Destination: Cuba

The Pearl of the Caribbean.

In mid-December, I set out for Cuba to provide my clients with useful information about another individual and exclusive travel destination. Many of you probably associate Cuba with vintage cars, cigars, and the capital city, Havana. However, that is far from everything Cuba has to offer as a travel destination. The cities and villages of Playa Largo, Playa Giron, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Vinales are definitely worth a visit. I visited all of the aforementioned cities and villages and also explored some beautiful national parks. Waterfalls, jungle hikes, and many other natural spots make wonderful and unspoiled excursion destinations during a trip to Cuba. Additionally, be sure to visit the tobacco and coffee plantations. In this travel blog, I would like to introduce you to the country and its unique features. Enjoy reading!

Nina Dittrich

Arrival and VISA in Cuba

Before delving into the specifics of Cuba, I'd like to provide an overview of entry requirements and visas for Cuba. Cuba does not issue visas, including passport stamps. For entry, it is necessary to obtain a tourist card with a stamp from a certified travel agency or tour operator. We can arrange and provide this tourist card for all travelers. Another important point is filling out an online health questionnaire, no earlier than 48 hours before entry. Link to the Cuba Health Form: DViajeros (gob.cu). Once the form is completed, it should be printed and physically taken on the trip to Cuba.

The entry and passport control process worked seamlessly; the QR code on the health form was scanned, a photo was taken at passport control, and then it was on to the luggage.

It took some time for the luggage to reach the conveyor belt. While waiting for my luggage at Havana Airport, I purchased a SIM card. Six gigabytes and free minutes for national calls cost approximately 35 dollars. If your luggage doesn't arrive immediately, don't panic. The infrastructure at Havana Airport is somewhat different from what we are accustomed to in Europe. If the conveyor belt stops and your luggage hasn't arrived, it may have been placed on the floor in a corner of the airport along with other bags. The baggage claim area is not particularly large, so it's advisable to take a brief walk and look for a pile of luggage on the ground.

Once you have your luggage, proceed through the arrival hall to the transportation options to your Casa particular or hotel. If no transfer was booked in advance, you can take a taxi directly outside the airport. The price to the city of Havana and the hotel is approximately 30 dollars. It is essential to agree on the price with the taxi driver in advance. The taxi can be paid in CUP (Cuban Pesos), Euros, or Dollars.

Cuba arrival
Cuba arrival
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Cuba arrival

Cuba - Havana - La Habana

I began my journey in Havana, officially known as La Habana, and spent the first few days with friends for whom I had organized their Cuba trip. They had planned a special tour, for which I arranged a rental car. Havana was a bustling city, always lively with music, and featured impressive buildings and charming streets for strolling.

Car Rental in Cuba: For those who want to explore Cuba on a road trip, there are two options. One can either rent a car and explore the country independently, or I can organize the car and accommodations in various cities or villages in advance. If you plan to travel by rental car, it's crucial to organize this before the trip, as obtaining a car locally is nearly impossible.

Back to Havana.
Located on the north coast of the island, this largest city in Cuba stretches along the Malecón waterfront. Havana's Old Town, also known as Habana Vieja, forms the historic heart of the Cuban capital and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Havana is not only the political, economic, and cultural center of Cuba but also impresses with a rich history, vibrant culture, and impressive architecture.


Some interesting facts about Havana:

Historical Background: Havana was founded by the Spanish in 1515 and played a significant role in colonial history. The Old Town of Havana, with its well-preserved colonial architecture, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

Architecture: Havana's architecture is diverse, reflecting different eras, from colonial fortresses to baroque churches to neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings. The historic city center houses many well-preserved buildings from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Malecón: The Malecón is a famous waterfront promenade along the coast of Havana, offering a wonderful view of the sea and a pleasant place for a stroll.

Classic Cars: Havana is known for the many classic American cars from the 1950s that roam its streets. These well-maintained vintage cars give the city a nostalgic flair.

Cultural Scene: The Cuban capital is also known for its cultural scene. Music and dance, especially salsa, shape the cityscape. Havana has a vibrant art scene with numerous theaters, museums, and galleries.

Culinary Scene: Cuban cuisine, influenced by a mix of African, Spanish, and Caribbean flavors. Typical dishes include Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), Moros y Cristianos (rice with black beans), and Tostones (fried plantains).

Revolutionary History: Havana was a central location in the Cuban Revolution. The Museum of the Revolution tells the story of this crucial phase in Cuba's past.

