General information about Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba and several clusters of smaller islands. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean Sea at the confluence with the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The United States lies to the north-west, the Bahamas to the north, Haiti to the east, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands to the south, and Mexico to the west. Cuba is the principal island, surrounded by four smaller groups of islands: the Colorados Archipelago on the north-western coast, the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago on the north-central Atlantic coast, the Jardines de la Reina on the south-central coast and the Canarreos Archipelago on the southwestern coast.
The main island is constituting most of the nation's land area and is the 16th-largest island in the world by land area. The main island consists mostly of flat to rolling plains apart from the Sierra Maestra mountains in the southeast, whose highest point is Pico Turquino. The second-largest island is Isla de la Juventud in the Canarreos archipelago. Cuba has a total land area of 110,860 km2 (42,803 sq mi). The larges cities in Cuba are Havana, which is the capital, and Santiago de Cuba. Traveling to Cuba I would recommend you to bring low-tech things you can give to the Cubans, ie clothes, soap, pens, padlocks and tampons/condoms and pencils etc which you can give to Cubans. Remember that Cubans are poor and is pleased by receiving such items. In general Cubans are so poor that most of them cant afford a cell phone or computer so if you have planned to bring something there is no point bringing technological items. Traveling to Cuba you should bring envelopes, a supply of rolling papers and tobacco if you like to roll your own as these products are unavailable on Cuba, toilet papers, a small flashlight, a multi-purpose knife, herbs and spices if you attend to do any self catering, a supply of disposable napkins, some basic medications, a waterproof overcoat, candles, a plug if you have planned to bath in one of the many plugless bathtubs on Cuba.
The official language of Cuba is Spanish although the Cuban version is quite different from that spoken in Spain. Cubans tend to swallow the last syllable in a word and generally swallow the s sound. The only place Cubans speak some basic English is in the tourist areas so you should learn some basic Spanish before you visit Cuba. According to the census of 2002, the population on Cuba was 11,177,743. Immigration and emigration have played a prominent part in the demographic profile of Cuba during the 20th century. During the 18th, 19th, and the early part of the 20th century large waves of Spanish people immigrated to Cuba in addition to other ethnic groups. Before Europeans arrived Cuba there where 3 Indian tribes on the island. In addition to these ethnic groups a large amount of slaves where brought from Africa. Cuba is officially a secular state. After having long maintained that churches were fronts for subversive political activity, the government reversed course in 1992, amending the constitution to characterize the state as secular instead of atheist.
The country has many faiths representing the widely varying culture. Roman Catholicism was the largest religion; it was brought to the island by the Spanish and remains the dominant faith, with 11 dioceses, 56 orders of nuns, and 24 orders of priests. Historically, Cuba has ranked high in numbers of medical personnel and has made significant contributions to world health since the 19th century. Today, Cuba has universal free health care and although shortages of medical supplies persist, there is no shortage of medical personnel. Primary care is available throughout the island and infant and maternal mortality rates compare favourably with those in developed nations. Health tourism is getting more and pore popular on Cuba. Cuban culture is influenced by its melting pot of cultures, primarily those of Spain and Africa. Sport is Cuba's national passion. Due to historical associations with the United States, many Cubans participate in sports which are popular in North America, rather than sports traditionally promoted in other Spanish-speaking nations. Baseball is by far the most popular; other sports and pastimes include basketball, volleyball, cricket, and athletics. Cuba is a dominant force in amateur boxing, consistently achieving high medal tallies in major international competitions. The climate on Cuba is tropical, moderated by north-easterly trade winds that blow year-round. In general there is a drier season from November to April and a rainier season from May to October. The average temperature is 21 °C in January and 27 °C in July. The warm temperatures of the Caribbean Sea and the fact that Cuba sits across the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico combine to make the country prone to frequent hurricanes. These are most common in September and October.
