Sights of Cuba
The island at the gates of the USA is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean. Cuba stands for rum, classic cars, revolution and music – but also for so much more. Here are the 10 most rewarding destinations on the proud island.
1- The old town of Havana
Havana’s Old Town embodies exactly the image Europeans have of Cuba at least since Wim Wenders’ “Buena Vista Social Club.” Graceful, dilapidated colonial splendor and vintage American cars on the streets. The heart of the old town around the Parque Central with its José Martí monument, the Plaza de Armas and the graceful Plaza Vieja is like a large open-air museum. The fact that the government has invested a lot of money in the restoration of the building fabric in the past decades can be seen especially in these places – but it was worth it. In addition, there is still the Capitol to visit in the old town and some fortresses from the time of Spanish colonial rule, such as San Salvador de la Punta. The Museo de la Revolución is housed in the former presidential palace, which is also magnificent. The Prado boulevard with its stone benches connects the old town with the Malecón. For several kilometers, the sea lashes against the walls of the promenade, which stretches all the way to western Havana. You can’t get more Cuba than here.
2- The picturesque town of Trinidad
A little bit, a visit to the small town in southern Cuba feels like a trip back in time. Donkeys and horses still pull carts over the cobblestone main streets. Cars are mainly found in the newly built apartment blocks outside the town center. The picturesque town is one of the oldest settlements in Cuba and was founded in the 16th century. Through trade in slaves and sugar, Trinidad became rich and also developed into a cultural center. The magnificent colonial buildings and beautifully decorated residential houses along the streets bear witness to the city’s former prosperity. Especially around the beautiful Plaza Mayor, impressive evidence of colonial architecture can be found. Even after the end of its heyday in the middle of the 19th century, Trinidad kept its pride and beauty and is today an absolute must for every visitor to Cuba. Although there are now a lot of tourists strolling through the town center, the remote town has still retained much of its originality.
3- Topes de Collantes: Jungle and mountain lakes
Not far from Trinidad, at 800 meters above sea level in the Escambray Mountains, is the Topes de Collantes National Park. Because of its healthy and pure air, the area developed into a preferred health resort for tuberculosis patients – even Fidel Castro is said to have spent a night here. But today people come to Topes de Collantes mainly for hiking. Different routes through the jungle, from easy to challenging, give an impressive picture of the “other side” of Cuba. You hike through the rainforest, see eucalyptus trees, coffee plants, hummingbirds and refresh yourself in a beautiful mountain lake below a waterfall. Afterwards you know: Cuba has much more to offer than just rum, beach and classic cars.
4- City of bridges: Matanzas
The capital of the province of the same name is located on a bay between the two rivers Yumuri and San Juan. Due to this location, there are many bridges in Matanzas, which give the city a romantic ambience. Matanzas is considered the cultural center of the northeast and is often referred to as “The Athens of Cuba”. The main attraction is the Pharmaceutical Museum in the central plaza, which was established in a former pharmacy. This pharmacy was founded in 1882 by Ernesto Triolet and had to close after the revolution. Today you can still admire test tubes, scales and other pharmaceutical tools from earlier times. Matanzas is located only 40 kilometers west of Varadero, which is why many tourists come from there as day-trippers to the city.
5- The small island Cayo Santa Maria
The island is one of the most beautiful of the numerous small cayos off the coast of the Cuban main island. Cayo Santa Maria is connected to the mainland by a 48 kilometer long causeway. It is true that the small island itself is becoming increasingly touristy. Nevertheless, there is still enough untouched nature or good opportunities to observe the surging sea in peace and quiet. The neighboring islands of Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Ensenachos are still largely untouched. Their beaches are nesting sites for the numerous sea turtles.
6- “Cultural Landscape of Humanity”: The Viñales Valley
The landscape in western Cuba is not considered one of the most spectacular natural spectacles of the Caribbean for nothing. The Viñales Valley (Valle de Viñales) is located in the province of Pinar del Rio, which is known for its excellent tobacco. But the reason that the Viñales Valley has held the UNESCO title of “Cultural Landscape of Humanity” since 1999 is because of its famous limestone cliffs (mogotes). The Sierra de los Órganos, in which the valley is located, was formed over 170 million years ago. Through erosion and karstification, the rock formations were formed, which today rise between the tobacco fields and offer the viewer a magical picture. In addition, extensive cave systems were formed within the rocks. The most touristically developed cave is called Cueva del Indio and can be crossed by motorboat. The town of Viñales forms the center of the valley of the same name and is also a charming destination.
7- Proud provincial capital: Cienfuegos
The provincial capital on Jagua Bay is often called the “Pearl of the South”, and rightly so. Cienfuegos has a picturesque old town center and many magnificent buildings from the Spanish colonial period – for example, the Teatro Tomas Terry at the central Parque Martí. The huge statue of the Cuban national hero and the triumphal arch at the beautiful park testify to the city’s enormous self-confidence. In 2005, the old town of Cienfuegos was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A walk along the sea promenade reveals how beautifully the city hugs the bay.
In the 19th century, the capital of the province of the same name became rich from the sugar trade. At times, the port of Cienfuegos was the largest port for sugar exports in the world. Today, sugar and tobacco still dominate the city’s industry, but crabbing also has a long tradition in Cienfuegos.
8- Santiago de Cuba: The metropolis in the far east
Cuba’s second largest city is located in the far east of the island and is even more strongly influenced by African and Caribbean culture than Havana. Santiago de Cuba is also considered the birthplace of Son and Trova, the Cuban “national music”. The famous Casa de la Trova still hosts rousing concerts. In addition, the metropolis in the east also played an important role in Cuban history. For example, on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro announced the victory of the revolution from the blue balcony of the city hall at the central Parque Cespedes. Santiago is also home to the oldest preserved house in Cuba, the 16th-century Casa de Diego Velázquez. Today it houses the Museo de Ambiente Histórico Cubano.
On the streets of Santiago life pulsates and it is hectic. If you want it quieter, you should make a detour to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Cobre, about 20 kilometers away. Here is the “Black Madonna”, the Cuban patron saint, to which thousands of islanders make a pilgrimage every year.
9- Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara
For the myth of the Cuban Revolution, the university town of Santa Clara plays a crucial role. At the end of 1958, the guerrilla army led by Che Guevara stopped an ammunition train of the Batista regime here. The weapons captured here ensured the revolutionaries’ victorious entry into Havana a short time later. The train cars still stand in Santa Clara today and house an exhibition worth seeing. But the regime has erected a far more significant monument to the Argentine-born revolutionary: In western Santa Clara is the gigantic Che Guevara Mausoleum, inaugurated in 1988. In 1997, on the 30th anniversary of the death of the “Comandante“, his mortal remains and those of his comrades-in-arms were transferred from Bolivia to the mausoleum. There is also an exhibition on Guevara’s life that is well worth seeing. Also noteworthy are the larger-than-life statue of Che on the roof of the mausoleum and the billboards with messages of greeting from Fidel Castro to his fallen comrade.
10- Ernest Hemingway Monument in Cojimar
The small fishing village not far from the capital Havana knows what it owes to its most famous visitor. And so a beautiful monument has been erected to Ernest Hemingway, facing the very harbor entrance that inspired him to write his famous tale “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway’s yacht “Pilar” was moored in Cojimar’s harbor for decades, and he was good friends with the local fishermen. It is also worth visiting the harbor bar “La Terraza”, where Hemingway had a regular place at the window and enjoyed his mojitos and daiquiris with a beautiful sea view. Today, the bar is more of a Hemingway museum with numerous pictures of the Nobel Prize winner – including his encounter with Fidel Castro immediately after the victory of the revolution.