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Tour of colorful Cuba: from Havana to the tobacco plantations, from the Bay of Pigs to Trinidad, from the Sanctuary of Che Guevara to Cayo Santa María. Finally, resting for a few days on the small island of Cayo Largo del Sur.

This trip is New Year's 2016 made by me (Federica) together with 6 friends. We left in a hurry because Obama had announced his intention to remove the US embargo and we were afraid that Cuba could change drastically after this the end, the embargo still exists today and it doesn't seem to be retiring.

Spirit of travel:

We had a contact from Italy who found us the Case Particular, but it turned out to be unreliable and we had to go to a local agency to book houses along the route we had chosen, and the driver of our minivan, the legendary Jose. In Cuba, petrol is not easily available and the agency had to combine the kilometers of the stages with the consumption of the minivan and the available houses (one type of house for us and another type for the driver).

Margarita, Rum and Sala in Havana

Havana: Floridita, La Bodeguita Del Medio, Malecon, Rum Havana Club, Plaza Vieja

We arrive in Havana on New Year's Eve, we've already made the first toast on the plane and we're preparing to do it again in the city, thinking we'll find clubs and bars open.. but no, everyone's celebrating at home and on New Year's Eve as on January 1st everything is closed. Even our contact for the casa particular can't be found and doesn't answer, so we spend 2 hours outside the house asking all the neighbors if they could track it the end we make it when it's almost midnight and we toast with 2 beers on the large terrace.

Describing Havana is complicated: at first glance you don't love it and don't understand it, but when you return you realize that you have missed it. Among its wonders, the colors of the Baroque facades of the buildings, which, however, hide the darkness and neglect inside them. Havana retains many vestiges of its glorious colonial past: the Spanish colonized it in 1511 and ruled it for 400 years.

The old city is the most characteristic area, declared World Heritage by UNESCO and is among the best preserved examples in all of Latin America. Here you can admire: the Plaza Veja and the Cathedral (where the remains of Christopher Columbus were kept) and we recommend strolling through the narrow streets to discover daily life with children at every corner playing, improvised dances, artisans and gentlemen resting.

Also in the old city, you will find the magnificent bars: El Floridita, Dos Hermanos, and La Bodeguita del Middle where Hemingway loved to go. El Floridita was our favorite and we couldn't stop drinking the frozen margaritas.

Also within walking distance are the Museum of the Revolution and the Malecon, a symbol of the city featured in films and postcards where the inhabitants of the city stroll and enjoy the sunset.

They are worth a visit:

- the particular Almacenes San José Artisans' Market, full of stalls with the typical colorful papier-mâché objects

- the Ron Havana Club Museum, where you take a guided tour where the history and production of rum are explained and you can buy bottles that are found only in Cuba.

- far from the old city, instead, there is Plaza de la Revolucion, one of the largest squares in the world, where on one side find the Ministry of the Interior with a blown-up of Che Guevara and on the other that of the Ministry of Communication with Camilo Cienfuegos, two great heroes of the Cuban revolution.

- Castillo of El Morro and the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, the largest fortification military made by the Spanish in America.

Tobacco plantations

Viñales and Pinar del Río

We leave Havana to head north to the tobacco plantation area. First, we make a stop at Cayo Levisa islet, where they take us by boat and make us eat delicious grilled fish.

Viñales is a very simple rural village, where in the small square of the city dance and sing. In the casa particular where we sleep they are really hospitable and make us a magnificent dinner complete with lobsters which are found in quantity in Cuba. We admire the Valley Viñales with its greenery and pandoro hills and we go to a tobacco farm, where they show us how the leaves are dried and how cigars are created. I am not a smoker but the freshly made and uncured cigar has a sweet taste and a good smell too.

Pinar del Rio

This village is also rural, the street in the center is full of shops and you can understand how the population lives; here the food costs even less than in Havana and we eat small pizzas for a few cents.

Interesting is the artisanal distillery of Guayabita Del Pinar, a liqueur produced from a variety of guava present on the island. The flavor is great and it's not strong. In the distillery the owner gives us a tour and a tasting, then we gladly buy a bottle to take back to Italy.

Along the road in the Cuban countryside, we find small shacks where farmers live, they seem very poor but they all have a large television inside.

The Bay of Pigs

Cueva De Los Peces, Playa Giron, Cienfuegos

We get back on our yellow minivan and set off towards the Bay of Pigs. It's about 4 hours and 355km, along the way we see several cars stopped because of petrol, flat tires or because they are too old. Even our driver struggles to find a gas station, but in the end we are lucky. We also find various fruit stalls and buy delicious bananas.

At the side of the bay is the Zapata Swamp National Park, but the road is all dirt and without the golden mean, it is impassable. The coast, on the other hand, overlooks a transparent sea but is formed by the cliff. We stop to take a dip in the Cueva De Los Peces where you can admire colorful fish. We also make a stop at a crocodile farm.

Our real goal, however, is Playa Giron and the Museo de la Intervención which recalls the invasion carried out on April 17, 1961 by the CIA and the USA to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. On the second day, American troops were forced to retreat with no more ammunition, food, or water. This event strengthened the figure of Fidel and the link with Russia, which publicly accused Kennedy and supported Cuba with more weapons. This will then lead to the year following the missile crisis and the economic embargo on Cuba by the USA.