Travelling to Cuba
How easy it is to travel to and from Cuba depends in where you travel from. Due to the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba there are restrictions traveling directly from the U.S. to Cuba. The Cuban government permits american citizens to visit but the U.S. itself restricts its citizens from travelling there. The only exception is with a license issued by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. The specific restriction is against spending money in Cuba. The authorities in the U.S. consider any visit of more than one day to be proof that one has spent money there. Since 2009, US citizens with relatives living in Cuba are allowed to visit Cuba. The best way to get there is by traveling via Mexico, Canada or a direct airline from your part of the world. Many U.S. citizens travel without a license, doing so by way of other countries to escape detection. Such countries include the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico. The same restriction applies even if you are an non-U.S. citizen and have planned to travel from the U.S. to Cuba. Read the below section about visa and vaccine as well for more information about this. Flying to Cuba you are most likely to arrive at Jose Marti International Airport. At the airport terminal 1 is for domestic flights, Terminal 2 is mainly for charter flights from USA and Terminal 3 is used for all other international flights. Customs officials can be very strict and slow. They take a picture of you when entering the immigration control. They compare this picture to a new one when you leave the country. Luggage reclaim is very slow, so expect a very long wait when entering the country.
Travelling within Cuba
If you can afford to pay a little extra you can get around on Cuba quite easily. Most flights used for domestic flights in Cuba are old twelve-seater, single engine Russian biplanes and its something I dont recement even if it is one of the fastest ways of getting around. If you have planned to travel by train you have to show your passport to buy a ticket. You have to buy a ticket directly from the train station at least an hour before the train is scheduled to depart. The main line connects Havana and Santiago de Cuba and this journey takes 12 hours. Most of the largest cities on Cuba is operated by this line and there are branch lines to other cities in Cuba. The Tren Francès is the only reliable train on Cuba and you should be aware that many Cubans prefer to hitchhike than take the train. Cubaturis the largest tour operator on Cuba. It is illegal for tourists to ride in anything other than the official government taxis. However, it is often easier to wave down one of the old Chevys or Ladas. When riding in an illegal taxi, negotiate the fare ahead of time. The fare in illegal taxis will be no cheaper than the official taxi fare. Around the city, taking illegal taxis should be no problem. However, taking an illegal taxi to or from the airport may attract the attention of the police. Coco Taxis is a cheap way of getting around central Havana.
Few Cubans own a car. Therefore is bus or hitch hiking is the most common used way of getting around on Cuba. There are two services for interprovincial bus routes on Cuba. One is operated by Víazul, which primarily are used by tourists, and Astro which costs somewhere between halv and two-third of the cost with Víazul. Víazul run comfortable air-conditioned long-distance coaches with washrooms and televisions. The downside of using Víazul is that it only runs between 17 different cities. Using Astro you should always say that you are a student, as tourists are theoretically forbidden from using this transport. Have in mind that the timetable is unreliable and the bus may not leave at all because it lacks petrol. Using local coaches you should mark your place in the queue which may not even seem to exist. In Cuba, all vehicles drive on the right hand side of the road. Car rental starts from CUC 65 per day plus the cost of a full tank of gasoline. Rental cars are for the most part fairly new, imported European or Asian models. Any traffic tickets received are noted on a rental car sheet and are deducted from your rental deposit. Note that if you are involved in a serious traffic accident involving injury or death, you will be detained in Cuba until the legal process sorts things out, which can take months. For this reason, many countries advise their citizens not to rent cars in Cuba. If you want to rent a car you should pay some Cubans to drive you around. This way a potential claim will be made to the driver and not you as a passenger. Busier roads and city streets are generally of fair quality and should not pose much trouble if due care is exercised, however some quiet rural roads are in need of serious repair. Outside of towns and cities traffic is usually very light, with no cars for miles on some rural roads. Using the higways on Cuba you are likely to meet horse-drawn vehicles. Roads are at best poorly signposted. Be aware that many traffic lights, especially in cities, are placed on the far corner of the crossing, not where you are supposed to stop, thus inviting you to stop in the middle of the intersection. Driving the highways on Cuba you will most likely see groups of hitchhikers along the road. In these groups there is often someone dressed in yellow and stops certain vehicles that are required to stop and pick up hitchhikers. Amarillo points, as they are called, is found along major highways and are often full service rest stops for hitchhikers, with water, peso-priced food, and a 24 hour indoor waiting area.
Places to visit and when to go there
There are several islands you may explore on the southern coast of Cuba. These islands are accessable from Cienfuegos or Trinidad. These boats goes to Canarreos Archipelago, Juventud Islands and Jardines de la Reina Archipelago.
