Viva Cuba Libre! Havana, Trinidad City & Varadero

Ian Walsh 11 June 2015
This had been one trip I was very excited for and it didn't disappoint! Travelling with Air France via Paris from Dublin the connection was quick and easy and the new Air France 777 aircraft from Paris made for a quiet and comfortable flight. On arrival in Havana we transferred to our hotel, 5* Parque Central. This hotel is in a prime central location and offers very easy access to all the main attractions this city has to offer. It’s a beautiful hotel. I also visited many other 5 star hotels like the Hotel Nacional, Melia Habana, Hotel Saratoga, Hotel Raquel to name a few.

Old Havana, undoubtedly my favourite part of this city is a Unesco World Heritage site, only a few minutes from our hotel, the old colonial buildings are stunning. If you're only spending a few nights here, I recommend a guided tour in this area so you can get the full experience of the city. There is an extensive renovation program taking place in Havana with many of the buildings are being restored to their former glory. Be sure to check-out the beautiful newly restored plaza's and drink a Cuba Libre while people watching, just a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

There is an abundance of bars, local shops and restaurants to suit everyone's palate and if sea food is your thing, then you'll be in heaven. Two of the best and most famous bars are in the old city. Both of these were frequented by Hemmingway and La Bodeguita Del Medio is the best for a Mojito and La Floridita is the best for a Hemmingway Daquiri. For food, I have many recommendations so don't hesitate to ask me! I'll give you one of my favourites, Paladar San Cristobal. The service, ambience and standard of food are astounding and it is excellent value for money. After dinner, a rum is included and a free Cuban cigar to smoke if it takes your fancy.

While the locals travel around in classic cars from the 1950's, you truly feel like you've stepped back in time to a bygone era. Should you wish to hire a car, modern imports are available but I would recommend a classic 50's restored convertible and take a drive along the ocean front of Havana. If hiring a car isn't for you, then take a tour in a convertible classic! The warm Caribbean climate means temperatures hover around 27 degrees and even though there can be thunder showers in the afternoon from July to September, they are usually short lived and the sun soon returns.

From Havana, we travelled 4.5 hours east and down to the southern coastal city of Trinidad. This is where you'll fall in love with the low rise colonial buildings, the warm welcome from the local people and the Cuban music which seems to fill every street. We stayed at the 5* Iberostar Trinidad right in the heart of the city, overlooking a beautifully restored town square.

The hotel is immaculately presented and the attentive staff will take care your every need. Take a walk around the many cobblestone streets and be prepared to get distracted by the shops and bars and then in the evening head up the hill to the main plaza which becomes "Casa de la Musica". Both locals and tourists alike gather here in big numbers to see the Cuban bands play and watch as the locals dance salsa like professionals all while drinking a Cuban rum or a Cuban beer. Entry here is about 0.90c and a beer is €1.85, excellent value. There is a beautiful old building at the corner of the square with a small balcony to sit out on during the day and have some lunch. Downstairs is a small artist shop where a local woman is selling her beautiful handmade pieces and paintings. Haggle on the price a bit and get a piece of art you will never see anywhere else in the world!

For the young, or young at heart, there is Las Cuevas (The Caves) in which is a night club called Disco Ayala in the cave!! Lots of young twenty something Cubans visit here with a scattering of tourists dancing to the beats of Cuban reggaeton 80% of the time with a small mix of western pop music to appease us tourists.

After a few days in Trinidad, we were on the road once more for a very comfortable 3 hour road trip to Varadero. This would be the final stop on my trip. We arrived at the beautiful 5* Iberostar Varadero on an all Inclusive basis for 3 nights. This resort style hotel has fantastic facilities, a stunning 1.5km beach of soft white sand and amazing views over the turquoise Caribbean Sea. The selection of food is amazing, from a la carte sea food restaurant, oriental cuisine and buffet restaurant serving Italian, Spanish, Cuban, European and Asian and all sorts of foods to suit everyone’s taste. There is a full entertainment program for all ages, numerous bars, beach bars, the swim up pool bar also serves everything from beer to cocktails, including premium brands! The rooms are huge with ample space and the staff are attentive and with warm smiles.

Only 10 minutes’ drive away is the main tourist strip of Varadero. The street has a selection of shops, small shopping centres and bars. The most popular bar is Casa de Los Beatles, it gets quite busy and as the name suggests, it’s a tribute bar that plays mainly rock music and some dedicated to the Beatles. It’s a great night of dancing, singing, drinking local beer in the warm Cuban night. I spent 3 nights in Varadero and it’s definitely a place to come and relax and chill out for a few days in a luxury hotel. Be sure to take a boat trip to Cayo Blanco, our captain offered to feed us on board our boat instead of getting off at the massive buffet with hundreds of others. We watched him dive and catch fresh lobsters and catch snapper fish. The captain and his deck hand then prepared fresh fruit, vegetables, sauces and cooked our lobster and fish on board all while we were snorkelling and scuba diving! This was an amazing, unique experience and one I will never forget.

We have come to the end of our trip and the time goes by all too quick. Varadero has plenty of excellent 5 star hotels which I have visited. So, if you're thinking of planning a trip to Cuba, please don't hesitate to call me for even more information on what Cuba has to offer. There isn't enough room here to allow me write about all my amazing experiences but I would be thrilled to have a chat with you and help plan an amazing trip to this spectacular island!