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Cuba – the booming paradise!

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With the visit of President Barack Obama to Cuba in March, the world witnessed a warming of relations between U.S. and Cuba, giving it the name of ‘Cuban Thaw’. Whatever transpires between the two countries, one thing is for sure – the news has brought Cuba into the limelight and the world is very much in intrigue of this beautiful Caribbean island nation with sparkling white sands at the marvelous beaches, the lush greenery, mountains, colonial architecture and shining vintage cars that you can still see gracing Cuban streets.

If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, here are some sightseeing locations we would strongly recommend:

1) Varadero

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It’s a popular beach town located at the Hicacos peninsula with many hotels and spas laced along its 20 km long uninterrupted coastline with the amazing views of the lapping waters of the Atlantic ocean and sparkling white sands. One can literally call it a cash-cow for the tourism industry of Cuba. Water sports include scuba diving and snorkeling. Skydiving and golfing are some other sports that people can enjoy at Varadero. Caves and forests at to the amazing landscape of this beautiful beach. It’s a 2 hour drive from Havana and the hotels and resorts here are all-inclusive.

2) Mantanzas

Cuevas de Bellamar

Cuevas de Bellamar

It is the capital of the Cuban province of Mantanzas and is called ‘The city of bridges’ with 17 bridges over 3 rivers. A walkthrough of the monumental buildings with neo-classical features and a string of fortresses is highly recommended. Teatro Sauto is the most visited place in one of the two plazas that stand in the center of the city. Cuevas de Bellamar or a cave complex of galleries and passages is an interesting place to visit here.

3) Santa Clara

Che Guevera monument

Che Guevara monument

Che Guevara, the revolutionary, has been dedicated a huge mausoleum, monument and a museum that are a must visit site in Santa Clara. Santa Clara was liberated from the Batista regime in 1958 and it was the first city to be liberated. Apart from this monument and museum there is a prestigious Cuban university here.

4) Trinidad

Trinidad

Cobblestone streets of Trinidad

It is a six hour drive from Havana and has cobblestone streets and neatly preserved colonial establishments and with beautiful views at all corners of the city, you won’t stop taking pictures and at some point you will find it difficult to believe that you actually exist in the 21st century. Trinidad truly has an old world charm and a slow life that you will love to experience. It has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988.

   5) Cayo Coco and Playa Pilar in Cayo Guillermo

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Flamingos at Cayo Coco

These cayos are situated off the northern coast of Cuba and are a part of the Jardines del Rey chain of islands. Lagoons and marshes here in cayo coco are home to some bird species like white ibis and pink flamingos. Thick vegetation covers almost 85 percent of the island. Enjoy the picturesque landscape of white sandy beaches and calm and crystal clear water as you soak up sun.

Cayo Guillermo

Water sports at Cayo Guillermo

Cayo Guillermo also is very popular for Playa Pilar, another beautiful beach towards the west of Cayo Coco, where you can enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving and other water sports activities.

   6) Old Havana or Habana Vieja

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Plaza Vieja

Old Havana has some very old colonial buildings and is very popular among tourists. It has been named as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Vintage cars, museums, forts, you will find the slow and steady pace of life intact in this place. The old gems and the beautiful architecture is a feast for the senses. Catedral de San Cristobal, Plaza de Armas, La Bodiguita del Medio (a restaurant), Castillo de la real Fuerza, Meuseo de la Ciudad(City Museum) are some of the popular hotspots in Old Havana.

Coco taxi

Other than that, you will find cute little coco taxis at corners of the city and their cuteness will beckon you to take a ride on one of them.

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Finca la Vigia

Famous American novelist Ernest Hemingway spent most part of his life in Havana. Cubans proudly talk about their icon and tourists throng the places he used to visit in his time. These places are as good as holy places for the Cubans. In fact tourists often go on an Ernest Hemingway trail which includes the restaurants, hotels, bars, and all his favorite hangouts in old Havana. Finca La Vigia, his home on the outskirts of the city is a shrine for the tourists and is called the Ernest Hemingway museum.

  7) Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos - Parque Jose Marti

It is the capital city of the Cuban province of Cienfuegos an dis 250 kms away from Havana. It is situated on the bay and is well known as the ‘pearl of the south’. The Parque Jose Marti is a park with a gazebo at its centre and around the park there are historical buildings. Palacio Ferrer is one of them and the view from the rooftop here is just amazing. At another corner of the park is Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion, a church with neoclassical architecture and stained glasswork. The historic Palacio del Valle is an architectural marvel.

At Punta Gorda you will see beautiful mansions and buildings along the Bay of Pigs.

   8) Castillo de San Pedro del Morro, Santiago de Cuba

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At the coast of the city of Santiago de Cuba there is a fortress on the high cliffs that flank the city, called Castillo de San Pedro del Morro, which was built to ward of pirates around the 17th century.

What to eat in Cuba ?

Cuba is not very well known for its cuisine probably because they do not use spices in their food and you will not find a huge variety in their typical meals. It is mostly around roasted pork, chicken, beans and rice. Take a look at some of the typical meals Cubans prefer to have.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

It’s a very popular meal in Cuba and consists of shredded and stewed beef with vegetables.

Fried Plantains

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Cubans love plantains and have a special place for them in their kitchens. The plantain is cooked, sliced and then deep-fried.

 Morros y Cristianos

Morros y Cristianos

This is a very famous dish that is served at all restaurants in Cuba and is a combination of black beans and rice.

Cuban Sandwich

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The main ingredient of this sandwich is the pork. An authentic Cuban sandwich will never have mayonnaise, lettuce, onions or bell peppers but pork between the slices of bread is a must.

Transportation in Cuba

Cuba has a good transportation network primarily in the cities of Havana and Santiago. Having said that, traveling from one place to another will not pose a significant problem. Trains run along the main route from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. They are old but quite comfortable and offer a picturesque view of the island and with $45 per person it serves as an affordable means of transportation.

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Car rentals and taxis are another good and reliable means of transport and tourists often prefer taxis for their travel. The price of the taxi service is $50 per day. Almendrones  (al-men-dro-ney) are old cars of the 1950s, that are used as taxis that run on fixed route and collect and drop passengers on the way. They are affordable and may 50 cents per person.

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Viazul and Astro are two types of bus services for inter-provincial travel. Viazul buses accept payment in dollars and is better of the two services. They run between Havana and some major cities like Trinidad and Santiago. Ticket price may vary between $10 to $55 depending on the location.

The Astro buses are very crowded and you will have to turn up early at the station to get a seat but the cost on this is just half of what is charged on the Viazul buses. Tourists should avoid local buses as there are chances of getting robbed by the pick-pockets.

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