Places to sleep
If you want to experience real life on Cuba the best places to stay are casa particulares which are private houses licensed to offer lodging services to foreigners. They are cheaper than hotels and the food is almost always better than you would get in a hotel. Casas particulares are plentiful even in small towns and they are somewhat more expensive in Havana than elsewhere. Always make sure that you talk to the owner about what things will cost when you arrive to avoid unpleasant surprises later. These houses are under a lot of restrictions by the government so make sure that you are staying at a legal "casa". A legal house will have a sticker on the front door which often is a blue sign on a white background. Upon arrival the house owner will need to take down your passport details and how long you will be staying for. Some Cubans do offer illegal accommodation. They are cheaper but the quality of the food and service is generally lower. If found, the Cubans will risk a large fine and it is best to avoid illegal casas completely. If travelling around the island, it is recommended to ask the casa owners if they have friends or family in the city you are going to. There is a network of casas and the family will gladly organise for you to be met by their friends off the bus at your next destination. If travelling by bus, you will be accosted by hustlers trying to lead you to a casa, where they will get a commission and you will be charged the extra. For the best rates, arrange your accommodation in advance, either by asking your host to recommend someone or by using a casa particular association. Some will let you book accommodation over the internet before your trip, and will go out of their way to arrange accommodation for you while you are there. Most small cities and larger towns have at least one state-run hotel, which is often in a restored colonial building. The prices range from around CUC 25 to CUC 100, depending on what you are getting. Resorts and high-end Havana hotels can be significantly more expensive. The downside of staying in a hotel is that it may be more difficult to get to know Cubans. In addition to hotels you may stay in hostales which have somewhat lower standard. If you want to book somewhere to sleep online check out casaparticular.info, ubacasas.net and lahabana.com. In most cases its cheaper to book hotels online.
Money and banking
The official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP) which is divided into 100 centavos. CUP are also known as local Pesos and Moneda Nacional. In addition to CUP Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) is also in circulation. The CUC was introduced to take out all foreign currencies from circulation and offer an alternative that is in almost all senses equal to US dollars. It replaces the dollar as currency where previously dollars were quoted in places such as hotels, restaurants and so called 'dollar shops', and is the new tourist currency. Some places only accept Cuban pesos and others only Pesos Convertible. U.S. Dollars are no longer accepted and a 10% commission is charged to exchange them. Most places accept cash only. CUP is worth 1/24 of CUC. Money should only be changed at official exchange bureaux or banks to avoid scams confusing the two currencies. There are two official institutions where you could exchange foreing currency into Cuban convertible pesos: Banks and Casas de Cambio. CUC is the currency most tourists will use in Cuba. It is how you will pay for hotels, official taxis, entry into museums, meals at restaurants, cigars, rum, etc. Conversion into CUC can be done at exchange houses (casa de cambio, or cadeca). These are located in many hotels and in other places throughout the cities. Tourists are permitted to import or export a maxiumum of CUP 100 or CUC 200 at any one time. CUC is not internationally recognized or used outside Cuba. Changing a very small sum into CUP is useful only for theaters, cinemas, local buses, etc. Most tourists will not ever use the 'moneda nacional'. Travelers or backpackers with a low budget can save a lot of money in food expenses if they are willing to eat Cheese Pizza and fried eggs. Over 75% of Cuba's visitors hold Canadian Dollars, Pound Sterling or Euros which are perfectly acceptable. Mexican Pesos, Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen, Australian Dollars and at least four other currencies are also reportedly converted at major banks in Cuba.
