Going back in time for a week in Cuba

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
4
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
7
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
7
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
9
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
10
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
75 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
North America
country
Cuba
Length of time
Around a week
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 500
Time of year visited
May
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
76th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

Cuba really does feel like going back in time . . . or like you’re in a parallel universe as the country went off on a tangent to the rest of the world.  Havana for sure has glimpses of this – the vibe is of a historic Old Town that generates thoughts of what it must have been like back in the days of Spanish colonial pomp, Caribbean pirates and vast trade running through to create such fine architectural buildings and general buzz – but it is when you start to leave the capital that you feel this more slightly . . . odd . . . feeling about the place.  As you drive through the vast swathes of untouched tropical Cuban countryside you’ll see the pace of life drop significantly and small towns that feel more like small town America of the 1950s – a single main street with shops, each complete with a long porch for people to watch the world go by and an even longer queue outside of people there to buy whatever they are trying to buy.  As you go a bit further out you will see evidence of the centralised planning with large complexes of apartment blocks or hotel grounds with practically no one there.  And, in amongst all of it, the Cuban people who are as friendly as they are proud of their country

All this really is slightly odd – but it is also the key ingredient that makes Cuba such a unique experience

The itinerary I’ve listed here is more for the west of Cuba and the one we enjoyed.  Your other option of course is to head south from Havana to the colonial landscape of Trinidad and then dive in Bahia de Cochinos, both of which we’ve heard great things about.  The below itinerary though gets you more off the beaten tourist track and this was in particular something that we enjoyed so much about Cuba – a glimpse into that strange tangent the country has taken

highlights

#1 Getting lost in the truly wonderful Habana Vieja - in my opinion the best Old Town in Latin America

#2 Watching the lazy world go by from a porch on the main street of one of the small Cuban country towns such as Vinales

#3 Enjoying the amazing visibility scuba dives from the isolated Maria la Gorda

#4 Taking in some of the superb restaurants, with their often fantastic architecture that make them a pleasure to visit

#5 Cycling through the tradition-steeped landscapes of Vinales, with some gorgeous green hills breaking up the area into a nice ride through

#6 Enjoying the lovely stretch of beach that spans the whole Maria La Gorda resort and having it largely to yourself

#7 Jumping in one of the old-school Havana cabs and just watching the city go by

#8 The amazing colours! All seems so much brighter in Cuba

The route

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1 / 2 – Havana.  Enjoy the world heritage listed Old Town and siping mojitos as you move from one music filled bar to the next.  The best and most atmospheric Old Town in Latin America and, for more tips, see my entry for Nights out and soaking up Havana
  • Day 3 / 4 – Vinales for a feel for countryside Cuba and to enjoy the gorgeous landscapes all around the town.  For more tips, see the entry for Cycling around the Vinales area in Cuba
  • Day 5 / 6 – Scuba diving at Maria la Gorda.  Driving through the more isolated parts of the country makes the trip worth it alone, and you’ll get some great high visibility diving, plus a lovely stretch of beach.  More details – Scuba diving at Maria la Gorda
  • Day 7 – Drive back to Havana for a final night

Travel Tips for Cuba

    • Cuba often feels like another world – my suggestion is try to embrace this and enjoy the experience.  Throw out the window the expectations of efficiency and how you think things should be run, and be prepared for things simply not to work.  The idea, for example, of customer service can often be very alien in certain industries and you’ll find yourself often being completely ignored in a shop when the shop attendant has found something more interesting to do
    • That being said, the Cuban people are a seriously friendly bunch who, if you engage them with the right level of friendliness and respect, can be the real highlight of your trip.  To be able to have a discussion (languages permitting) with people who look at the world so differently to you and are so proud and enthusiastic for their country, is something you’ll always remember
    • Stay in a Casa Particular – from what we saw, some of the international hotels (in particular in Havana) were super expensive.  Way better to stay in a casa particular (private homestay).  Whilst the standard won’t be high, its a better experience as it allows you to meet local Cubans (arguably the highlight of the whole trip for us) and to see more of the real side of Cuba (think living in a tropical 1950s).  To find the right homestay, I’d suggest starting with Airbnb and www.cubacasas.net (booking.com didn’t work at the time in Cuba)
    • Cash – the money situation is a funny one and one that seems to change quite often.  The best tip is just to do a 10min search on google before you go and check with your bank / credit card company as to whether your card will work for withdrawals and for spending.  Broadly when we went, anything US-aligned (eg cash and cards) didn’t work.  Euros did
    • Getting around – taxis in Havana are cheap, safe and fun.  From town to town, my suggestion is to get a local Cuban (such as in your homestay) to help you out – a driver through them will be more expensive than local public transport but save you a lot of hassle and time
    • For the route on google maps, follow this google maps route for Cuba link

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone