Travel Guide Draft Cuba

Authentic, Fascinating, Romantic, Vibrant…

Worldly famous for its panoramic white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, its irresistibly rhythmic music and sensual dances, its rhum and cigars, its vintage cars populating the streets of its historical cities, its « Viva la Revolucion » and fifty years embargo which seems to have frozen the country time… Friendly and hospitable people. Energetic cities. Breathtaking natural landscapes. Dynamic culture… This island as much more to offer than stereotypes or simple postcard views, and stands as an uncommon place in the midst of the Caribbean islands.

Introducing Cuba

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba (República de Cuba) is the largest Caribbean island (109884 km2 / 42426mi2; 1250km long/ 780 miles).

Its capital is Havana, its official language Spanish. The currency is the Peso (CUP (most wages and prices are set in Cuban pesos)), while the tourist economy operates with Convertible Pesos (CUC), set at par with the US dollar.

Traditionally Cuba is Catholic. Culturally, Cuba is considered part of Latin America. It is a multiethnic country (aboriginals, Europeans, Africans) of over 11 million inhabitants. The local climate is tropical.

It is in fact an archipelago located in the northern Caribbean at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is situated in between the USA (Florida is only 150km/ 93 miles North) the Bahamas (The Bahamas are 140km/87 miles North East) Haiti (80km/48 miles East) Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (140km/87 miles South) and Mexico (Cancun is 210km/130 miles West).

Cuba is the principal island. Its topography is mostly flat plains and hills except from the Sierra Maestra mountains (highest point is Pico Turquino (1,974 m (6,476 ft.)). It is surrounded by four smaller groups of islands, the Colorados Archipelago the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago, the Jardines de la Reina and the Canarreos Archipelago.

The country is divided in 15 provinces which can be regrouped into 3 main regions, Western Cuba (Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Isla de la Juventud), Central Cuba (Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Santi Spíritus, Ciego de Avila, Camagüey) and Eastern Cuba (Las Tunas, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Guantánamo).

A hectic and tormented History.

The island was populated by the native Amerindians Taíno and Ciboney tribes when Christopher Columbus landed on Cuba’s northeastern coast on October 28, 1492. He claimed the island for the Kingdom of Spain In 1511. Cuba was then a hub supporting the Spanish Empire and its colonies in the Americas. It quickly developed as an urbanized society not relying on slavery, in opposition to the other plantation islands of the Caribbean. Cuba remained a Spanish colony from the late XVth century until the late XIXth century.

Independence from Spain became the goal of a first rebellion in 1868 led by planter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, and later in 1885 of the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by José Martí. These revolts led to the Spanish–American War of 1898, when the island was handed over by Spain to the USA. Cuba gained formal independence from the U.S. on May 20, 1902, as the Republic of Cuba but remained a ‘U.S. protectorate’

Cuban Revolution, started in the 1950’s while various organizations claimed for an armed uprising against Batista’s dictatorship. Fidel Castro and his supporter landed on the island to start a rebellion in 1956, and quickly became the leading revolutionary group, known as “July 26th Movement”. Fidel Castro’s forces entered the capital on January 8, 1959, ousting Batista, and later the created a Government under Fidel Castro’s leadership.

After the legalization of the Communist Party of Cuba, the relationship between the United States and Cuba started to deteriorate. In March 1960, the United States plan to arm and train a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro regime. The invasion known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion took place on April 14, 1961, but failed. Amid the different sanctions, the embargo imposed by the USA and the Organization of American States, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Cuba moved towards a Communist system modeled on the USSR. The country was governed by Fidel Castro until 2013, when he was replaced by his brother Raul Castro.

Heritage

Stroll down the paved or asphalted streets of Havana, from the « El Malecon » promenade ideal for a sunset walk where you will pass by fishermen musicians singers candy kiosks restaurants bars… to the « Catedral San Cristobal de la Havana » a baroque XVIIIth century cathedral located in old Havana, from the art-deco « Edificio Bacardi » former home of the Cuban Bacardi Rum Company, to the « Palacio Cueto » and its unique architecture recalling Gaudi’s constructions in Barcelona, taking the time to enjoy the mysteries and the magic of five centuries of Historical Heritage.