If you must change a large sum of home currency for another, make sure to change directly into CUCs, and research exchange rates in advance. For currencies that aren't accepted in Cuba, converting to Euros in your home country will probably be the easiest and cheapest option. Traveler's checks drawn on American banks are not technically valid in Cuba, though many have had success cashing U.S. traveler's checks at major tourist hotels. American Express checks are difficult to cash due to the likelihood that they were purchased with U.S. dollars. For example, Swiss traveler's checks will be accepted, as long as they are in Swiss francs, even if the checks are made "in licence" of an American bank, as long as the real producer of them is non-American. Visa Traveller's cheques are accepted, though the same caveats about being drawn on an American bank apply. It's better to bring cash to Cuba; resorts accept Euros, Canadian dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs and Hong Kong Dollar currencies without any fees. If backpacking or leaving the resort areas, exchange your currency to CUCs, as foreign currency is not accepted by many locals. ATMs are rare in Cuba, with only a handful found in Havana. Most are linked with either the Mastercard/Cirrus or Visa/Plus interbank systems. U.S.-issued cards will not be accepted. Unlike some national systems, only primary accounts are recognized. Even if you find an ATM and meet the above criteria it still may not have sufficient cash for a large withdrawal. If you are refused, try again and ask for a smaller amount or ask the bank clerks for a cash advance, they can process cash advances. Visa and Mastercard credit cards (of non-US origin) can usually be used, including for cash advances, but places that accept Visa as payment are extremely limited. Credit cards are charged in US dollars plus 11.24% (the 8% exchange difference plus a 3% fee). The best places to attempt to use a credit/Debit card for a cash withdrawal are at the state run Cadecas / Cambios - rather than banks used by Cubans, using the 'red' (company name) ATMs. Debit cards are generally not accepted, although this does vary from card to card. Many banks will tell you that your debit card will be accepted in Cuba when in fact it will not. Do not rely on ATMs for cash as you may be used to in other countries. Top Tip: Have enough currency or travellers cheques when you enter the country to get by, if necessary. There is a high chance you will not be able to withdraw any cash other than with credit card, which will cost you a min of 11% commission. Other than for use at ATMs and banks, there are generally no facilities for making payments with plastic in hotels, shops and restaurants, necessitating the use of cash.
Vaccine and health
Historically, Cuba has ranked high in numbers of medical personnel and has made significant contributions to world health since the 19th century. Today, Cuba has universal health care and although shortages of medical supplies persist, there is no shortage of medical personnel. Primary care is available throughout the island and infant and maternal mortality rates compare favorably with those in developed nations. Cuba has the highest doctor-to-population ratio in the world and has sent thousands of doctors to more than 40 countries around the world. There are no particular health risks going to Cuba. You are not required to take any vaccines before entering the country unless you arrive from a country with yellow fever and cholera are endemic. It is though advisable you get inoculations for hepatitis A, tetanus and typhoid. Bring pain killers and any medical supply you may think you need because this may be hard to come by on Cuba. Thousands of visitors comes to Cuba each year as part of the health tourism in the country. There are specific hospitals that accept foreign patients known as Clínicas Internacionales. If you end up in a hospital in Cuba you, or someone you are traveling with, should contact Asistur (asistur.cu) who deals with insurance claims on behalf of the hospital in adition to help you obtaining and sending reports. If you stay at a casa partícular inform your hosts which will contact the family doctor. Read the section Cuban cousine and drink to get information on how to stay safe when it comes to food.
A tourist visa card is necessary for travellers from most nations. This visa, which is really little more than a piece of paper on which you list your vital statistics, costs between 15-25 CUC depending on where it is purchased. It can be purchased at the Airport in Cuba on arrival, however it should be noted that many airlines will require a valid tourist visa card before boarding flights. It is usually valid for 30 days and can be extended once for another 30 days at any immigration office in Cuba - beyond this you would need a flight out of Cuba within the extended visa period. Canadians are the exception, getting 90 days on arrival and can apply for a 90 day extension. Your passport needs to be valid at least six months past the end of your planned return and valid for 10 years. When you get a visa you have to remember to use it within 6 months. The visa says your passport number so if you get a new passport after you get your visa you have to apply for a new one. Applying for visa you have to send a photocopy of your passport, a photocopy of yor return ticket and fill a form and pay a fee (Documentation that this fee is paid is required). Once on Cuba you have to fill a tourist form containing the adress where you have planned to stay the first night. You can put the adress of a casa particular or a state-run hotel on this form. Putting the adress of a friend is not recommended because it may get you and your friend into trouble. If you dont have an adress you may be forced to stay at a hotel tat the states choosing. You are also required to show an onward airline ticket wintering the country.
