There’s a trick to making the most of your holiday, and it’s very simple. Put down the guide book and discover your holiday destination on your own. Well, maybe with a little bit of help.
We’ve spoken to two travellers about their experience of Cuba - what to see, where to eat, and where to stay. Whether it’s your first visit or you’ve been to Cuba several times, here are some handy tips you can’t afford to miss.
Self-confessed globetrotter and travel addict Ally Everitt travelled to Cuba with a friend. Here’s what she learned during her two-week stay.
Embrace Cuban hospitality
“The best thing about travelling around Cuba is you get to stay with local people. There's a scheme to simultaneously help travellers, and families with extra space. If the family home passes inspection, they can rent a room to tourists. The house needs to have an extra bedroom and bathroom, though.
“These homes are called Casa Particulars, and we stayed in them all over Cuba! They are identified by a blue plaque with a ‘pi’ symbol on the outside of the house. Despite us booking in advance, it is perfectly OK to knock on any door with this plaque and ask if they have a spare room.
“The general rule is that you share at least one meal with the family you stay with, at a small price. But don't expect gourmet food - the Cubans are fairly big on plain meals!”
Getting around Cuba - and discovering hidden gems...
“We took the Viazul buses. They’re like National Express coaches in the UK, or Greyhound buses in the US. We visited Havana, Vinales, Varadero, Las Terrazas and our favourite, Trinidad.
“Trinidad was alive with colour and music. You couldn't turn a corner without coming across small bands, or people dancing in the street, at any time of day. We spent our evenings sitting on the Casa De La Musica steps, watching people dance to the bands. In Cuba, a man can be the most good-looking, wealthy, sweet man around. But if he can't dance, he will never get a girlfriend!”
Learn some Spanish to make friends with the locals
“My top tip is to learn some basic Spanish. You're staying with real locals - their English will be bad or non-existent. They’ll engage with you so much more if you know a couple of key phrases.
"My favourite phrase is "¿Te gusta bailar?", which means “Do you like to dance?”.
Jet-setter Roxi Jahanshahi has visited Cuba three times. Here are her top tips for travellers who want to make the most of their break…
Look further afield than the usual tourist hotspots
“Holguin is fantastic - it's not the polished product you'd get in Varadero. It's largely countryside with fewer hotel resorts. You can watch the cowboys riding on horseback, and you can also travel by horse and cart (if you choose that option!).
"It's very scenic, with lush green land and beautiful beaches. The waterfalls at Salto del Guayabo are also striking, and well worth a visit.”
Go to local events and beach parties
“You can find out about events by asking local people - and checking Google. Don't be afraid to turn up, you'll have a fantastic time.
“If you love the beach, go to Cayo Saetia - it's absolutely divine! I also highly recommend going to Santiago de Cuba on the south coast. The vibe is buzzing, the locals are fab and you get a real feel for Cuba's culture. Check out the beautiful Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana, even if it's just to visit the bar. It's known for its lengthy list of famous guests; Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir interviewed Che Guevera there.”
Get involved and talk to people wherever you go
“It’s crucial that you visit Cuba with a very open mind. Locals are friendly; they'll interact with you and they can show you how to have a good time. My best experiences in Cuba were those that were organised by locals. We had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people at a beach party, who gave us lots of tips. I even made friends with taxi drivers and locals we'd met on the beach, or through little events.”
Seek out hidden food gems if you’re after adventurous cuisine
“If you like spicy, flavoursome food, you can find some great spots by venturing out and exploring. One of my favourite meals was at El Aljibe in Havana - I had slow roasted chicken, rice, beans and plantain. 1910 in Holguin was also great for huge portions of seafood!”
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