The great diversity of architecture is taking you in just a few steps from the island’s authentic and legendary colonial past to art-deco and modern XXth century buildings. Museum cities and their columns, balconies, arches are full of recollections, narrow streets, grandiose squares or small town plazas, ancient churches, ruined buildings… Here each and every place has an unforgettable history to reveal.

Plan a day tour of the old historic center of Havana or a colonial city tour at one of the historical colonial cities. Cuba is home to no more than ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites located all around the island, such as « Old Havana and its fortifications », « Urban historic center of Cienfuegos », « San Pedro de la Roca castle, Santiago de Cuba », « Trinidad » …

Culture

The greatest richness of Cuba is the unique enchantment of its culture. Art is everywhere in Cuba and tells the stories Cubans are excited and proud to share with you. The « Museo Nacional de Bellas Arte » (National Museum of Fine Art) and the streets are decorated with colorful and lively paintings describing Cuban History and people everyday life, which will stir your curiosity and drag you toward another aspect of Cuban culture Music and Dances!

The musicality of Cuba is a magnetic and bewitching mix of bongo, congas, claves, guitar, piano, trumpets… Worldly know artists such as Gloria Estefan, Buena Vista Social Club or Orishas, orchestras or solos, they are the mirror of the Cuban society and its cultural influences. Hispanic, African and Native heritages combined to create a vital part of the Cuban culture. Son, Afro-Cuban jazz, rumba, salsa… Entering a music venue to enjoy Cuban music will be one of the most rewarding experience of your trip. All these music styles have an undeniable dance appeal. Cubans are ready to party. This ability is best expressed through music and dances. Sharp suits, a formidable sense of rhythm, going for the undulating dance, bop and boogie as you keep the beat of the Danzon, Mambo, Cha-Cha-Cha or Salsa… and don’t miss the exciting nightlife of Varadero.

The delightful Cuban cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Caribbean influences. Black beans and rice also known as “moros y cristianos” (Moors and Christians), plantains, tropical fruits, slowly cooked meat spiced up with garlic, cumin, oregano or bay leaves make the Cuban cuisine a tasty combination of delicious color, flavor and aromas. Try the “ropa vieja” (shredded beef in a tomato sauce base, black beans, yellow rice, plantains and fried yucca) with a beer, “Tamales”, Cuban bread.

Cuban flagship, Cigars! We all have in mind an image of Fidel Castro or “The Che” smoking a huge perfectly rolled cigar. If Tobacco is dating pre Colombian time, and was used by the native Amerindians Taino for medicinal and religious rituals, smoking dried tobacco leaves rolled up in cigar shape is now recreational. Like wine in some other countries, Cuban Cigar is a culture in itself. Cohiba, Montecristo, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, Bolivar… All these famous names ring a bell to cigar aficionados or amateurs. Cuban mastered the art of transforming the dark green leaves they are harvesting on the hills and plains of the islands, into the finest cigars in the world. The drying process give the leave an enormous variety of tones, from dark brown to golden color and a great range of flavors: spicy, sweet, cocoa, nutty, creamy, cedar, oak, fruity, or leathery. Cuban cigar rollers, called “torcedores,” are said by experts to be the most skilled rollers in the world. You can’t leave Cuba without visiting one of the many factories.