During my stay on Cuba I basically did the northern part of the island. When I return I have planned to do the southern part. Flying from Canada, the tourist card is normally provided on the flight. It can be purchased at Cancun airport if departing from there, and similar in most other Latin American gateway airports. Please note that if departing the UK and many parts of Europe at least (this may apply to other countries), you will require to have the visa before boarding the plane. Boarding may be denied and airplane ticket lost. If you apply in person, you get the visa straight away. It can also be done through online agencies. Regular tourists who renew their 30 day visa are eligible to depart the country to any destination and return immediately enjoying a further 30 + 30 days. You are only allowed two consecutive stays in this manner. If you want to stay with friends or family in Cuba you have to go with your intended host within two days after arrival to a migration office and pay 40 CUC for a 30 days family visa. It is important to note that there is also a departure tax of CUC 25, to be paid in cash when departing Cuba by airplane; this is not required for boat departures. This tax is not well publicised but it is essential to remember it. You will run into significant difficulties if you do not have enough cash to pay this tax when leaving the country. An ATM is available at the airport but these facilities are not as reliable in Cuba as in other places. Cuban customs can be strict, though they sometimes go easy on tourists. After paying the airport tax you have to stand in line for the imigration authoroties.
Crime and scams
Cuba is generally a very safe country. Strict policing combined with neighborhood watch style-programs keep the streets safe from violent crime. Nonetheless, a certain degree of common-sense and caution is advisable, especially in major cities. Visitors should avoid coming to the attention of the Cuban police and security services. Drug laws can be draconian and their implementation unpredictable. The same may be said about the laws concerning prostitution. The importation, possession or production of pornography is strictly prohibited. Cubans often gives you attention by making a hissing sound. If someone makes this sound to you when you Walk the streets this is most likely prostitutes or street vendors trying to sell you black marked cigars, driving you around in horse and carriage or similar activities. I got the impression that many Cubans look upon tourists as a walking bag of money but when you get to know them they are truly a warm and remarkable people. Tourists are generally advised not to involve themselves in the following three areas: politics, drugs, or pornography/prostitution. It should be noted however that Cuba is not altogether totalitarian, and usually mild comments concerning the regime will not lead to arrest or other penalties. In fact, many employees and locals will often openly agree with the criticisms, especially away from the major cities. That being said, there is very little tolerance amongst the authorities for any comments made against the Revolution, Fidel, Che, etc., and an extensive network of informers exist who aren't above turning in neighbors who espouse politically unsound beliefs. As such, it is advisable not to make any such comments. A few scams exist on Cuba. The most common scams are "friends" inviting you to bars for a coctails and you end up paying twice the price, people may try to sell you cigars of dubious authenticity, short-changing in bars, water botles are refilled with tap water and sold around tourist areas, locals offer to swap money at a 'local bank' and credit cards scams. When I visited Cuba in november and december 2010 you could bring 50 cigars with you when leaving the country. (Normally there are 25 cigars in a box). Purchase them officially from an approved shop that gives you proper purchase documentation. At the time I visited Cuba you didnt have to show a official purchase invoice when leaving the country but this could change. If you buy cigars cheap on streets and you don't have official purchase invoice then your cigars may/will be confiscated. Also, be advised that any purchase of Cuban cigars outside government-approved stores has the potential to be fake, and that the "cigar factory worker who steals from the factory" does not exist in any appreciable quantities. If you find a "deal" from a street vendor, it's likely you are getting fakes, some of which may not even be made of tobacco. If you find someone wo wants to sell you cheap cigars they are most likely to bring you somewhere the cigars are stored and when the deal is closed they will leave right there and you have to find your way back yourself. Until 1997, contacts between tourists and Cubans were outlawed. Cubans seen in contact with tourists were regarded as potential thieves by police. Contact between Cubans and tourists are still frowned upon with police identification checks for any Cuban seen in contact with a tourist is common. Tourist identification is usually not checked unless the tourist has dark skin and is mistaken for Cuban. When I visited Cuba it happened several times the police performed a identification check of Cubans sitting next to us on the beach and benches (even if they weren't sitting close or talking to us) as well as Cubans we where walking with on the streets.
