CUBA ON YOUR OWN
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  Posted February 14th, 2010 by Zdenko  in Travel | 2 comments

Traveling Cuba

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Touring Cuba with rent a car on our own – Itinerary
Vera and I are planning another trip this year. With our friend Ljiljana from Toronto, we are visiting Cuba for two weeks at the end of February and first week of March. First few days we’ll spend in capital city Havana and than we’ll hit the road to see “real” Cuba.

The best vacations are when you travel on your own. I refuse to go on one of these “All inclusive” tourist packages where they give you a schedule and they say, “O.K., from nine to 10 we’re going to go to the museum, and then from 10 to 11, and we are going to the art museum, then we’ll stop for a lunch”. That to me is like being in school; that’s not a vacation.

During the 10 days rental car tour we’ll get a chance to discover the Cuban island completely on our own. We are planning to visit only those places which really are of our interest. During our travel we’ll be staying at “casa particular”, which are essentially small Bed & Breakfast places in private homes.

We’ll visit the world famous tobacco fields in the Viñales valley. Drive through the beautiful and hilly landscape of the southern Central Cuba and visit historical places such as Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara.

Stage 1: Havana – Pinar del Río 175km – Viñales 205km

Day 1: Friday, February 26, 2010
We’ll pick up the rental car in the morning in Havana and travel to Viñales. The legendary Cuban tobacco grows here in the valleys with stretched flat fields among the steep and towering rocky peaks. By recommendation we’ll detour from main highway on our way to visit the Las Terrazas community. We might also visit the orchid gardens at Soroa.

This internationally known region lies 180 km west from Havana in Sierra de los Organos, in Pinar del Rio province. It has stunning scenery, rich flora and fauna and interesting cave systems, the largest on Cuba and Antilles. One of its attractions are mogotes, the lime stone peaks with steep sides and partly rounded crests. Their height can reach up to 400 meters. The tobacco plantations make this region even more attractive and interesting. Rural Viñales, a place in country style, is located between mountains. It is very picturesque and rich in traditions and customs. A typical feature of Viñales is the combination of colonial and classical style elements, pillars, red roofs and the colourful windows in the houses, most of which were built at the end of 18th/ beginning of the 19th century.

Viñales
Day 2: Saturday, February 27, 2010
After breakfast we should use the opportunity to explore the wonderful surroundings. The valley Valle Viñales offers a spectacular countryside with its unique rocky mounds (mogotes) and numerous bizarre cave formations. Today we’ll visit one of many tobacco plantations which have made this region famous. Another destination to visit is the impressive cave Cueva del Indio.

Stage 2: Viñales – Havana – Matanzas – Cardenas 360km

Day 3: Sunday, February 28, 2010
After breakfast we’ll leave Vinales and head back to Havana on our way to Varadero airport where we’d drop of our friend Ljiljana. She is returning to Canada that day and I know she won’t be very happy about that. Vera and I are continuing our adventure driving thru the Cuba. We are planning to stay overnight in Cardenas (or Matanzas).

Stage 3: Cardenas – Santa Clara – Trinidad 320 km
Day 4: Monday, March 1, 2010
After breakfast, using rural road we’ll leave for today’s destination Trinidad via Santa Clara.

Santa Clara
Santa Clara is the capital city of the Cuban province of Villa Clara located in the most central region of the province and almost in the most central region of the country. Santa Clara was founded in 1689 from the village Cubanacan, of ancient Indian. With the population about 260.000, Santa Clara is a pleasant university city in the center of the island, an important commercial center for minerals, sugarcane, and livestock from the surrounding region. Industries include sugar and cigar factories. The city offer visitors very pleasant, easy-relaxing atmosphere.

Trinidad.
This city is considered to be one of Cuba’s main attractions. The traffic free, colonial district with its colorful houses and old, massive cobblestone crowns the rest of the city as its highest point. You can admire interesting details of colonial architecture when walking through the streets around Plaza Mayor. Especially famous are the high windows with their skillfully carved wooden bars that were replaced last century by iron bars. These so-called rejas invite the energetic street life into the house, rather than excluding it.

This city was founded in 1514 by Diego Velázquez and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It is worth visiting the Palacio Brunet which is situated in the mainly Colonial style historical centre of Trinidad.

Trinidad – Ancón 15km

Day 5, 6, 7: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; March 2 – March 4, 2010
This place will be our most enjoyable time because of the beautiful beaches that are in the area of Ancón, about 20 minutes away from Trinidad.

Stage 4: Trinidad – Cienfuegos 90 km

Day 8: Friday, March 5, 2010
Cienfuegos
Today’s destination is Cienfuegos. The city of Cienfuegos lies on Cienfuegos bay, at the entrance to the Caribbean sea. Over a long period of time it was used by pirates as a strategically favorable place for attacking Spanish ships. In the mid 18th century the Spanish built a fortress there, and only then did they manage to gain control over the area. The sugar industry used to be the main source of wealth in Cienfuegos. You can still admire these buildings, for example Palacio del Valle, from which you can enjoy breathtaking view of Jagua bay. Cienfuegos is also an ideal starting point for excursions to numerous interesting sites – Hanabanilla reservoir in the Escambray mountain range or the Jardín Botánico Soledad botanical garden, which is situated on 90 ha of land, 25 km away from the city.

Stage 5: Cienfuegos – Bay of Pigs 135 km

Day 9: Saturday, March 6, 2010
When traveling Cuba on your own, another must-see is of course the Bahia de los Cochinos, the famous Bay of Pigs. There we are expecting an extensive swamp region that is inhabited by crocodiles and flamingos, also declared a National Park.

Stage 6: Bay of Pigs – Havana 360 km

Day 10: Sunday, March 7, 2010
Today we are returning to Havana or Matanzas which is closer to our departure airport Varadero. On the way to Havana, we will probable stop at Matanzas. The city is located in a large bay and is the capital city of the province of the same name. The important industrial city of Matanzas has the world’s fourth biggest port in terms of sugar exports. Because of its many bridges over the river Yumurí and San Juan it is also called “Creole Venice”.

Once in Havana, we’ll return the rental car, and there is a transfer to the airport or to a city hotel in Havana.

Stage 7: Havana Varadero Airport 136 km

Day 11: Monday, March 8, 2010
This will be our last day in Cuba. We are going back to Varadero airport and board Air Transat plane that will take us back to Edmonton.

While in Cuba, I would like to fall in love with the graciousness and humor of its people, the beauty of its land and climate and the charm of its architecture. But I am probable going to leave grieving over the poverty in the country, the grinding oppression, the lack of any semblance of human and civil rights, and the pervasive fear by Cubans of their own government. Though many Cubans would greet me with a smile, their disaffection and dwindling faith in the Revolution shocked me. I will learn that the Revolution was for sale.

Have a good and healthy season.

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2 comments to “CUBA ON YOUR OWN”

  1. Comment by Ivan:

    Dobro dosli natrag DOMA…. cekam report i slike.
    Lijepi pozdrav,
    Ivan

  2. Comment by Zdenko Kahlina:

    Thank you Ivane. We just arrived home and you’ll have to wait some time until we sort out our impressions, but I can tell you right now, they are not all so positive… Cuba is a special country, and the way we did it (the travelling), was bellow our standards… but more about it when I get more time in a private email.

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