It’s miserable out as I write this – it’s cold and snowing. To think, just yesterday I was in Cuba and today … back to reality.
I hadn’t been to Cuba in about 17 years, but my best memory is that of an aqua blue ocean, sugar-white beaches and mojitos, so, I was anxious to get back there.
The last time I was in Cuba I stayed in Holguín at Hotel Club Amigo Atlantico in Guardalavaca on the south eastern side of the island. This time we chose Varadero.
- Relax ✅
- Enjoy the weather ✅
- Spend some quality time with the kiddos ✅
- Visit Hanava ✅
- Sip a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio OR a daiquiri at El Floridita. ❎
The weather, apart from the odd afternoon overcast, was great – it ranged from 25º to 29º Celsius. Seasonal temps for March are 29º (h) and 19º (l) – this is their winter season – and for this typical Canadian, the weather was perfect … not too hot, a nice breeze and the odd reprieve from the sun with just enough cloud cover for just the perfect amount of time. It did rain twice – but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits or our spirits. Get it? You know like their famed ron? Jk
Hotel Review: Palma Real
We stayed at the Allegro Palma Real which has just been purchased from Gran Caribe – it’s a 3* resort situated a 5 minute walk from the beach on the Atlantic Ocean coast, this low-key all-inclusive resort definitely needs some updating. I’d say to anyone traveling and staying at this particular resort “know your priorities and set your expectations”.
The Palma Real is inexpensive, [I paid $625 CDN (taxes in) for a week, all inclusive], close to the beach, nightlife in town and local restaurants.
The food at the resort is meh. But my experience is that most Cuban resorts food is. The buffet serves pretty much the same menu all week and is fairly bland. We brought hot sauce from home, which helped a smidge. Some brought their own Cheese Whiz, Mayonnaise, mustard, jam, peanut butter and Heinz ketchup with them.
The rooms are a little tired, but the pool areas are good – there are separate pools for those who just wanna chill and those who don’t – as you can imagine the pool bar is a popular place.
Con: The pool bar closes at 5:00 PM even though the pool is open till 6:00 PM.
The beach area is really nice, the walk from the hotel to the beach was littered with refuse though.
The service is hit and miss, our service was typically good.
The night shows are poor, we went to 1/2 of one (that’s right, we couldn’t even stay for the whole show), I think 15 guests were in the audience.
My Opinion: If your priority is to find a place that is inexpensive and well located, it works. This hotel is not directly on the beach but it does offer some of the best value Varadero has to offer.
Day Trip to 🎶Havana ooh na na🎶
Cuba, the Caribbean’s largest island, drips with history, culture, and a captivating mystique. Live music wafts through the cobbled squares in Havana’s World Heritage-listed Old Town, vintage cars still cruise the streets, and the beautiful old buildings in Cuba’s colonial cities evoke the feel of a country frozen in time.
We booked our full day trip to Havana via Cuba Among Cubans. It had great reviews online (5* rating on Trip Advisor). I emailed Randy and within a 10 minutes email exchange our day trip to La Habana was booked. I was really pumped for our PRIVATE tour of Havana – the cost was 140 CUC for the 3 of us for a full day private tour – guide and taxi included.
Our vintage ’57 Ford picked us up in the hotel lobby at 8:00 AM – our tour guide’s name was David. It’s about an hour and half drive to Havana (FYI, in Cuban it’s La Habana).
Matanzas (Puente de Bacunayagua)
We stopped at look out spot in Matanzas (Puente de Bacunayagua) which has a stunning view of the whole valley – very pretty!
Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magnos del Morro
We started off at the Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magnos del Morro, in English known as Fort Morro.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Castillo del Morro is one of the best-preserved Spanish fortresses of the 17th century. It stands at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago, about 10 kilometers southwest of Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city.
Perched high atop a cliff, the structure was designed in 1587, but took decades to build and was finally completed at the end of the 17th century. It was originally intended to protect against pirate attacks, but also served as a prison in the late 1700s before being once again converted into a fortress.
Today, you can explore the many different levels of the fort, learn about pirates and the fort history in the small museum, and enjoy impressive views over the bay.
Cristo de La Habana
As in Brazil, Cuba has its own sculpture representing Jesus of Nazareth on a hilltop overlooking the bay in Havana. It is known as The Christ of Havana (Cristo de La Habana). David tells us that locals suggest that the statue was sculpted to depict a cigar in the right hand and a mojito in the left hand, honouring popular Cuban culture – I can totally see that 🙂
It is the biggest sculpture of the world made of white marble and sculptured by a woman, Jilma Madera. The artist apparently left the eyes of the statue empty, so that it would seem as if Christ was looking at everybody from all angles. The sculpture is located 167 ft above sea level, rising to a height of 259 ft, allowing the locals to see it from many points of the city.