Cuban cuisine and drink
The Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish and African cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. This results in a unique, interesting and flavorful blend of the several different cultural influences. A small, but noteworthy, Chinese influence can also be accounted for, mainly in the Havana area. During colonial times, Cuba was an important port for trade, and many Spaniards who lived there brought their culinary traditions along with them. As a result of the colonization of Cuba by Spain, one of the main influences on the cuisine is from Spain. Along with Spain, other culinary influences include Africa, from the Africans that were brought to Cuba as slaves, and dutch, from the French colonists that came to Cuba from Haiti. The most popular coctails on Cuba is Cuba Libre and Mojito. If you request a rum in a small country restaurant do not be surprised if it is only available by the bottle. Havana Club is the national brand and the most popular. Crístal and Bucanero are the most poluplar beers on Cuba. Due to the bad quality you are not adviced not to drink tap water on Cuba. Buy bottled water in shops or restaurant but avoid water that are sold on the streets around tourist areas. If you do so chech the bottle for tampering. Some places they refill the bottle with tap water which makes it hazardious to drink. If you are going to use tap water boil it for at least two minutes. The alternative to boiling is filters and purification tablets. The chances for food poisoning is low on Cuba but you should take some precautions while eating food on Cuba. There is no regulations ensuring acceptable level of hygiene.
Cities I have been to in Cuba
Cienfuegos is called the Pearl of the South and is a small city in the Central Cuban province of Cienfuegos. The city is situated on the soutern, Carribean coast of Cuba. It is consithered to be one of the most beautiful towns on Cuba and is build in Spanish and Frensh colonial styles. The foundation of Cienfuegos occurred in 1819, when French colonists settled in it, calling it Fernandina de Jagua, in honor of King Ferdinand VII and because of its aborigine origin. A rosette in the José Martí Park serves as a reminder of the place where the founding took place, and which served as the center for the urban layout. This park, which was the ancient Arms Square, is ample and rich in monuments, from which protrudes the only existing Arch of Triumph of Cuba. The French influence is notable in many cultural traits and Cienfuguerian customs, particularly in architecture, where arcs, stained-glass windows and bars prevail and it is common to find palaces and mansions .The streets, of perfect design, are wide and straight, and give Cienfuegos, the flavor of being an enchanting city. The downtown Cienfuegos contains 6 buildings from 1819-50, 327 buildings from 1851-1900, and 1188 buildings from the 20th century. There is no other place in the Caribbean which contains such a remarkable cluster of Neoclassical structures. There where no roads leading to Cienfuegos from Havana so there used to be lots of corruption in the town. The city also became famous for trading with the english, dutch and french.
In the 1950s before the Communist revolution, Havana was one of the vacation hot-spots of the Caribbean. After Cuba reopened to tourism in the 1990s, it has become a popular destination once again. The cost of riding the city bus in Havana is 1 national peso to anywhere in the city. Note that the driver does not give change so you have to give him the exact amount. Expect some overcrowding, there are plenty of buses running though, so if the one you want is full simply wait for the next one. There are few clearly marked bus stops on route, but it's clear where they stop usually as you will have other waiting at the side of the road. I have never seen that large crowds of people than on the bus stops in Havana. There are timetables but they are unreliable so you just have to wait for the bus to arrive. Visiting Havana you should visit El Capitolio (Capital building). Visit the Partagas cigar factory which is situated just behind the Capital Building. Inside the cigar factory is a shop where you may buy legal high-quality cigars. Havana Club is the largest rum-brand on Cuba and they have the the Havana Club Rum Factory. Most of the exhibits are subtitled in English and are fairly self explanatory. Visit Prado street in the evening. The street is a great public space. The Prado hums with street life, cafes and charm. Walk along El Malecón as well. Malecón is where tourists and local couples stay during the day and youth gather during the evening and night. El Malecón runs along the main streets of Havana and provides stunning views of the bay and city. You should also visit La Habana Vieja (The Old Town). Parts of it is faded and crumbling but as tourist money is pouring in more and more buildings are being restored. The Catedral de San Cristobal is situated in old Havana. It is said to be the only example of a baroque construction that possesses asymmetrical features, one of the towers is wider than the other. Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Francisco are both situated in the old Havana as well and worth a visit. Spacious and elegant, these squares are surrounded by baroque constructions that give it a authentic colonial atmosphere. It was laid during the 1600s, plaza de Armas replaced an Old Plaza which acted as the centre of religious, administrative and military activity. Until the mid 18th century, it was used for military exercises and parades. After its remodeling between the years 1771-1838, it became a favoured meeting spot for the city's wealthy. Today it is also known as Céspedes Park, in honour of the Country´s Founding Father, whose monument stands at its centre. This square is one of the most outstanding in the city, enlivened by vendors of antiques and classical books on Latin American and world literature.
