Cuba is a country filled with contradiction and I for one went with absolutely no expectations in my head! I was really excited about visiting Cuba. My initial reaction on landing was very mixed-expect the unexpected was more like it! I was ready for shocks and surprises all rolled into one. Cuba though economically poor, is culturally very rich. The architecture in Cuba was magnificent, yet at the same time there were things that were infuriating and I was all geared up to enjoy my Cuban adventure!
My holiday started with visiting the town of Baracoa, which sits in behind a curtain jungle of Cuchillas de Tao, a mini sort of Amazon that has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1987 and also incorporates the Alejandro de Humboldt World Heritage site. It is the largest rainforest in Cuba and I got to see a unique species of birds and butterflies and the flora and fauna was absolutely exquisite.
I was very keen on hiking up Cuba’s highest mountain Pico Turquino. It gets its name from the turquoise hue that steeps its upper slopes. I asked my guide to take me up the side of Fidel Castro’s wartime jungle headquarters .It was a hard long trek but well and truly worth it.
For a true snorkelling experience I was told to visit the biosphere reserve Maria la Garda Guanacahabibes which is situated towards the western end of the island. The sea bed at Maria la Garda being the most elevated was exquisite and rich in its marine life and had a wide range of corals. The coral reefs were stunning and the pristine clear water had thousands of schools of fish.
The other site for snorkelling in Cuba was Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo la Brujas.For 20 miles there was nothing but stunningly beautiful coral gardens and hundreds of colourful coral fish species. I got to swim alongside dolphins and turtles. The shallow shores and crystalline waters made the experience totally unforgettable.
Coming all the way to Cuba I had to visit a Cuban cigar factory and see how they hand rolled the cigars. Vuelta Abajo cultivates some of the best black tobacco in the world. I managed to stock up on some souvenirs and gifts to take back home with me. To add to my luxury bag I also picked up some of Cuba’s famous rum and coffee too!! I couldn’t wait to try it all.
Hiking the province of Pinar Del Rio was highly recommended. The flora and fauna here is preserved and is one of the most frequented sites of the island. Pinar Del Rio has lots of interesting locations and was perfect for someone like me who enjoyed walking. The system of building houses on pilings above water is still practiced here. Latin America has the largest system of underground caves. The Pinar Del Rio includes the Soroa Botanical Gardens which has a spectacular Orchid Garden with over 700 species of orchid and the Vinales Valley which UNESCO has declared as a World Heritage site. Walking through these areas was spectacular as the landscapes are untouched and unspoilt.
Exploring Cuba on horseback was another thrilling experience. The Vinales Valley and Trinidad were perfect for horseback riding. The scenic valleys of Cuba are one of the most beautiful areas in the world and exploring them on horses was the ideal way. Valle de los Ingenios is dotted with ruined sugar mills and the picturesque landscape surrounding it was stunning. Cuba’s largest beach –Varadero also offered horseback riding for 15 pesos an hour. Galloping along the silver sands alongside the Cuban water during sunset was splendid.
Cuba is excellent for water sports due to perfect weather conditions and calm waters. It is ideal for all kinds of water sports including snorkelling, diving, kayaking, jet skiing, etc. The dive sports are plenty and ideal for beginners and first timers. The Cuba waters are perfect for snorkelling due to crystal clear water on the coral reefs.
The diving activities are taken care by the German management with some of the best spots in the Caribbean islands like cayo coco, cayo largo, Playa santa lucia with centers at Varadero, which is considered to be the most essential center for water sports and tourism.
Being expert in Scuba diving, I was looking out for a day out doing scuba and snorkelling. There are more than 25 sites for scuba diving at Varadero along with many reefs close to Isla de la Juventud. So, I decided to visit the Isla de la for my diving experience in Cuba. It is said that this was the inspiration for Treasure Island by Louis Stevenson. I spent around a couple of hours in exploring the lovely marine life and came out happy to my heart’s content.
The beaches of cuba offer plenty of watersports activities with diving equipments along with other equipments like surf boards, sailing boats, canoes, jet skis, and canoes. Well, deciding on what to do next and what not to do was a difficult thing to decide. I, however decided to go ahead with a half day sailing cruise and enjoyed the breath taking views of the skyline and blue azure. In the evening, I did surfing and jet skiing for few hours.
Another activity on my itinerary was the Sierra del Rosario, a biosphere reserve, popular for the lovely and magnificient Sierra del Rosario Mountains. The reserve offers plenty of things to see. And I decided to check out the Orquideario soroa, which is world’s second biggest orchid garden with more than 700 species. It also consists of a ruined mansion and it can be reached by hiking to see the valley from the top of the mansion. Another lovely place in the reserve is the waterfall with pool at the foot of it. The pool’s water is warm and ideal for swimming. After a long hike to the mansion and reaching the waterfall, I decided to take a swim in the pool and relax for a while.
Fishing in Cuba is one of the biggest attractions and I certainly wanted to experience that too! The warm tropical waters of Cuba are very popular for deep sea fishing. I decided to try a bit of deep sea fishing in Sol Cayo Guillermo. The fish found in these waters are normally Bonefish, Tarpoon, Crevalle, Snapper, Barracuda, Snook and Jack. The feeling of the fish pulling at the line in the middle of the deep blue sea was super thrilling. As fishing is one of the biggest attractions Cuba has to offer, there are number of local places to get you expedition started and that’s exactly what I did.
On my last day in Cuba I decided to do a little Historical Tour and have a look at the art and architecture. Cuban history is rich and diverse and so is its architecture. Cuba has a lot of old colonial style Spanish buildings. Homes, churches and some public buildings had glass windows of Arabic style that gave Cuban architecture its own specific character.
I also took out some time to visit the Baconao Park, which is loved with locals and travellers alike. This national park is home to prehistoric valley which is hub of prehistoric life forms. Some of the home beaches are also located within the park including Playa Boconao and Playa Daiquiri.
Cuba captured my mind like no other country. It had shocking contrasts and surprises and one could see the rich cultural heritage present in all Cubans that makes Cuba a very special place to visit.