Viñales is to the north of Havana and was 8 hours away from Trinidad, again we relied on the trusted Viazul Bus to get from Trinidad in the middle to Viñales in the north of the island. Viñales Valley is a UNESCO world heritage site and has been protected since 1999.
Being in Viñales actually felt like being in another country, the valley was unspoilt and some part appeared to be unchanged since pre-historic times.
The weather in Viñales was much cooler than any other city we had visited. The weather was cooler at between 25-27 degrees with a breeze whilst we were there.
Where I stayed
Casa León León
We stayed in Casa León León an amazing Casa particular with a great host. Leon who is the owner is an elderly man you would want to spend hours talking to and he was so lovely that he rode his bike to come meet us at the Viazul terminal to bring us back to the Casa. We had a large double room with two double beds with our own bathroom. Breakfast as with the other Casa’s we stayed in was delicious, Cuban breakfast rocks. We paid CUC60 for 2 night, I really recommend this Casa. Address: Calle Adela Azcuy # 45, Vinales, Cuba Tel: +53 48 796380
What I did
To fully explore the Island we bought a hop on hop off Viñales bus tour ticket for CUC5, the bus takes you along most of the major tourist attractions in the valley and the ticket lasts the whole day.
Jardin Botanico de Caridad
Viñales is rather small, so the centre is only 15 minutes walk from end to end. Jardin Botanico de Caridad is a five minutes walk from the central plaza. The jardin (garden) is beautifully kept and a great place to lose ones self. Viñales is already a quiet town so the jardin feels like a sanctuary within a sanctuary. However there was one weird thing about the jardin in that they had dismembered doll parts all over the place, it was initially scary but soon it became normal to see the creepy little doll heads, legs or arms hanging in an amongst the beautiful plants.
Cueva del Indio
We chose to use the boat at a cost of CUC5 to get through the caves, lets just say the queue to get on the boat lasted longer than the boat ride through the caves itself. Nevertheless the experience was worthwhile and after disembarking from the boat we got a chance to walk though and explore the adjacent ranch whilst we waited for the hop on hop off bus, there is also a bar, restaurants and souvenir shops to keep you entertained.
Mural de la Prehistoria
The entrance fee to see the mural up close was CUC3 and the ticket entitles you to a free drink at a bar. This attraction is bitter-sweet in that because we came to see this attraction I got to taste the best Pina colada I have ever tasted. Once we looked at the less than impressive mural which we could see from the road we had 1 hour 20 mins to wait until the next bus so we decided to explore the area, we did a small walk up the side of the mountain and then walked into the neighbouring village where most people grew coffee. After that we went to the bar and indulged in the cocktails, the bar man liked us and was very generous with the rum serving and gave us multiple free refills.
Hotel Los Jazmines
This hotel is worth stopping off at for the best views of the amazing valley. From here you can really see the prehistoric rock formations that make the valley really special. There is a souvenir shops and a restaurant to sit and relax and get away from the afternoon sun. I also believe for a small fee you can use the hotel’s swimming pool. There is a village nearby so if you are curious you can take a walk into the village like we did.
We walked around and explored the quaint little town, aimlessly wandering is a great way to explore and find great things.
Food and Drink
This was one of the most reasonably priced restaurant in Viñales and the food was very delicious hence why we eat there both nights that we were in the town. My meal with a glass of beer cost CUC8.
Bar 3 J
This was a cool bar that was bustling every night with tourists and locals alike. The daiquiris were to die for and only CUC3 and that’s why we went back a second night.
Review of Viñales
This town was the perfect stop after the craziness of Santiago de Cuba and the activities in Trinidad, as we were getting towards the end of our trip Viñales was a welcomed change of pace and a great place to unwind. If you are visiting Cuba try to add Viñales to one of the destinations you visit, it is only 4 hours away from Havana and truly worthwhile.
So what next
The next stop is back to Havana where it all started.
Do you want to find out what we did in Havana for the second time and how we completed our trip to Cuba? Then follow my blog to find out more and you will be notified as I upload more posts.
The plan was to visit Sancti Spiritus and stay there for one day, we had been told that it is a small city but it is beautiful and worth a day trip. We booked Casa Las Americas and they were informed we would be arriving at 4am. The Viazul from Santiago de Cuba to Sancti Spiritus took 8 hours and cost CUC 28. As expected we arrived at Sancti Spiritus at 4am, the Casa was only a 10 minutes walk from the Viazul bus terminal but it was a little disconcerting walking around that early in the morning with the only other people on the road being transsexual prostitutes.