Attractions of remarkable historical value lay around the square such as the capok tree (Ceiba) under which the first mass for the city´s founding was officiated in 1519. Plaza de San Francisco Plaza de la Revolución is a huge square dominated by a statue and monument of Jose Martí and the iconic image of Che Guevara adorning the Ministry of the Interior. Arrive either early or late as it is often swamped by tourists and gets very hot during the day. Inside the monument is the Museum of the Revolution and there is an elevator which takes you to the top of the 140 meter tall tower. From the top you have a stunning view of Havana. Hotel Habana Libre used to be named Havana Hilton before the revolution and is a landmark in Havana. Hotel Nacional de Cuba is one of the most famous hotels on Cuba. The hotel's reputation as a deluxe host is backed by all the famous people who have visited the hotel. The hotel housed Castro's soldiers for several days after they took Havana. It has an excellent selection of photos in the lobby along with one of the only 24 hour fast food restaurants in the city. Hotel Nacional often hosts big name talent such as Omara Portuondo. La Zorra y el Cuervo, La Rampa, (near the Hotel Habana Libre). A tiny little club below street level, they often host funky and amazing jazz musicians. Go there for something a little different. La Tropical is a venue designed to hold several thousand people. It only opens for live music. Look around for signs in the streets publicising the next event. Tropicana Show is a cabaret show that costs 90CUC and it is a must see show while you are in Havana. If you have planned to go to the beach catch a bus from Parque central every 30 minutes. Price is 3 CUC for a roundtrip and the ride takes about 30 minutes. The beach is called Playas del Este and is popular among both tourists and locals. Parque Central is the main square in Havana. Casa de la Música is a live music hall that's situated on 6 different places in Havana. Its where the Cubans go to party and if you love salsa this is the place to be. In Casa de la Música the band starts playing at 5 pm and you should be there well in advance to get a table. 3 forts are guarding Havana. These are called Morro Castle, Castillo de la Real Fuerza and Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña which is the largest fortress in the Americas. The fortress was build after a british force captured Havana 1762 and exchanged the city for Florida. All of these fortresses are build to protect the harbour in Havana which is the largest natural harbour in the Caribbean. Barrio Chino is Havana's Chinatown. It was once Latin America's largest and most vibrant Chinatown incorporated into the city by the early part of the 20th century when hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were brought in by Spanish settlers during the following decades to replace or work alongside African slaves. After completing 8-year contracts or otherwise obtaining their freedom, many Chinese immigrants settled permanently in Havana. The Chinatown neighbourhood was booming with Chinese restaurants, laundries, banks, pharmacies, theatres and several Chinese-language newspapers, the neighbourhood comprised 44 square blocks during its prime.
Pinar del Rio region (Pinar del Rio city, Viñales valley)
Pinar del Riois the westernmost region on Cuba and the best place in the world to grow tobacco. Pinar del Río is producing 70% of Cuba's crop, used to make the cigars that are famous abroad. The best tobacco is grown in the flat lands of San Juan y Martínez. The region contains one of Cuba's three main mountain ranges
With around 30 diving sites, Pinar del Río is also considered one of Cuba's premier scuba diving destinations. Cayo Levisa, about two kilometers offshore, is known for its copious black coral and excursions to this cay are afforded by tour agencies based in the province. Another hugely popular location is María la Gorda beach, which boasts many nearby dive sites. An increasing number of tourists also visit the San Diego hot springs, in search of the health benefits reportedly afforded by the warm sulfur-rich waters there. An additional spectrum of health-related services has also become available at this spa, including massages and mud baths. Viñales valley is situated just north of Viñales city in the Pinar del Río Province. Tobacco and other crops are cultivated on the valley floor, mostly by traditional agriculture techniques. Many caves dot the surrounding hillfaces. The conspicuous cliffs rising like islands from the bottom of the valley are called mogotes which means haystacks. Viñales is said to be Fidel Castro's favourite place in Cuba. It also is one of the only places where Cubans seem happy. The mountains are beautiful, the farmers grow the best tobacco in the world, and tourists — who come every day are allowed to mingle with the Cubans and spread money among the locals. Viñales is a major tourist destination offering mainly hiking and rock climbing. The local climbing scene has started to take off in the last few years with many new routes being discovered resulting in an increase in local tourism. In adition to climbing cave exploring is also popular in Viñales valley. In 1999, the Viñales Valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a cultural landscape. This is both for its natural beauty and for the vernacular architecture and traditions.
