazas, and revealing leftfield artistic secrets at every turn.

• Santiago de Cuba

The country’s second-largest city has a flavour all its own, thanks to it being the most African city in Cuba and the most musical place in the island nation. Surrounded by mountains, Santiago was founded in 1511 on the hilly east shore of a deep flask-shaped bay. Its sloping colonial core is replete with noteworthy historic buildings, while its fascinating past as the first capital of Cuba is enriched by its importance as a hotbed of revolution. Fidel Castro studied here as a youth and later initiated the Revolution with an attack on the Moncada barracks. Santiago explodes with colourful frenzy during Carnaval each July. Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997, is the imposing Castillo del Morro. Visitors today can appreciate the setting and enjoy a marvelous view over the bay.

• Baracoa’s spicy food & culture

Over the hills and far away on the easternmost limb of Guantánamo province lies isolated Baracoa, a small yet historically significant settlement, weird even by Cuban standards for its fickle Atlantic weather, eccentric local populace and unrelenting desire to be – well – different. Watch locals scale coconut palms, listen to local bands play kiribá, the local take on son and – above all – enjoy the infinitely spicier, richer and more inventive food starting with the sweet treat, cucuruchu.

Lying between the Caribbean Sea and the eastern fringes of the Sierra Maestra, and straddling the provinces of Santiago and Guantánamo, Parque Baconao has been developed in the 1980’s as a result of voluntary work by students and labourers. Today visitors can appreciate a wide range of cultural and outdoor activities and attractions.


Who doesn't want to stay in such an old romantic colonial boutique hotel where you can feel the spirit of the Spanish-Cuban history, dreaming about going back in time ... this is Cuba

• Hotel El Meson de la Flota** – comfortable rooms and a restaurant that resembles a Spanish tavern that serves delicious tapas and select wines
• Hotel Beltran de Santa Cruz Havana*** – exquisite place that is reborn in the old city of Havana Vieja
• Iberostar Parque Central Havana***** – First world luxury in a third world country
• Iberostar Grand Boutigue Hotel Trinidad***** – Boutigue hotel in the very heart of Trinidad
• Hotel San Basilio Santiago de Cuba*** – Budget hotel in city centre

Can you imagine that Cuba can be synonymous with fine cuisine and slick restaurants? A new wave of private restaurants has swept Havana. All of a sudden there’s much more to Cuban food than beans and rice. Since 2010 so called paladares, or private restaurants sprung up all over the capital, and has now also moved into the rest of the island. This has radically altered the food landscape (in Havana at least) to such an extent that going to dinner is now a pleasure and not a chore, with a wealth of options serving decent food with buckets of ambience and good service.

• San Cristóbal – named after its owner, chef and driving inspiration, Carlos Cristóbal Valdés
• La Galería – is as good for garlic prawns as for filet mignon or fresh fish.
• Atelier – is run by Niuris Higueras, who has long nutured her passion for exciting food


Twenty-first century Cuba promises to be like nowhere else you’ve ever visited: economically poor, but culturally rich; visibly mildewed, but architecturally magnificent; infuriating, yet at the same time, strangely uplifting. Here are the top activities that really embody Cuba’s essence and everything this unique country has to offer.

The island’s early population consisted of European settlers, a few native Indians who had survived struggles against the invaders, imported diseases and hard labour, and thousands of black slaves, brought over from Africa. Up to the abolition of slavery in 1886, the dominant culture was that of the conquering Spanish, with some influence from the sailors and travellers who had stopped in Cuba. However, by surreptitious means, the African slaves managed to preserve their songs, musical instruments and dances, introduced new spices and tastes to the local cuisine, and continued to worship their Yoruba gods.

The result of this cross-fertilization is a surprising ethnic mosaic of whites, blacks, people of mixed race and Asians (a Chinese community grew in Havana in the 19th century). The same mosaic characterizes Cuban culture too: the bringing together of vastly different traditions has produced a unique blend.

– Johann

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