9th June 2015 | By: marcinkawa
We spent this years holidays in Cuba, one of the most extraordinary, weird and friendly country we’ve ever visited. It is one of the most beautiful places on the Caribbean and definitely one with the most interesting history. Before we went to Cuba, we’ve read a lot of blog posts and articles about this country. In each article we have found very similar opinions, that Cuba is trapped like in time warp and we can totally agree with this. For Cubans the time has stopped 50 years ago.
In each place we’ve been, we were sleeping in `casas particulares`(private houses) that are the best way to taste real Cuban lifestyle and food. It is also the cheapest option as the prices vary from $15 to $40 per night where for a hotel you will end up paying from $150 to $300 per night. The hotels are very expensive and all of them are run by the government.
Cuba is still a communist country, therefore almost everything belongs to the government. In Europe we are constantly bombarded by the adverts and billboards, we got used to this, contrary in Cuba there are no adverts, instead there are huge propaganda stands with phrases like `Partia o muerte` (“Homeland or death”) or `Hasta la victoria siepmre` ( “Onward to victory”).
Another interesting thing about Cuba is it’s monetary system, they have two currencies CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and CUP (Cuban National Peso), where 25 CUP is 1 CUC and 1 CUC is 1 US dollar. We’ve heard, from one of our tour guides that the CUC has been printed only for tourists. At the beginning the tourists could use only US dollars to pay for products, but there was more tourists than dollars in the country so they decided to print new currency with the same value as US dollar.
The Cubans salary is really low and is paid monthly in CUP. The average amount of money they get is around 700 CUP (30 US dollars). Each person that operates or owns a “private” business like `casa particulare` is obligated to pay high commissions to the government.
We spent two weeks exploring the culture and different places in Cuba. Unfortunately it was not enough to see the whole island through that short period of time. We have decided to visit the middle and east side of the island.
Our plane landed in Holguin, from there we went straight to Guardalavaca a small city on north-east coast. The taxi we drove there by was with an old stylish Chevrolet from 1956. Guardalavaca is the perfect place for the white sand beaches with crystal clean water to have a good rest and relaxing time. There are few beaches you can visit, Guardalavaca beach is the closest and the smallest one, playa Esmeralda and playa Pesquero are accessible by bicycle or taxi, there is also the famous beach where Christopher Columbus landed.
Our next stop was Santiago de Cuba, we went there by taxi, it costed us 70 CUC. Santiago de Cuba is one of the most important cities on the whole Island, it is the town where the revolution began. The whole city looks a bit like a war zone, you can even see the marks of bullets on the buildings. It is as well one of the wildest places on the island, full of hustlers and beggars. There is a castle really close by to the city, built as defence against pirates, it’s well-preserved and the views from there are amazing. Santiago de Cuba also leads to the `La Gran Piedra` mountain from where you can admire a beautiful panorama view.
From Santiago de Cuba we got the Viasul bus to Cienfuegos. Viasul is one of the “luxury” ways of travel in Cuba. It is mainly for tourists as the tickets are quite expensive for the locals. The travel from Santiago de Cuba to Cienfuegos takes 12 hours and costs 30 CUC per person. Luckily the bus had air condition, unfortunately the AC has been set to 18C degrees and it was freezing cold inside during the trip. Cienfuegos is really a nice small city, totally different than Santiago, it seems to be more modern and unaffected by the revolutionary action. The local trip agencies offers guided tours to `El Nicho Waterfalls` which are one of the must-sees in Cuba.
After two days we took a bus to Playa Giron located on the `Bay of the pigs` which is one of the best places for snorkelling and diving. You can rent a snorkelling kit for 3 CUC per day and admire the coral reef ecosystem. Diving there is one of the cheapest and best you can ever find and it costs 25 CUC. There is also a place called `Caleta Buena`. It is a “all inclusive” beach belongs to one of the hotels. Entrance fee costs 15 CUC per person and includes sunbeds, drinks and food for the whole day. It is also very nice place to dive and snorkel.
Our last destination was Trinidad. The most vivid and party like place we’ve visited in Cuba. After the sunset the city is becoming more alive. The best place to dance and listen to the live Cuban music is Casa de la Musica in the city centre, if you want something more, you can join the Cave Disco, it is one of the most original discotheque I’ve ever heard about, the name is self explanatory, a party inside the caves near the city. There are also really wonderful national parks to visit, the local tour agencies organize daily trips. If you would like to get to the beach, you can get an awesome looking `Coco taxi` for around 6 CUC and go to Playa Ancon, located around 6 km from the city centre.
Cuba is a unique country that amazes you every day you’re there. The people are very friendly despite many problems they’re facing, they just seem happy. It’s a pleasure to see dozens of old cars crossing the streets everyday. You can see the really old American, Russian and Polish cars that are used as taxis or buses. As I am Polish, I was amazed how many Polish cars do they have, the most common one is Fiat 126 – the pride of the communistic Poland of 1970s.
I would strongly recommend everyone to visit this place as it might be the only one of it’s type in the world.