Sancti Spíritus is the name of a province and a city situated in the centre of Cuba. Sancti Spíritus is Latin for Holy Spirit and is one of the first seven cities to be founded on Cuba by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. It is one of the best preserved cities in the Caribbean from the time when the sugar trade was the main industry in the region. An interesting landmark in this city is one of Cuba's older bridges, over Yayabo river. Built in 1815 with clay bricks it forms 5 arcs being the centre one 9 meters tall. The entire bridge is only 85 meters long and was designed for pedestrians and carriages during Colonial Cuba but has resisted modern heavier traffic so far. Sights in Sancti Spíritus include the bridge over the Rio Yayabo, built by the Spanish in 1815, Museo de Arte Colonial, just north of the bridge, which displays 19th Century furniture in a huge house that once belonged to the Valle-Iznaga family and the street market along Calle Llano.
Santa Clara is the capital city of the Cuban province Villa Clara. In Santa Clara's centre is Parque Vidal which is laid on an entire square block. In the park there is a statue of Marta Abreu, a person much loved by the people of Santa Clara. Bordering the park is the Santa Clara Libre, Teatro de La Caridad, the Plaza del Mercado Central, the former City Hall and the Colonia Española de Santa Clara centre of dance, offers the most attractive and unique traditional customs of hinterland Cuba. Parque Vidal is probably one of the most typical places in Cuba. During the afternoons, people visit the park to meet others. Although not widely practiced in recent times, the custom was to walk the park around and around. The women walk the inner part of the park, while the men walk the outer side. Another lost custom was for the locals to set up a platform and offer improvisations with their guitars on late Sunday afternoons. For that day they dressed with their Guayaberas and highly polished shoes. Santa Clara is home to a mausoleum which houses the remains of Che Guevara and sixteen of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during the Bolivia campaign. There is also a reconstruction of Guevara derailing the train during the Battle of Santa Clara. Che Guevara wanted to rest in Santa Clara and this happened in October 17th 1997 when he and some friends where laid to rest with military honors in a specially built mausoleum. Entering the mausoleum you are not allowed to wear a hat, nor to bring bags or take pictures. Other places to see in Santa Clara are Cathedral de Santa Clara de Asis and Parque del Carmen. An interesting place is the site of the last battle of the Cuban revolution. Fulgencio Batista, who was the dictator on Cuba at the time, was sending an armoured train with military supplies and soldiers to Santiago de Cuba. This was done to counter attack the revolutionaries. Che Guevara use American bulldogger to stop the train and the soldiers surrendered quickly and the fighting for the train was over. The train carriages are part of an outdoor museum. The carriages are used to display information and weapons used in the battle. Prior to 1 January 1977, Santa Clara was located in Las Villas Province. On that date, as part of a general administrating reordering of Cuba's provinces, Las Villas province was reordered into the provinces of Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Sancti Spíritus. Santa Clara is in the province now known as Villa Clara.
Trinidad is a town in the province of Sancti Spíritus in central Cuba. Together with the nearby Valle de los Ingenios, it has been one of UNESCOs World Heritage sites since 1988. Trinidad was founded on December 23 1514 by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar under the name Villa De la Santísima Trinidad. It is often said that Trinidad is a museum in itself. Visiting the 500-year-old city will find Spanish colonial architecture, underscoring a colonial ambiance that marks the tiny city one of the country’s greatest attractions. Only a few square blocks in size, historic Trinidad is famous for its small, cobblestone streets, pastel coloured houses with elaborate wrought-iron grills, as well as beautiful palaces and plazas. The city can be toured in a few hours, by foot or by horse-drawn carriage. Street names may be difficult to find, although the town is very small. Once you wander around you can find every thing easily. The central part of the town is small enough to explore on foot. The city is located near both the Escambray Mountains and the Caribbean coast. Just outside Trinidad is the Valley of the Sugar Mills, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The valley has around 70 sugar mills which are a reminder of the importance of sugar to the Cuban economy over the centuries. It has la Torre Iznaga, a 45 meter tower built by Alejo Iznaga Borrell in 1816. Twenty km from the city is Topes de Collantes which is one of Cuba’s premier ecotourism centres. Another attraction is the Casilda Bay, which attracts both snorkelers and divers.