Then there's the Old Town, also known as Habana Vieja, the historic heart of the Cuban capital, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

Architectural Diversity: Havana's Old Town boasts impressive architectural diversity reflecting different eras. Narrow cobblestone streets, colonial squares, and baroque churches characterize the area, providing insight into the city's development since its founding in the 16th century.

Plaza de la Catedral: Home to the magnificent Cathedral of Havana (Catedral de San Cristóbal), an 18th-century baroque architectural masterpiece. A lively place with street performers and small restaurants.

Plaza de Armas: This historic square is the oldest square in Havana and was once the center of political power. Here, you'll find the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the Museo de la Ciudad, and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza fortress.

El Capitolio: Havana's Capitol, also known as El Capitolio, is an imposing Neoclassical building that was once the seat of the Cuban parliament. Today, it houses the Cuban Parliament and the National Museum of Natural History.

Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña: This powerful fortress on La Cabaña hill not only offers an impressive view of Havana Bay but is also known for the evening cannon shot ceremony, commemorating the historic closing of the city gates.

Plaza Vieja: Another picturesque square surrounded by colorful buildings. Plaza Vieja has served various functions over the centuries, including markets, processions, and even bullfights.

Accommodation in Havana

  1. Option: There are several Casas Particulares in Havana, private family accommodations comparable to bed and breakfasts. I personally find this type of accommodation unique. You are directly in contact with locals, can get useful (insider) tips, and experience Cuban culture up close. During my trip, I visited several Casas Particulares and can gladly organize this type of accommodation for your Cuba trip. You will be delighted.


  1. Option: Of course, there are also traditional hotels in Havana where you can spend your nights. In addition to well-known hotels like Melia or Iberostar, there are other hotels with different star categories. Naturally, we can integrate hotel stays into your Cuba trip as well.
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Playa Largo and Playa Giron 
are small villages located at the famous Bay of Pigs.

After our exciting stay in Havana, we set out with our rental car towards Playa Giron. Playa Giron and the nearby village of Playa Larga are situated on the coast of Cuba at the famous Bay of Pigs.

Playa Giron and Playa Larga are not comparable to Havana. They are two small villages surrounded by the Zapata National Park, which houses cenotes and various species of animals.

Diving in the Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs is a well-known diving region. A few dives can be seamlessly integrated into the Cuba tour at this location. The dive center is located on the main road between Playa Larga and Playa Giron and is hard to miss. I recommend this dive center as it provides experienced guides, high-quality equipment, and various diving opportunities. On our way to Playa Giron, we spontaneously stopped at the dive center and could have even gone diving on the same day. We scheduled our first dive for the next day at nine in the morning, and everything went smoothly. The first dive took place right in front of the base along the coast. It's worth noting that all dives in this region are shore dives, and boat dives are not offered.

What can you see underwater in the Bay of Pigs?
Countless triggerfish, lobsters, various types of hard corals, sand eels, and many other tropical fish. While you shouldn't expect schools of fish, I believe it's worthwhile to do a few dives in the Bay of Pigs.

Zapata Cienaga de National Park
A visit to the Zapata Cienaga National Park is a must on the Cuba trip. The national park is known for its bird diversity. Numerous beautiful bird species migrate to the national park during the Northern Hemisphere's winter to spend the season there.

Dining in Playa Giron

During my captivating stay in Playa Giron, the dining options were somewhat limited, reflecting the smaller size of the town. There were 2-3 restaurants available, and it's important to note that Playa Giron, like some other Cuban destinations, might not offer the same variety or accessibility to food as larger cities.

There are not really supermarkets where you can buy a sandwich. In the existing restaurants, there is no menu.

The staff in the restaurants informed us about the available dishes. During our three-day stay, the menu remained the same, offering either fish, lobster, or shrimp with rice and beans, a few slices of tomatoes, and plantains. As a second "menu," there was chicken with rice and beans, a few slices of tomatoes, and plantains.

Do not expect a wide variety of options in Playa Giron and Playa Larga. We spent our nights at Hotel Playa Giron, including breakfast. For breakfast, there was pineapple, toast with butter, and an egg. In these two villages, the economic situation of Cuba is evident.

The on-site visit opened my eyes to how truly impoverished the Cubans are. This information is withheld from us in Europe, which I find unfortunate. Despite the shortage of food and medicine, the Cubans are such a friendly and helpful people, exemplifying the challenges of poverty.