You’ve been going all around catching all the vitality of Cuban culture and the mystery of its cities or enjoying the spectacular beauty of the beaches, dinner was fantastic. Now it is time to relax, sit back, light up your recently purchased finest Cuban cigar, and order some rum. Like all over the Caribbean the national drink in Cuba is Rum. The “rum tradition” in Cuba dates back to the mid XVth century and nowadays the country produces some of the sophisticated rum in the world. The best way to discover the legend of rum is to take a tour to the “Museo del Ron Havana Club” (Museum of Rum Havana Club) in Havana or to the “Museo del Ron” in Santiago de Cuba. You will learn everything about rum production, about how to make Cuban rum drinks and also savor the great variety of Havana Club Rums. You can also stop by the “Floridita” or the “Bodeguita del Medio” in Havana, the two most famous bar in all Cuba, to sip some famous Cuban cocktails, the simplest Cuba Libre (rum and cola), a classic Mojito (white rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water and mint), E. Hemingway’s favorite, Daiquiri (white rum, Maraschino liqueur, sugar syrup, lime juice and crushed ice), or a Presidente, named after Mario Garcia Menocal president of Cuba from 1912 to 1920, during the American Prohibition (dark rum, curacao, white vermouth and a dash of grenade).

Nature

Cuba is a paradise island blessed with tropical climate, warm breezes and warm waters all year long. You’ll be seduced by its mind-blowing immense and immaculate, white flour sandy beaches of Varadero, Trinidad or Holguin or all the others covering more than 300 kilometers of its coast and by its calm crystal clear turquoise waters whether on the mainland or on one of the thousands of surrounding islands (Cayo Largo, Cayo Coco…). You will enjoy kite surfing, boat tours, farniente siesta, or simply soaking up with a cocktail listening to the calm soft and sweet melody of the waves.

More than the beauty of the Cuban beaches, an incredible underwater world is awaiting you. Many well equipped centers and professional instructors welcome you to snorkel around the reefs of the “Jardin de la Reina”, to dive under secure conditions in the exquisite coral reefs for exciting and magical encounters with Cuban underwater colorful wildlife.

The unique beauty of Cuba does not stop to its coasts. As you were seduced by the beach and waters, you’ll be charmed by its well preserved nature, landscapes and panoramas. Inland verdant hills, waterfalls, natural pools, mountains, valleys, plains, natural parks will let you enjoy excursions, trekking, horse-riding, biking, swimming, zip-lining, or for the less adventurous observation of flora and wildlife in various places. Cuba is a land of ecotourism and biodiversity where endemic species meet in harmony flamingos, dolphins… in many conservated areas such as “Parques Nacionales de Guanahacabibes”, “Vñales”, “Pico Cristal”, “el Turquino y el Alejandro de Humboldt”, as well as the “Reservas de la Biosfera Sierra del Rosario”, “Península de Guanahacabibes”, or “Buenavista y Ciénaga de Zapata”

Cubans

The best advocates for the splendor of their country are the people of Cuba. About eleven million inhabitants populate the country. The Cuban society is the perfect reflection of the History of the island, a genuine mix of different origins, Europeans, Africans, Asians and Mulattos, offering an infinite spectrum of faces, skin and hair colors, smiles… Everyone is Cuban and has its own origins. Racism doesn’t exist in Cuba!

Cubans are always depicted as friendly, sweet, cheerful, noble, proud, helpful, generous… We could be enumerating for long time all the qualities of the Cuban people. Very friendly and open minded, they are eager to have conversation. Your stay on the island will be rich in encounters and you will meet Cubans very easily, simply asking your way in the streets or sitting on a bench with locals, if you have basic Spanish notion. Cubans are always very cheerful, outgoing and sociable, and you will appreciate spending time with them, in the streets, on a terrace, a bar or club, till late at night. Their smiles, laughs and good mood is very catching.

Highly generous and hospitable, Cubans always welcome visitors. No fences, doors opened, they greet you with arms wide open to their homes as a guest of honor. Have a home-made lunch in a family house or private owned restaurants called “paladares”. Another common practice, renting a room in a private home called “casa particulares” will allow you to get a closer and more realistic impression of the country, and to discover the traditional hospitality of the Cuban.

Beautiful, Changing, Spectacular, Surprising, Exuberating, Diverse, Rich Island.

Cuba shines as a pure and untouched jewel in the myriad of Caribbean islands.

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