Open-Air military Museum
We walked threw an open-air military museum just outside the El Morro Fort. It’s an open-air collection of weaponry (mostly Soviet) from the days of the Cuban missile crisis. The infamous missiles that brought the world to the knees of a nuclear war are also peacefully lying here in the weeds (without the nuclear load). There are also the remains of an America spy plane shot over Cuba at that time.
Our taxi driver made his way to new Havana where we drove up the the famed Malecón seaside boulevard. The Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) is a broad esplanade, roadway, and seawall that stretches for 8 km along the coast in -> from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood and the Vedado neighborhood, ending at the mouth of the Almendares River. Construction of the Malecón began in 1901, during temporary U.S. military rule. The main purpose of building the Malecón was to protect Havana from the sea.
David tells us that the waves that hit Havana with Hurricane Irma in Sept 2017 reached over 10 metres (over 30 ft) and crashed over the seawall flooding all of old Havana. The water pushed about a third of a mile inland into low-lying neighbourhoods and adjoining towns. It took 2 days to recede.
Plaza de la Revolución
We walked around the emblematic Plaza de la Revolución. The square is dominated by the José Martí Memorial. On special occasions the Cubans gather there. At the time of our arrival – there was at least 25-30 classic cars in the parking lot (they serve as taxis) – most North Americans clambered to get pics with them – for us – this is a “classic car show”, to them – this is “normal”.
Lunch at a Private Paladare
We went for lunch at a private paladare (restaurant) which is in the bottom of private home. Cuba’s enterprising cooks open their homes as a way to become entrepreneurs. The food was good, the best we’ve had here all week – it had flavour and was well cooked. For 20 CUC we got an alcoholic beverage, a choice of soup, an entrée (choice between seafood, chicken, pork or lamb), rice and beans and a mini mixed salad, it also included dessert and a tea/coffee.
From there we went to Old Havana which was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. We learned of Cuba´s colonial history up to the US invasion and occupation of the island in 1898, the revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis from their perspective and the US trade embargo. We also got to see the non-restored areas and how the less-privileged live.
We walked around Old Havana´s most emblematic squares: Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral.
Ambos Mundos Hotel, La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita
We saw the famous Ambos Mundos Hotel and the famous bars La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita, both spots frequented by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote his most famous work, The Old Man and the Sea while residing in Cuba. At La Bodeguita del Medio, it’s the tradition to drink your mojito and sign your name on the wall(s).
Hemingway is forever linked with La Bodeguita del Medio for drinking his mojitos there (which is where mojitos were apparently invented), but the man enjoyed his daiquiris at El Floridita. Which we also went to, I was hoping to have a daquari in there – which he is said to have perfected – however, it was PACKED! So, the best I got was a selfie with I Hemingway’s statue.
Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón
The Colon Cemetery is one of the most important cemeteries in the world and is generally held to be one of the most important in Latin America in historical and architectural terms, second only to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires.
An interesting fact I learned as we passed the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón (Colon Cemetery). Firstly, there are nearly 2 million people in this cemetery (800,000 graves and 1 million interments) – an insane amount of people! Secondly, space in the Colon Cemetery is obviously at a premium and as such after 2 years remains are removed from their tombs by family members and buried elsewhere – in order to make room for new interments. If they are unable to do so, the care taker is able to do that for a fee.
Of note: Fidel Castro is not buried here, according to his Will, he elected for cremation.
In between squares we got to see the daily life struggles of the common citizen and saw a typical Cuban Flea Market – where they grabbed the daily groceries – they typically use the old Cuban peso.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
On the seaward side of Plaza de Armas is one of the oldest existing forts in the Americas, built between 1558 and 1577 is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force) which was originally built to defend against attack by pirates. It’s a beautifully preserved old fortress with a circling mote – wish we had a bit more time to explore here.
From there were went to Centro Habana (Havana from the early 20th century) where we visited to the outdoor areas of the Museum of the Revolution (former Presidential Palace) and the Granma Memorial. Walked around and saw Parque Central, Great Theatre of Havana, Capitol Building.
My Opinion: Definitely get in touch with Randy Montero Garcia at Cuba Among Cubans for your tour of Havana, ask for David – however I’m sure that any of the guides are more than willing to tour you around Havana or Varadero. 5*’s in my book!
What’s your favourite place in Cuba? Where in Cuba should I travel next?