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Parque El Nicho - Waterfalls, Cave, and Jungle

In the Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve, approximately 50 kilometers from the city of Cienfuegos, you'll find Parque El Nicho. It is often referred to as the El Nicho waterfall, which is not entirely accurate. El Nicho is, in fact, a small village, and the nature park with three different waterfalls borders this village.

During our journey to Cienfuegos, we made a stop in the nature reserve and were captivated by the pure beauty of nature. The entrance fee is 10 dollars per person (as of December 2023), and we spent approximately two and a half hours in the park.

There are three waterfalls in total:

  1. Los 3 Deseos (The 3 Wishes) waterfall
  2. Los Desparramaderos waterfall
  3. Poza de Cristal waterfall


A must-do experience is to take a refreshing swim in the cool waters. At first, it may take your breath away, but after a short while, you get accustomed to the temperatures and enjoy this unique bathing opportunity.

When we reached the top, a breathtaking view of the landscape awaited us. Typically, the route ends here, but we were approached by a guide who asked if we would like to continue hiking further up and visit a cave. The cost for this was 1 dollar per person. The cave we visited is filled with water during the summer months and is accessible only in the winter months. It was quite impressive, and I highly recommend taking this additional tour!

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Cuba - El Nicho - waterfalls
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Cuba - El Nicho - waterfalls
Cuba - El Nicho - waterfalls

Cienfuegos

Our next stop as a group was Cienfuegos, before I ventured alone with a Collectivo to Trinidad and subsequently to Viñales.

Upon arrival in Cienfuegos, our first task was to find a gas station as we were running low on fuel. It's worth mentioning that not every gas station is accessible to tourists. We initially queued up at the wrong gas station, but the staff there kindly directed us to the correct one. At the gas station, a few steps were involved in obtaining fuel.

  1. First, the license plate and documents are checked, and information is provided about the quantity of fuel you'll receive. In our case, it was 20 liters, but only on that particular day. From the next day onwards, we could only get 10 liters at that gas station. This means it's advisable to refuel at every gas station you come across to reach your next destination without concerns.
  2. Next, a fueling ticket is issued, which needs to be presented at a different location.
  3. Payment for the fuel and then proceed to fill the tank.


Now, a few facts and information about Cienfuegos:

Cienfuegos, a charming port city on Cuba's south coast, is known for its colonial buildings, picturesque squares, and maritime atmosphere. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, this city fascinates with its blend of French colonial architecture and Caribbean flair.

Activities and Notable Places in Cienfuegos:

  • Parque José Martí: The central square, Parque José Martí, is the heart of the city, surrounded by historic buildings. The majestic Cathedral of Cienfuegos and the Teatro Tomás Terry, an impressive neoclassical theater, add a special charm to the square.
  • Punta Gorda: This elegant coastal district not only offers breathtaking views of the bay but also showcases impressive neo-colonial-style villas.
  • Cienfuegos Botanical Garden: Recommended for nature enthusiasts, the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden features an impressive variety of exotic plants from around the world.
  • Palacio de Valle: This architectural masterpiece in the Moorish-Gothic style is a must-see. The Palacio de Valle impresses with elaborate decorations, towers, and observation platforms, offering a fantastic view of the Bay of Cienfuegos.


Dining and Restaurants in Cienfuegos:

In Cienfuegos, there is a larger selection of restaurants with menus. However, some dishes may still not be available. In any case, everyone can find satisfying options, and there is plenty of variety in the city.

Accommodation in Cienfuegos:

My two companions stayed at the Melia Hotel and were very satisfied. I opted for a Casa Particular again and received useful information and a delicious breakfast from the owner.

We stayed for one night in Cienfuegos, but I would recommend two nights, especially if visiting the El Nicho National Park, as it leaves little time for exploring the city.

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Trinidad

After Cienfuegos, my journey continued to Trinidad, another UNESCO World Heritage city that is a must-visit on a Cuba tour.

Trinidad boasts many small restaurants and bars that invite you to linger. Upon my arrival, I treated myself to a Cuba Libre in a chic bar with live music. Afterward, I sought out my Casa Particular, which I shared with two Australians I had met at a cozy street bar in Playa Giron.

Together, we explored the cobblestone streets of Trinidad and were captivated by the architecture and colorful houses. We stopped at an Italian restaurant, enjoyed delicious pasta, and then headed to the central square in the middle of the city, where a band was scheduled to perform at 10:00 PM.