However when we arrived at the Casa they did not respond to our knocks on the door, we stood for 10mins before we decided to head back to the bus terminal, I guess the worker at the Casa drank too much rum that night.
We decided to make our way to Trinidad and fortunately for us the next bus to Trinidad was arriving at 6am, we had only a 2 hour wait. Trinidad to Sancti Spiritus was only 1 hour 30 mins away and cost CUC 6. We arrived in Trinidad 8 am in the morning, 12 hours earlier than we had intended to, all in all the only part of Sancti Spiritus we saw was the Bus terminal and the local sex workers.
Trinidad is the best preserved city in Cuba, a small city with a heavy Spanish Colonial influence and is truly beautiful, no wonder it is declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It is the most visited city in Central Cuba but luckily for us whilst we were there it was rather quiet. There was so much colour and vibrancy everywhere you looked.
The weather was between Havana’s and Santiago the Cuba and was manageable at between 27-29 degrees.
Where I stayed Hostal Sandra y Victor
Even though we had arrived 12 hours ahead of schedule we went to the Casa Sandra y Victor and they happily welcomed us in as we told them of our failed mission to Sancti Spiritus much to Victor’s Amusement. Knowing we were tired and hungry Victor prepared some breakfast on the porch for us, the breakfast as usual in Cuba was great and the views of the giant Avocado trees made the meal even more delicious.
The Casa was amazing, the family was great, it was clean, centrally located and best of all were weren’t under the feet of the family as we had our own space. We paid CUC 60 for 2 night, I really recommend this Casa.
Address: Maceo no.613a e/ Pablo Pichs Giron Guinart Tel: 41 99 6444. web: www.hostalsandra.com
What I did
Valle de los Ingenios
We took a half day trip to the Valle de los Ingenios a sprawling open valley that makes you forget that there are developed cities such as Havana on the Cuban Island. The trip was inexpensive at CUC 10 and included a stop at the Manca-Inznaga Estate and Hacienda Guachinango. One of the best part of the trip is the little wooden tourist train that takes you through the valley, the train is also named Valle de los Ingenios. Snacks, drinks and cigars are available on the train, the trip is great value for money and I highly really recommend it.
The first thing you notice as you get the train station at the Manca-Inznaga estate is a 45 meter tower, it was built by the most successful sugar planters in Cuba.
The Manca-Inznaga Estate Tower
It is said that the tower was built to impressive a woman, lucky her. The tower is very old and so I climbed the wooden step precariously but it wasn’t a long way up to the top. The views are amazing the luscious greenery with dots of colourful buildings and white linen being sold by marketers made a beautiful picture. There is a fee of CUC 2 to climb the tower.
We stopped at the Hacienda Guachinango for lunch, there was also the chance to go horse riding for CUC 25. The Hacienda was very tranquil, a great place to come to get away from the hustle and bustle of a busy life.
Iglesia del la Santisima Trinidad The church is not imposing but there is something about it that made we want to look inside. The inside similarly to the exterior is very simple and I liked that about it, the church was simply beautiful.
Ermita de la Popa
The church is formally known as ‘Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Popa del Barco,’ a mouthful right? Hence why the locals call it La Popa, it is a dilapidated church on the outskirts of the city and lays 15 minutes at the end of a dirt track from Plaza Mayor. There is not much to see of the church but a frame, but do not let that discouraged you the views of the city and the lush landscape of Valle de los Ingenious on the other side of the hill are worth it.
The beach is some 20 mins away from the city centre, there are several ways to get to it; hire a car for the day, by taxi or the most economical way is the Trinibus which runs a service to and fro for only CUC 2 for a return journey. Just make sure to check the departure times.
It was the best beach I have ever been to, the sea was blue and warm, the sand white and the weather was perfect. There was a man selling fresh coconut for CUC 3, I ordered one and he took 30 mins to bring it but it tasted off, be careful who you buy things from on the beach.
We walked around and explored the city, aimlessly wandering was a great way to discover the city’s unique and quirky character. Trinidad is certainly the most colourful city we went to in Cuba.
Food and Drink Breakfast
We paid an additional CUC 5 each morning to have breakfast at the Casa and it was worth it, again I say Cuban breakfast is the best.
Taberna La Bojita
This was a very cool restaurant, popular with locals and tourists alike, we ate there both nights we were in the city and we saw the same faces both nights. I liked the rustic decor but I was little thrown by the slave shackles and restraint on the walls, a reminder of human cruelty. Nevertheless it was a brilliant restaurant and the good food was served in large potions on rustic crockery. The entertainment where a brilliant duo from Bayamo, their sound was a Jazzy, Afro and Spanish mixture, we stayed at least 1 hour after we finished our meals to listen to them. A two course meal and a drink cost CUC 12.
