Cuba- a holiday experience


We decided to have a change of holiday destination this year having been to Malta, Cephalonia, and Crete and thought that the Caribbean Island of Cuba would offer us something new- we weren’t disappointed.

The largest island in the Caribbean situated just 90 miles south of Florida; Cuba boasts spectacular scenery, a rich cultural heritage and some of the world’s finest beaches lapped by clear warm waters, Transit Management can give details on how to travel here.

It was 11p.m. when we arrived at the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana, the capital city and World Heritage Site. A 3 star hotel, this is one of the oldest hotels in the city and is declared a national monument! It stands next to the "Gran Teatro" and overlooks the Central Park where Habaneros come to catch up on the local news. The next morning we opened the french windows to our bedroom and immediately were welcomed by a clear blue sky and an amazing sound of a vibrant city three floors below. Breakfast was taken in the restaurant that still retains its colonial charm and efficient staff ensured we were well fed for the day ahead.

As we stepped out on to the busy street, we decided to give the tour busses a miss and just walk. This we did all day with 1950’s Chevvies, Pontiacs and Buicks growling passed us whilst we took in the atmosphere of this city of contrasts. The craft market at Plaza de Armas was well worth an hour’s visit with some successful bartering to be had and the mural of Che Guevara in Revolution Square was quite a sight. On the promenade we fell upon a carnival procession that was being organised and to start with a salsa music band with young dancers got on stage and really got the crowd in the right mood. We took a lunch break at the San Carlos de La Cabana fortress, which provided excellent views of the city and has been tastefully renovated – we then moved on to Callejon de Hammel. This narrow Havana street is an authentic museum in the open that exhibits works of art of Afro-Cuban origin with an amazing 100 metre long mural painting by local artist, Salvador Gonzalez.

To return to the hotel we walked the Paseo del Prado which is one of the oldest promenade streets in the city and thankfully shaded by huge trees down the middle. After a much needed shower and change we jumped in to a ‘Tut Tut’ and headed for a restaurant we fancied just near the university. The menu looked impressive but the waiter explained half the dishes on it were not available! One of us ordered Duck with Onions and that was exactly what was served – nothing else!

The next day saw us taking a taxi ride in an ancient Buick which rumbled over the cobbled streets and took us round some very old parts of Havana – it was great and all for just 5 dollars. Museums are plentiful – The National Museum of Fine Arts is one of the world’s most widely recognised institutions of it’s kind and of course there is the Hemingway museum in the suburban district of San Francisco de Paula. Another memorable sight is the 18 metre high statue of Christ, which stands on La Cabana Hill overlooking the bay and is considered the biggest open-air monument ever built by a woman. In the evening we chose a restaurant near the Paseo del Prado and took a Horse and carriage ride to it and met up with three locals who spoke quite good English and we were able to discuss many things with them. They then invited us to their favourite drinking hole called the Bar Nautilus where there was much dancing and friendship.

The next day saw us doing some final shopping and photographs as well as sipping delicious Cuban coffee on the terrace of the hotel and listening to a jazz trio. A snack lunch before our coach journey was taken at the 5 star hotel Parque Central which was very smart, well air-conditioned but lacked the character of the hotel Ingleterra. The coach arrived at 2.45p.m. and we were on our way to the second location for our holiday- Varadero which is about 3 hours drive east of Havana.

Varadero has been attracting visitors for nearly a hundred years and many say the 20-kilometre beach is one of the best in the Caribbean. It is Cuba’s leading beach resort, it can cater for the most relaxed and the more energetic visitor and most of the hotels offer entertainment during the day and night. The beach is beautifully white and the sea is irresistible but a pool is always there if needed. One trip not to be missed in Varadero is the chance to swim with the dolphins, which is an unforgettable experience. You can also cruise to a desert island for a lobster lunch ( 5 dollars) and Cuban rum cocktails. Alternatively, you can fish, scuba-dive, sail, windsurf or cruise on a catamaran. Yes – there is a market and shops you can visit too!

We checked in to the Brisas del Caribe hotel – a four star all-inclusive hotel which was comfortable. However, a four star hotel in Cuba is not necessarily of the same standard as four star accommodation in St.Lucia or Antigua. The most noticeable thing is the restaurant is all self-service and can therefore be pretty busy at peak times. Also the hot food is in large containers under heat lamps and if you arrive late it can look a bit unappetising. However the hotel does operate an upgrade to a choice of three ‘A La Carte’ restaurants where you may be able to reserve a table in advance. We considered the food to be much the same but at least you were served at your table and they did provide live music during the meal.

The beach is superb if not a little busy at times but there were no vendors to bother you. There’s plenty of choice for watersports, including scuba diving and if you fancy a sky dive from 9,000 feet you can do that too! You can stroll along the Varadero beach for as long as you wish and there are stunning sunsets to be seen from this coast. You can chose from 4 swimming pools to cool off in and if you like you can book a sauna or massage as well. For the more energetic, there is a gymnasium, floodlit tennis courts, basketball, pool table and table tennis. The beach is nearly a 15-minute walk from the southern accommodation wing so it is recommended to ask for a room in the main building so that you are more central to everything.

This island has much to offer for people of all ages and the friendship, culture, scenery and activities certainly make you feel like returning again some day.

Mike Tilton 30/9/03

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