Havana has become ‘THE’ place to visit for travelers to Cuba. But leave the city, to see Cuba’s countryside with beautiful landscapes and magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of my favorite destinations are:
Drink and learn about Cuba’s coffee history at the 19th century Buenavista Coffee plantation in the Complejo Las Terrazas’s eco-village. It’s about an hour outside Havana, in the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve in Candelaria. Afterward, stop by Lester Campa’s workshop (email: [email protected]) to see his politically provocative paintings and prints.
Drive about two hours toward Viñales Valley but stop at Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso Carretera (Al Cementerio KM 1 1/2, Vinales Tel: +58188581), an organic farm and the perfect place to unwind and relax after a long day. Enjoy drinks and dinner on the terrace while watching the sunset over the limestone mogotes for a picture-perfect vista.
Drying The Tobacco Leaves
Visit Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site which is two to two and half hours outside Havana but just a few minutes from the organic farm. The jaw-dropping Valley is known worldwide for its exceptional tobacco leaves. See how tobacco is cultivated, harvested and dried in wooden outhouses at Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation. (Tel: +5348797470) The workers hand roll and cut the dried leaves into some of the world’s finest cigars.
Lorne Resnick, an award-winning photographer who recently published, Cuba, This Moment, Exactly So, recommends visiting the compact town of Viñales with its small bars, restaurants and shops. Spontaneous dance parties break out in the middle of the street.
Snorkel at Cueva de los Peces with its simple but unfussy beaches. The underwater caves ensure amazing snorkeling. The decent into the water is rocky so wear water shoes prior to slipping into snorkel fins. Snorkel equipment was available for rent at the beach when I visited.
Platters of Lobster At Restaurante Ismary
The nearby Restaurante Ismary (Tel: +53689757) serves overflowing platters of freshly caught crocodile, crab and lobster for a decadent meal.
Wander through Trinidad, the well-preserved colonial and UNESCO World Heritage site. The colorful homes make this walkable town irresistible. Visit the Museo Romantic (52 Calle Cristo, Trinidad Tel: +53 41 94363) which is housed in a former wealthy, sugar mill owner’s colonial home. Guided tours are offered.
A Libreta Ration Book
Stop at Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá (Calle Real del Jigüe, Trinidad) to learn about the Afro-Cuban Santería religion that was brought to Cuba by former slaves. Along the way, drop in a bodega to see how necessities are still rationed in Cuba. Each month, residents present their booklets to receive their family’s allotment.
Take a break from the heat and listen to music at the touristy but classic Taberna la Canchánchara (90 Calle Real del Jigüe, Trinidad) which serves its namesake alcoholic beverage. The local specialty is a mix of rum with lime juice and honey for a very sweet drink.
At night, Plaza Mayor, the large courtyard in the center of town adjacent to Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad (Calle Cristo, Trinidad) becomes an alfresco party replete with waiters serving pineapples filled with piña coladas to the hordes of people sitting on the steps.
Dancing In The Street In Front Of Trinidad’s Restaurante Museo 1514
Trinidad’s paladares restaurant don’t disappoint but reservations are definitely necessary with the influx of tourism. Quince Catorce or Restaurante Museo 1514 (515 Calle Desengaño, Trinidad email: [email protected] Tel: +5341994255) is a combination of a museum and restaurant. The tables are laden with china and crystal from nearby former family estates. The restaurant exudes elegance without being too fussy. This is of course Cuba, so the music plays and people dance between tables. The restaurant’s specialties include obscene portions of shrimp and lobster.
Paladar Sol Ananda (45 Calle Real del Jigüe, Trinidad Tel: +5341998281) is another family owned restaurant that reminds you it’s a home by having beds in the dining rooms. The restaurant with its eclectic Cuban style food and roving musicians, seems odd at first but by dinner’s end, it seems perfectly normal. Lorne Resnick recommends investigating the wine cellar downstairs in one of the bedrooms.
Enjoying the Caburní Waterfall
Hike the nearby Topes de Collantes park. (Circuito Sur) The trail is about a 45-minute hike each way and can be a bit steep at points. The natural swimming hole was really crowded when we arrived. Hike a bit further down the path and alternatively, cool off in the Salto del Caburní waterfall. Standing under the cascading water was utter bliss.
Janice Schacter Lintz