Saturday, November 1, 2014, 7:15am
Introduction to CUBA
Date travelled: 23rd January to 7th February 2002
Tour Operator: Kuoni
Havana is arguably Latin America's best preserved colonial city, and one of the oldest, grandest and safest cities in the Americas. Centuries of Spanish and African interaction have made it a hotbed of culture and the vibrancy of Cuban music and dance alone make it worth the trip. A World Heritage Site since 1982, La Habana Vieja, or Old Havana has five centuries of rich architectural heritage and a high concentration of museums and galleries. A huge restoration project is doing much to preserve the fabric of the old city.
Capitolio was built in 1929, with a dome that dominates the Havana skyline. This building is a replica of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Inside there is a statue of Athena, the biggest indoor bronze effigy in the world. There is also an enormous and historic gallery called the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos (The Hall of Lost Steps); a 28-carat diamond that marks the exact centre of the city; and the headquarters of the Cuban Natural History Museum, housing the country's largest natural history collection.
Cathedral Square, surrounded by opulent mansions, this ancient square comprises the recently restored Plaza Vieja (Old Square) and Francis of Assisi square. On the former stands the San Juan de Jaruco mansion; on the latter are the church and convent of the same name. One of the convents cloisters houses the Museum of Sacred Art. Colourful markets spread out across the cobbled square most days.
Partagas Tobacco Factory is Havana's biggest export factory. Well worth a visit but no photography allowed inside.
La Vigia is Ernest Hemingway's former house. He moved to Cuba in 1939 and it was his home for 20 years. The white colonial style mansion, built in 1887, is now a museum. To preserve it you are not permitted to enter the house but you can peer through the windows
Before the Cuban Revolution, Plaza de la Revolución, situated in the Vedado area of Havana, was known simply as the Civic Square. It became historically famous during the times of the Cuban Revolution. Surrounding the square are the headquarters of Cuba's political and administrative bodies, including the head offices of the Council of State, the Cabinet, and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Iron work on the Interior Ministry building, which overlooks the Square, honours Che Guevera.
We left Havana and continued our journey on to Cienfuegos. Established in 1514 the town of Cienfuegos is now dominated by a fort known as Jagua Castle, erected by the Spanish in the 18th century to protect villages around the bay and monitor the activities of smugglers. Below the fort you will find the tranquil streets and wooden houses that make up the tiny fishing hamlet of Perche. Locals call Cienfuegos the Linda Ciudad del Mar, which means Pretty City by the Sea. We stayed overnight in Cienfuegos and departed the next day to travel to Trinidad.
Trinidad was founded by Diego Velázquez in 1514. Its beautiful colonial architecture and its historic centre of town earned it a spot on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites in 1988. Plaza Mayor is the centre of the town and the cathedral, Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad built between 1817 and 1892, is the largest church in Cuba.
We wandered around the cobbled streets in glorious sunshine, passing old cars from the 50's and buildings that must have been beautiful once. Today Trinidad is one of the most perfectly preserved colonial towns in the Americas. It is certainly the most beautiful city in Cuba and not a place to miss if visiting the country. After lunch we left Trinidad and continued on to Santa Clara with an overnight stay in Sancti Spiritus.
Santa Clara is situated halfway between the north and south coasts. Because of its inland position it became a refuge for those fleeing pirate attacks in the 16th and 17th centuries. Later it was a strategic site during the two wars of independence & the Revolution. Che Guevara's troops captured the city in 1958. Today it is home to one of Cuba's four universities, various manufacturing industries and a total of 52 bridges, more than in any other Cuban city.
We visited the Monument of Che at the Plaza de la Revolución Ernesto Guevara where there is a huge bronze statue of Che. The remains of Che and his comrades who fell in Bolivia have been interred here at this mausoleum. We left Santa Clara to continue our journey on to Varadero.
Varadero is the most renowned beach resort of the Caribbean, situated on la Punta de Hicacos, its white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and natural beauty are delightful. We had been travelling for almost a week now and it was heavenly to be able to unpack our suitacase and chill out for a whole week. Which is exactly what we did, no getting up at the crack of dawn or rushing off to the next destination.
** Information on the travel pages was correct at the time of publishing. Passport & Visa information applies to UK citizens.