In a particular period of the year, in Playa Giron, you can see the road invaded by crabs that go from the forest to the sea to spring migration.

We finish with the visit of Cienfuegos.

Like in fairy tales

Trinidad and Playa Ancon

Trinidad is the most fascinating place in all of Cuba, it seems to be catapulted into the past.

The town is adorned with beautiful colonial houses with large open ground windows where people look out or passers-by contemplate on large sofas and armchairs, the streets are covered with dung and used by mules carrying objects and people, musicians fill the squares and alleys to liven up the evening. It's not for nothing that the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I fell in love with it. It has a decadent charm and you can easily imagine the splendor it once had: one restaurant, for example, still uses the huge crystal chandeliers and jugs and the old silverware. Many houses have now also become shops and we have found jewelry made with turtle shells.

In the evening we follow the mojiti kiosks along the road in the dark and arrive at Cuevas, an incredible disco inside a cave..super experience!

The nearby Playa Ancon is perfect for a day at the beach.


Since I like particular experiences, I went in search of a Santero, that is, a holy man of santeria. santeria is a religion born from the mingling of the gods venerated by African slaves brought on the island with Christian symbols to camouflage this veneration. Today it is often associated with negative connotations, but the Santero had and still has the function of guide and wise man of the village or neighborhood.

Maybe coincidences don't exist and Santero finds me. He takes me inside his house and tells me what he does, I attend some "sessions" and he shows me some purification rites. The man exudes an incredible calm and I could stop and talk for hours, but unfortunately, the rest of the group is looking for me because we have to leave again.

Pilon Falls on horseback

We take the horse and in the wild, with little preparation, we go towards the Pilon waterfalls. The road to get there is not short and the horses go at the pace they want up to a gallop, I like the thrill but many are terrified. Once at the waterfall, we immediately dive in and then let ourselves be lulled by the musicians and the fresh coconut with honey, a delight.

Hasta la victoria siempre. Homeland or death.

Santa Clara and the mausoleum of Che Guevara

We leave Trinidad and after about 2 hours we arrive on the outskirts of Santa Clara at the Mausoleum of Che Guevara. It is a stop that we cannot skip.

Ernesto Guevara, an icon of left-wing revolutionary movements, was born in 1928. He was with Fidel Castro from the beginning and after the success of the revolution, he became a leading figure in the government, second to Fidel. In 1965 he left Cuba to help the socialist revolution in the Belgian Congo and Bolivia where on October 8, 1967, he was captured and summarily executed by the CIA-assisted national army. His corpse was publicly displayed and buried in a secret place; it was found by a dedicated mission only in 1997 and since then his remains have been in the mausoleum of Santa Clara.

Santa Clara was chosen in memory of the battle for the conquest of the city in 1958 by Che Guevara's troops, which led to the escape of the Cuban dictator Batista.

The mausoleum houses the remains of the hero and 29 of his comrades and fighters killed in Bolivia. there is a 6.7-meter-high statue of "Che", a museum dedicated to his life and an eternal flame in his memory.

The flamingo beaches

Remedios, Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Coco

At Remedios we stay in the casa particular, the most beautiful of all: Hostal Casa Perez -Ramos. Immaculately kept colonial style with a 100-year-old tortoise wandering around the garden and wonderful hosts; they inherited the house from their upper-class ancestors, they are university professors, they explain to us that they fare better than the common population but that socialist restrictions limit them a lot.

From here we go to enjoy the beach in Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Coco, in a word: a paradise. It is still an untouched area, but in the distance, we see the construction of future hotels. Nearby we also go to visit a wildlife area where they show us many species of flora and fauna unique to the island.

Relax on a Caribbean island

Cayo Largo del Sur

Back in Havana, it's time to say goodbye to José, he was a true friend, nice and kind-hearted and I was exhausted with chats and questions about the Cuban situation and lifestyle.

We take a small rickety plane and arrive at Cayo Largo, a long narrow island with white sand and crystalline sea. On the island there are several resorts with all-inclusive services, we chose one whose name I don't remember and we stayed there for 4 nights. They take us to see dolphins and the famous Playa Serena.

The majority of the group leaves while some still stop for a few days in Varadero, but they tell us that after the tour they experience, what they experience there is a Cuba that is too fake and touristy.

Helpful tips:

- Exchange money into Pesos CUP. Until 2020 in Cuba there were two official currencies (CUC and CUP) and you had to go to the bank to get the cheaper one, while from 2021 they have been unified. Queues at the bank are always very long.

- Supermarkets are not as you imagine them, are long empty shelves. Bring what you need from home because it's not sure you'll find it (e.g. toothpaste, medicines, sanitary pads, contact lenses, etc.).

- Be prepared for long waiting times to get anything done and for a rough cleaning.

- Delicious to eat: bananas, mangoes, fried malanga (a kind of fried ), crocodile and lobster meat.

- Have a Rum tasting, even those who don't usually appreciate them will change their mind; Ron Santiago de Cuba tastes like honey.

- For an internet connection just go to some small square in Havana and you will find free Wi-Fi and a thriving market black where to buy a sim card at a good price.

- Good flights with Iberia.

- Find out about travel: some taxis take you between the various cities but ask first for the costs, or the much cheaper but slow buses.

Must places:

Havana, Trinidad, Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Largo + Che Mausoleum for those who love history

Itinerary on the map:

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