It has been suggested that change is afoot on the island paradise that is Cuba. These suggestions have come about due to the rather surprising decision by the US to end the decades-long embargo and restart formal diplomatic relations with Cuba. So now that everyone is being good neighbours once again, it’s going to be much easier for Americans to visit Cuba. But this influx of tourists isn’t going to change Cuba in any profound way, and any changes will be extremely relaxed, keeping with the general vibe of the island. But some purists are worried that things will change, much like how some people bemoaned the loss of the socialist chic of East Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.
Heck, some people will probably say that Pyongyang isn’t as cool as it used to be if North Korea was to ever become a tourist hotspot. Still, there are more people than ever now thinking of where to travel in Cuba, and there is no reason why you can’t join them. So we’ve done all the research for you, and we are sure this list is going to make you want to jump on a plane as soon as possible, like right now.
Havana: The Capital of Cool
Any list of where to travel in Cuba begins with Havana. Yes, you need to see the other sensational spots on the island, and yet you’ll want to allow as much time as possible to savour the delights of the capital. Chances are you’ll fly into Havana anyway, so make the most of it. With over 2.1 million residents, it’s not a sprawling city, and yet it bustles with life. Walk the dusty streets of Havana’s Old Town (La Habana Vieja), where you’ll want to linger in the Plaza de Armas (particularly when the book market is set up).
Havana gets rather hot (one of the reasons why you might want to visit), so look for a street vendor selling guarapo (freshly squeezed sugarcane juice), which is a taste sensation, especially when a splash of lime is added. Explore the length of the Malecón, the esplanade that runs from Old Havana to the faded and then restored glory of Vedado, which was where the wealthy of Havana used to live (and many of these stunning mansions are now being repurposed as cool bars and restaurants). Naturally these suggestions are not exhaustive, and the best part about Havana is to find a surprise around each corner.
Varadero: A Paradise of Contrast
You’ll going to want to hit the beach when you’re thinking about where to travel in Cuba, and yeah… unsurprisingly there are plenty to choose from. Take the time to go to Varadero on the Hicacos Peninsula. Some travel purists might want to avoid the area due to the prevalence of exclusive luxury resorts (which sell foreign name brand products and even accept some foreign currencies), thinking that this is not the real Cuba. There is some truth to this, and yet it’s still interesting to see this side of Cuba, especially when contrasted with the actual town of Varadero itself, which is a laid-back sleepy seaside village. Having said that, there’s a lot going on in the town due to the number of tourists who are within such a short distance. It’s just a deeply interesting place in which to experience two different sides of contemporary Cuba.
Isle of Youth: A Troubled History and a Beautiful Present
Cuba’s largest offshore island was in fact called the Isle of Pines until 1978, and yes, there are a lot of pine trees here. Fidel Castro himself arranged the change of name to the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud). Castro actually spent a portion of his younger years on the island under troubled circumstances.
He was imprisoned on the island from 1953 until 1955 for his revolutionary activities, although soon after that… well, you know how it went. There are still prisons on the island, but naturally this is not the reason to visit. It just has a sparse, beautiful quality that is different to the mainland which is really just a short ferry crossing away. Much of Cuba could be considered to be rural, and yet the serenity of the Isla de la Juventud is something else entirely.
Gardens of the Queen: Where to Travel in Cuba to Avoid the Crowds
Named by Christopher Colombus, the Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina) are a vast maritime protected area that encompasses some 2170 square kilometres of water off Cuba’s central southern coast. There are more than 600 islands and cays within the area, although most of them are miniscule.
Only two of the island have a permanent population, and this totals 12 people across both of them. Not a misprint. 12 people in total. Gosh, you would hate to get into an argument with someone when they’re the only other person on the island, wouldn’t you? Of course, there are more people who come and go, since the area is rich with aquatic life, making it a truly unique place to take a dive. This is one of the more isolated spots where to travel in Cuba, but it’s worth the effort.
Guantánamo: Infamous for the Wrong Reasons
The name Guantánamo now comes loaded with all sorts of sinister connotations, all associated with the nearby US military base. This base sits on land that the US captured from Spain when Cuba was fighting for independence. It was leased to the US from 1903 onwards under the terms of a treaty, for a sum that wouldn’t rent you a shelf in a closet in most cities in the world.
The town of Guantánamo has been around for far longer than when the happenings at the base started making the papers (the town has been there since 1797) and is a placid spot at the very edge of Cuba.
There’s a burgeoning fishing trade and the town offers a relaxed pace of life that is demonstrably more laid-back than the rest of the country, which is wonderfully laid-back to begin with.
Do you have any questions? Please leave your comment below!