Cuba Part 1: Varadero and Havana

Our December travelling trip took us to the Caribbean island of Cuba – the land of cigars, rum, sugar cane,  1950s cars, sandy beaches and so much more. A visa is required to enter Cuba and this can be applied for online really easily – we got ours from http://www.cubavisa.uk which provided an exceptionally prompt service. You also need to have evidence of health/travel insurance prior to travelling to Cuba, so make sure you have a printed copy of this in case you are asked to show it at immigration. We ended up getting cheap flights with Thomson airlines to Varadero as tickets were about two hundred pounds cheaper each then flying into Havana – definitely worth checking before booking up.  

Currency: Contrary to what people post online, you only need to get get CUCs out at the airport in Cuba. We got CUPs and CUCS and really struggled for anywhere to accept CUPs; so in short, don’t bother!

Varadero is really just a tourist town, largely consisting of all inclusive resorts – but after flying half way around the world it was nice to have a few days relaxing on the beach and enjoying some cocktails. We chose to only have breakfast at our hotel so we could try out local bars and restaurants – which are actually quite few and far between. We ate at La Campana situated in the park one lunchtime and had a lovely al fresco meal followed by a pleasant walk and would recommend a visit there. There are also plenty of street sellers making fresh piña coladas in pineapples too – really amazing, and as you wait for your drink you can eat the cored out pineapple! The weather in Varadero in December was a little hit and miss, with intermittent downpours – despite the rest of the country being in sunshine – so bear this in mind if you are planning a beach holiday at this time of year.

Internet in Cuba is patchy – at some hotels you will be able to buy wifi cards but it can be quite slow. If you don’t like winging your trip it is best to pre-book accommodation and buses beforehand.

We had managed to pre-book a bus to Havana with Viazul Bus company. What we had forgotten to do was to pre-download a map detailing where our next air bnb accomodation was – so we didn’t know which stop in Havana to get off at! We stayed in a lovely studio air bnb called La Habana on Calles Corales – very close to the old town and the Capitolio Nacional. Our host Marta and her husband were both lovely and the studio flat we had was great with a well equipped kitchen, washing machine, balcony and the building was very secure. We loved Havana – vibrant, busy, colourful and full of a shabby chic charm. 

Havana Vieja, (the old town), on the east of the city is home to lots of beautiful old buildings and squares and is a great place to wander, soaking up the Cuban atmosphere, and visiting one of the many cafes and restaurants. The old town is where all the lovely old 1950s cars collect, touting for business to take tourists on city tours. Unfortunately, these tours are quite over priced at $50-60 per person so we admired them from a distance. 

 

We spent one day visiting El Morro-we took the ferry from one of the ferry ports next to old town for $1CUC per person each. We walked straight up the hill behind the ferry terminal to reach a huge statue of Christ surrounded by little market stalls, before continuing on past the military museum and to the fort. It was hot when we visited, so take plenty of water, sun cream and a sun umbrella. If you don’t like walking, a bus can take you all the way or you can pick up an old car at the Christ Statue to take you to the fort. Despite the heat, we enjoyed a pleasant stroll and the views back across the water to Havana city are lovely. We had definitely earnt our evening rum from all the walking that day!

On our final day, we decided to take the Havana red bus tour around the city. It has a stop at Parque Central so is easy to find out all the relevant information. Shamelessly touristic yes, but for the price of a single taxi fair to the Plaza de la Revolucion  you can go on an entire bus ride encompassing lots of stops. The breeze from the top deck was a welcome rest bite from the heat of the day too! 

We fell in love with Havana. I love the pot holed streets, the run down houses slowly being restored, the churros and the hip vibe. Three days was the perfect amount of time to see all the major sites and soak up the atmosphere of the city.

Havana food and drink recommendations:

El Chanchullero- trendy tapas style food

Cafe de Los Artistas – great food, happy hour and near to some other lovely bars and restaurants

El Dandy bar

Cafe arcangel – we are here everyday for breakfast, delicious and great value

El Floridita  – the birth place of the daiquiri. Overpriced yes, but has to be experienced.

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