We popped in there by chance looking for a place to cool off from the hot afternoon sun, we ordered iced daiquiris which was perfect for cooling down and we sat for a while people watching. The drinks cost CUC 4 each.
Review of Trinidad
This city was prefect, a great mixture between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Even though the city is small it packs a punch and offers a lot to do, I would certainly come back to Trinidad if I ever return to Cuba.
So what next
The next stop is Vinales at the top of the island.
Do you want to find out what we did in Vinales and how it compared to Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba and Havana? Then follow my blog to find out more and you will be notified as I upload more posts.
Santiago de Cuba is only 16 hours away from Havana via Viazul (the Cuban intercity coach service) however it felt like a world away from Havana. The cost of the Viazul from Havana to Santiago de Cuba was CUC51. You will need ID to book your ticket so make sure you take it with you, also the route from Havana to Santiago is very popular so it is advisable to book 24hours in advance.
Havana is where my trip began in Cuba and you can read about it in my previous via this link. We stayed 3 days and 2 nights in Santiago de Cuba.
The city was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and it was still recovering from the aftermath, with many buildings destroyed and in disrepair. This is one of the reasons I believe the Cubans we met in Santiago De Cuba were a little more aggressive in selling you their wares or services. The worst offenders were the taxi drivers who were very persistent adopting a hard sell and stalk sales pitch.
Apart from those selling service or wares there are also young people who go around trying to befriend foreigners in the hopes of a tip or a hookup. We unfortunately encountered one such young man within 10mins of leaving our Casa particular on the first day in the city and it took 2 hours to get rid of him.
The temperature in Havana was a manageable 27 degrees for a British person like me, Santiago de Cuba on the other hand was HOT, the first day was a sweltering 37 degrees at the highest point
Where I stayed
This wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either, the lady in charge of the Casa (Yulia), was very lovely and made us feel very warm and comfortable. The breakfast was good and Yulia did her best to give us tips on things to do in the city. We paid CUC74 for 2 people for 2 nights and this included 3 lots of breakfast.
What I did
Balcón de Velázquez
This is a balcony overlooking the city facing seawards. It is great place to hide from the hot afternoon sun. It is literally just a balcony with a small shop selling souvenirs, therefore I suggest taking a packed lunch and some snacks along with you in case you want to spend some time there. Entrance is free but if you want to take pictures it is CUC1.
Casa de Diego Velazquez
The museum is the oldest building in Cuba and it is very well-kept. This museum is home to some of the best antiques I have seen anywhere. The French, Italian, Dutch and mostly Spanish influence are clear and evident. The only annoyances were the museum attendants that persisted in taking you around the museum so that you would tip them. However do not let that put you off the museum is too beautiful to pass by, I cant recall the exact entrance fee but I know it is less that CUC5.
Basilica del Cobre and Castillo del Morro
We organised a short excursion with Cuba Tour to Basilica del Cobre and Castillo del Morro, the tour costs CUC18 per person and included the hire of a classic car to the attractions and back to the city centre.
The first stop was to Basilica del Cobre a beautiful red dome Cathedral some 18 km north from the centre of Santiago de Cuba. The drive to Cathedral was so lovely that the hot afternoon sun became a distant memory as the wind lapped against our faces as we drove along. The cathedral is truly magnificent, it sits atop a hill overlooking the town below like a guardian. We were very lucky that at the time we went it was quiet and peaceful, which allowed us to really take in the views and feel reverence for the place. The drive to and the Cathedral itself was well worth the price of the excursion.
After the cathedral we drove to Castillo del Morro, a fort some 8 km south of the centre of Santiago de Cuba. Leading up to the fort were stall selling souvenirs, trinkets and such like there is also a restaurant and a bar. It was very calming being in the fort looking over the water and feeling the cool sea breeze. Like with many historical buildings in Cuba the fort is very well-kept. Entrance fee to the fort cost CUC4.
Museo del Carnaval
It was interesting to go to this museum to see the history of the carnival in Santiago de Cuba and to see costumes used in past parades. The city holds an annual carnival festival every July. It was free to go inside the museum but to take pictures was CUC3 and an attendant followed you around to make sure you didn’t take any pictures, don’t mind this as the museum is still worth a visit.
Jardin de los Helechos
It was worthwhile going to the mini rain forest on the outskirts of the city. The garden started out as a hobby by the owner Manuel G.Caluff in 1976 and has grown through love and care into one of Santiago’s most famous attractions. Entrance to the garden is only CUC3.
To get to the Jardin de los Helados we decided to travel like the locals. Unfortunately we couldn’t figure out which local bus to take, although it was very likely that we wouldn’t have been let on board anyway. However we did manage to get on truck taxis to take us there and back. We later found out that foreigner are normally also not allowed on the truck taxis. Lucky for us though we had two separate guys who didn’t mind foreigners. We did pay over the odds for our fare but for us it was still way cheaper than taking a tourist taxi. We paid CUC5 (CUC2.5 each) there and CUC2 (CUC1 each) back, the first guy certainly ripped us off.
Paseo La palcita Show at Parque Céspedes
Parque Cespedes is the main square at the centre of the city and we happened to come across some people setting up for the closing ceremony of Paseo La Placita. The festival is held every year as a closing ceremony for summer. The show was amazing with salsa dancers, Afro-Cubano song and dance and other forms of entertainment.
We walked around and explored the city, aimlessly wandering was a great way to discover the city’s unique and quirky character.
Food and Drink
We paid an additional CUC5 each morning to have breakfast at the Casa and it was worth it. Cuban breakfast is the best.
Casa Micaela was one of the best restaurants we ate at, in Cuba, I say this because it served wholesome food for a very reasonable price and not surprising it has a good rating on Tripadvisor and it is recommended in most travel books. We ate there every night we stayed in Santiago de Cuba. A meal with a drink was about CUC8.
El Baturro is a cool bar and I had the best Mojito I tried a Mojito in Cuba. The atmosphere was chilled and nice.
Hotel Casa Granda
We avoided this Hotel’s bar because it looked too plush and also we felt we would be surrounded by tourists only. However we went there and it was very nice, we sat on the balcony overlooking Parque Cespedes, a great place for people watching and the drinks were not much more expensive than the local bars.
Review of Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba although not as beautiful or bustling as Havana has its own charm, I am sure it was even better before Hurricane Sandy came along. Nevertheless it is still worth the visit with many things to do mostly around the city, I would recommend hiring a car so that you can get around easily. If I ever go back to Cuba I will return to this city.
I went to Cuba for two weeks and went to four places on the island; Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Vinales. I also attempted to go to Sancti Spiritus however that is a story I will tell in the following series of posts. I will do four further posts on Cuba over the next four weeks one for each place that I went to.
Cost of trip
My return flight from London to Havana via Madrid cost £585 and it took 15 hours in total, there are direct flights from London to Havana that cost around £900 and take 10 hours.
I paid £114 for all my accommodation over the two weeks, however I will specify further in the following posts.
There are two currencies in Cuba one is Cuban Peso (CUP) for locals, the other is the Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists. there are 24 CUP’s to 1 CUC. Tourists can use the CUP, but it is mostly used by Cubans to pay for their rations, their electricity and water, to buy food in the markets and from stallholders in the streets and to eat or drink in ‘peso’ bars and restaurants. Basically, as a tourist, you do not have to worry at all about the Cuban peso.
The Convertible Peso is a closed currency, which means it cannot be purchased outside of Cuba. You can change your money at the Cadeca (Money Exchange Bureau) at the Airport on landing in Cuba or at your hotel.
If you reside in the UK you should take Sterling; clean, untorn bills with no writing on them, in £10, £20 or £50 denominations. Please note that Scottish notes are not acceptable. Canadians should take Canadian dollars and if you are from a European destination that uses the Euro, then take Euros. The exchange rate varies on a daily basis, however it is approx 1.5 CUC’s to £1.
I went on this trip with my current housemate but Cuba is very safe for lone travellers, however it was nice having someone else there to share the experience with. Our trip started in Havana in which we stayed 2 nights before moving on to Santiago de Cuba.
We went to Cuba from the 6th to 18th October 2015 which is during the hurricane season however the weather in Havana on the first two days was blue sky and sunshine with the weather being 27 degrees both days.
Where I stayed
We had decided from the beginning of our trip to only stay in Casa particulars as we felt we would have a more authentic trip, also Casa Particulars are a fraction of the price of staying in hotels. Casa particulars are similar to bed and breakfasts in their operation, the only difference is that most times the Casa Particular also serves as the familiar home, so you get to mingle, chat and live with Cubans.
When booking a Casa particular it is advisable to book one recommended in the travel books or otherwise lookout for the sign below which is the state approval for an abode to operate as a legal Casa Particular.
Havana Vedado- Ada Colonial
Our first stay was in Ada Colonial which was an impressive Casa particular we managed to book online from the UK via Travel Republic. The exterior is not a reflection of the well-kept and nicely decorated interior. The owner was lovely and greeted me with a big hug and a kiss, a pleasant surprise for a stiff British girl like me.
The room was humongous and it had an en-suite with a large jacuzzi bath that four people could have comfortably fit in. The shower was the best of all the Casas we stayed in, there was hot water and the water pressure was good.
Ada colonial was the most expensive Casa we stayed in, at CUC105 for two nights for two people but it was worth it to start of the trip in a great place.
What I did
Havana Plaza Vieja
The square was quiet, peaceful and very beautiful, it is also a great place to visit as there are many bars and restaurants on the square, also it is a great place to just sit and people watch. The square is also home to a memorizing and somewhat sexual statue called Viaje fantastico which is of a naked woman wearing high heels riding a cockerel whilst carrying a fork.
Walked around Havana Vieja
Aimlessly wandering, getting lost and finding new things if you have read my previous blogs is one of the things I love best when travelling. We walked around Havana Vieja away from the touristic hustle and bustle and found ourselves on quiet streets with the locals. The buildings had the charm of French or Spanish colonial influence, the colours of the tropics and dilapidation all rolled into one. I have never seen crumbling and old buildings so beautiful anywhere else I have been.
Meet two Cuban salsa teachers
We meet two salsa teacher who took us to Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro where they kindly gave us a list of things we should do and also not do. The Museo de la Revolucion was highly recommended but it turned out that the ladies were club promoters and they kept recommending that we go back that evening to Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro as the Bueno Vista Social Club were performing to celebrate their 50 years anniversary. Not swayed by their sales pitch to buy tickets for the evening event we left to make our way to Museo de la Revolucion.
Museo de la Revolucion
Entry to the to the museum costs CUC8, cameras are allowed however all bags must be checked into the cloakroom. The Museo is a beautiful white stone building. It took some damage during the revolution with some 130 bullet holes riddling the front entrance at the peak of the revolution. The exhibits take you through the history of the revolution, giving you insight into some of the goings on during the troublesome time. You can also learn about the revolution heroes such as Che Guevera and Fidel Castro. Mosts of the exhibitions are written in Spanish but it was easy to get the gist.
The wall of cretins was a humorous piece caricaturing the people credited with enabling the revolution through their bankrupt and immoral policies the wall depicts Fulgencio Batista, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush Snr and George W. Bush, Jr.
Walked along Malecon (Havana Harbour)
We walked along Malecon during the late afternoon which was nice and relaxing, on the way we meet another traveller named Jessica who joined us on our walk to enjoy the beautiful views of the harbour.
Centro is a district of Havana that has many historical places to visit but is also the down town area of Havana. The area was not as clean as other areas we had been to and many of the buildings were dilapidated but they had a certain charm and beauty to them. Whilst walking around and taking pictures two local women separately warned us to put our cameras way as we would be mugged otherwise. It wasn’t until we left the area that we read in our travel book that Centro Havana is an area to be weary of due to tourist muggings. I didn’t feel unsafe walking around Centro Havana until the women approached us, I didn’t feel any air of hostility from those in the area.
Vedado is one of the wealthy districts of Havana and it is very evident when walking around the area, the houses are grand and impressive remnants of Spanish and French colonial rule.
Hotel Havana Libre
This hotel is not as impressive as you would imagine, it took us ages to find the hotel as we kept getting lost. However we felt it was worth the visit to see one of the places Fidel Castro had made his head quarters during the revolution. It is worth going to, to see an important piece of Cuban history but I suggest making it part of something else you are doing; like walking along Malecon.
Food and Drink
Breakfast was included in the price of our stay in the Casa, Cuban breakfast is very nice and large, due to the size of breakfast we didn’t need to eat lunch. The best bits about breakfast were the fruit salad and coffee, Cuban coffee is like silk very smooth and rich. The tropical fruit salad usually consisted of melon, guava, banana and papaya it was a good way to start the day.
The restaurant is not far from Museo de la Revolucion, the pizza was delicious, huge and only CUC4. The Mojito I had at the restaurant was also the second best I had in all Cuba and believe me I had load of Mojitos.
Bar Montserrat is a very cool bar near the Capitol building, with amazing cocktails, good food and live music, the bar is popular with Cubans and tourists alike.
Review of Havana
Havana set a very pleasant tone for the rest of the 12 days we would spend in Cuba, staying in Ada Colonial in Vedado which is akin to Manhattan in New York or Chelsea in London was very nice , meeting the Cuban salsa teacher and Jessica also left us on a high after the first two days.