Cuba, a beautiful country frozen in time, offers a unique opportunity to all the guests who venture to the island. When you travel to Cuba, you are not just stepping into another country but into another time. This is the perfect place to get away from hectic city life. Even in the capital city, Havana, there is never any traffic, just the steady procession of motorcycles, bicycles, 1960’s convertibles, and adorable Coco taxis. Known for its dance, art, and cuisine, Cuba has all the elements required for an amazing trip.
In this article, we bring to you a week of sights and adventures in Cienfuegos, the most beautiful city in all of Cuba, and Havana, the vibrant capital city.
Day 1 Cienfuegos: “The Pearl of the South”
The first day, you will take in the sites in “The Pearl of the South.” Cienfuegos, known for its beauty, is a colorful port town dotted with palaces in a variety of styles and colors. While this is a breathtaking place to walk in Cuba, you need to ride in style. Cuba is famous for its American convertibles and muscle cars. Some have over two million miles on the odometer! These are the real deal.
Hire a guide and go see the palaces along the water’s edge in the Malecon and Punta Gorda District. Here you can see Palacio Azul which is now a hotel. Right next door is the Palace Club Cienfuegos. After exploring the lovely area on foot or from inside your one-of-a-kind taxi, head to the Palacio de Valle (pictured below). This palace was not created solely for beauty; the designer put thought into its meaning as well, seeing as it was a gift for his fiancé. He created each tower with a different design and meaning to represent his most important ideals: love, strength, and religion. This has now been restored and converted into a lovely restaurant and terrace bar.
After a long day in the Cuban sun, have lunch! Then, head up top for a famous Cuban Mojito. Once you are finished, spend the rest of the day exploring the palace and take a walk along the coastline down Calle 35. If you loved Palacio Azul, consider staying the night there, enjoying the fresh ocean breeze and gorgeous view.
Cost: Taxi ride in a 1960’s convertible $50 USD for two hours
Staying the night at Palacio Azul $80USD for bed and breakfast in a standard room
Day 2: Travel to Havana
Since you can’t go to Cuba and not visit Havana, this next day is a scenic bus trip to Havana from Cienfuegos. The Viazul bus departs daily around 9:00 and 4:00. If you are an early bird, you can get up, eat a quick Cuban breakfast and head on to Havana with some time in the evening to do a little pre-exploring. However, if you are a night owl, you may want to sleep in, enjoy brunch at one of the beautiful seaside restaurants and see a few more sights before the four-hour bus trip to Havana.
While on the bus, enjoy the site of some of Cuba’s smaller cities and two of its beaches: Playa Larga and Playa Giron(pictured below at sunset).
Image Source: By Bibit (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Cost: Viazul bus from Cienfuegos to Havana $40 USD
Day 3 – Havana: Home of Ernest Hemingway
To get in the spirit for this next day, we highly recommend watching Papa Hemingway in Cuba. (This could be a good use of day two’s bus time.)
On this first day in Havana, catch a ride in a Coco Taxi to Hemingway’s home known as Finca Vigia or “lookout house.” While there, visit the Hemingway Museum. Enjoy being in the place where Hemingway wrote two of his most famous novels: The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Next, head back to the city center to experience Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bars for evening. There are two to pick from depending on your preferences: El Bodeguita del Medio is the lesser known but has a great selection of authentic Cuban cuisine. Hemingway frequented this bar for its mojitos.
Next, head to the famous La Floridita where Hemingway often enjoyed what he proclaimed to be “The World’s Best Daiquiri.” His bar tender actually has a special burial monument in the Colon National Cemetery. Bar tenders come every year to visit his grave to pay their respects.
Cost: Coco Taxi about $10-15 USD. Be sure to agree upon the price before getting in.
$10-15 for food and drinks at La Floridita and La Bodequita del Medio. This could vary significantly depending on if you want one daquiri or fourteen.
Days 4-5 – Havana: Cathedrals, Castles, and a Capitol
If you enjoyed the palaces of Cienfuegos, you will love exploring the cathedrals in Havana. There are four cathedrals within a one mile radius. Begin at the Plaza de San Francisco just one street over from the harbor. Here you can see traditionally dressed ladies with cigars who would love to take a photo with you for a few coins.
Next, walk on over to the Plaza de la Catedral. Then, check out the Plaza de Armas where you can see white marble statues and enjoy sitting in a surprisingly luscious park at the center of the square.
Save the best for last and complete your self-guided plaza tour with the final square: Plaza Vieja. You can sit on a terrace bar here for hours just taking in the sights, people, and artists in this square. Here you can view the statue donated to the city by Roberto Fabelo, the 2004 National Arts Award Winner. As yet unnamed, it features a naked woman with a spatula in her hand straddled atop a rooster symbolic of the power women have over men.
The following day, visit the replica of the U.S. capitol(pictured above). The Cubans built their version a few centimeters taller than America’s own original. Everything’s a contest. It is impressive though, and if you have seen the U.S. version surrounded by a green lawn, you will enjoy the contrast of Cuba’s which is surrounded by palm trees.
After visiting the capitol and national art gallery directly beside it, go on a walking tour of the Morro Castle. Many of the larger port cities house gigantic rock fortresses on the coastline. This is one such castle. Ladies, enjoy the view. Gentlemen, enjoy the sight of cannons that probably weigh more than your car.
Cost: All places on this day are free and within walking distance of each other.
Days 6-7 – Havana: The Art Scene
Even if you’re not an art connoisseur, you might still adore the bright colors, vibrant images, and strong messages the Cubans put into their art. You can easily spend the entire day in the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market looking at works of art, talking with artists, and meeting with locals. Here tradesmen of all types showcase and sell their wares in a portside building the size of several football fields.
The Coco taxis are an amazingly fun and inexpensive mode of transportation. Not only do they cost less, but they also provide a view of a city with no windshield. Sights, sounds, smells, and wind bombarding your senses.
On this final day, take one of these Coco taxis or a taxi of your choice to Muraleando. This is a community mural project started by a group of artists who moved to one of the roughest neighborhoods in Havana. There was an old abandoned water tank that the people had filled with their trash. They came together, literally cleaned tons of trash out, and began transforming this tank into their base of operations for a beautification project.
They started by creating art, murals, paintings, and statues around the tank in the neighborhood. After the local people saw that someone cared for their area, they began to care too. The artists and locals together helped clean up the streets which are now coated in a gorgeous array of murals in every style and medium. These amazing artists took the project another step further when they began offering art, singing, dance, and media classes to the local children including students with disabilities. Go spend your last day experiencing the best of Cuban culture at this transformed community.