Activities and Notable Places in Trinidad:

Historical Heritage: The colonial architecture and well-preserved buildings from the 16th to the 19th century offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.

Plaza Mayor: The central square, Plaza Mayor, is the bustling heart of the city. Here, you can soak in the lively atmosphere, explore local markets, and enjoy the colonial charm.

Music and Dance: Trinidad is renowned for its vibrant music scene. Let yourself be carried away by Cuban rhythms and experience live music in the streets or local bars. 

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Viñales

My Absolute Favorite During My Cuba Trip!

I took a Colectivo (shared taxi) from Trinidad to Viñales for 50 dollars, with the journey lasting about eight hours, including a brief stop at a small café and in Havana to pick up more passengers.

 

Upon arriving in Viñales, I headed to my Casa, a warm and welcoming family. I stayed in Vinales for four nights, enjoying a delightful breakfast every morning consisting of fresh bread, fruits, eggs, sausage, cheese, and freshly squeezed juice. Viñales offers a lot to experience both during the day and in the evening, and I must admit, I didn't get much sleep during this time, but it was worth it.

Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales:
Panchito, the owner of my Casa, organized a trip to the plantations. Viñales and the nearby town of Pinar del Rio are where Cuban cigars are created. The tour included a horse ride to tobacco and coffee plantations with a small presentation and tasting. There was also a rum and honey tasting. The ride continued into nature with breathtaking views and led to a cave that can be explored in the winter when it's not filled with water.

During my stay, I took another morning tour to the following places:

- Mural de la Prehistoria (The Mural of Prehistory):
A huge colorful mural painted on the natural wall of Mogote Pita in Valle Dos Hermanas, depicting the evolution of humans. It was designed by Leovigildo González Morillo and completed by 20 farmers over four years, starting in 1961.

- El Mirador (The Lookout):
An overwhelming view over Viñales National Park from Hotel Jazmines, definitely worth a visit.

- Cueva del Indio (Indian Cave):
An old indigenous dwelling located in one of Cuba's most important cave systems. Discovered in 1920 by a farmer named Juan Diaz, the cave features an underground river, and a short boat ride is included in the visit.

- Palenque de los Cimarrones:
About 4 kilometers from Viñales, this cave bar, formerly a refuge for slaves, has now been turned into a club where people often dance on Saturdays.

I did this tour with a taxi organized by Panchito, costing around 20 dollars for about four hours.

Viñales City:
The city of Viñales itself is charming and laid-back, with colorful houses, local markets, and cozy restaurants adding to its relaxed atmosphere. The main square, Parque Martí, is a popular meeting point for locals and visitors alike. There are also many restaurants and bars offering delicious food and drinks.

Bily Salsa Bar in Viñales:
My favorite bar was Bily, with live music every night from various bands. Afterward, a DJ played Cuban hits, and people danced and celebrated. I spent every evening and night at this salsa bar. On the first night, I met a group of Cubans, some of whom work abroad and were visiting their families and friends in Cuba. What I find so wonderful about Cubans is their joy for life, even in the face of adversity. They celebrate life and dance with so much joy. I'm not particularly talented in dancing, but thanks to my new friends, I improved every day. Latin American or Cuban music creates a unique and joyful atmosphere. Don't miss this bar on your trip to Cuba!


Cueva de la Vaca (Cow Cave):
This beautiful cave can be visited on foot from Viñales and is off the tourist path. Unlike other caves, you'll encounter few people here—just a few climbers scaling the rocks. Make sure to bring a flashlight or use your smartphone flashlight. A guide is not required for exploring the cave as it is relatively small with no branches.

Dining in Viñales:
Viñales is somewhat touristy, so there are numerous restaurants with, in my opinion, slightly inflated prices. For instance, a pizza cost 8 euros. You might be surprised that I consider 8 euros expensive, but yes, considering the local income in Cuba, the price is not proportional. However, the food was genuinely good, and there was plenty to choose from. This is also due to Viñales being well-suited for agriculture compared to other places in Cuba.

Conclusion - Visit Cuba!
You won't be disappointed. I'd be happy to share all the information you need and tailor an exclusive and individual trip for you. 



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Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales
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Cueva de la Vaca - Cuba
Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales
Viñales - Cuba
Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales
Casa particular - Vinales
Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales
Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales
Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales
Viñales - Cuba
Tabacco and Coffee Plantations in Viñales
Cueva del Indio - Cuba
Casa particular - Vinales
Cueva de la Vaca - Cuba
Cueva del Indio - Cuba