Cuba has always been on our travel list, but when we were living in Asia it was always such a long way to travel. Also as we had so much exploring to do in Asia it was never a high priority.
Now we are back in Europe and with direct flights from Zurich it had moved up that list and in January went straight to the top when talks between the US and Cuba indicated that Americans would soon be allowed to travel to Cuba for leisure.
I wanted to see how Cuba is without Starbucks and McDonald's and their processed offerings taking over the cities as they have started to do in other countries we have visited especially in Myanmar.
We checked our diaries and booked up flights with Edelweiss Air for a trip in May to coincide with our wedding anniversary.
Although we travel a lot, most of our trips are really my husband's business trips that I just tag along on. We rarely travel on the same flight and never in the same section, so this was going to be a proper holiday and limited internet meant my husband couldn't spend too long reading emails.
We stayed for 5 nights in Havana. I think 4 nights would of been plenty however, as there really isn't too much to see. The city is crumbling, literally.
The architecture that was once beautiful is is a sad state of repair... as too are the beautiful vintage cars being used as taxis. Most of them only look like they are one pot hole away from falling apart.
The people are lovely, cheery and friendly. Although Cuba is very poor we never felt threatened or in danger, as we did in some of the South American cities.
There is a new uprising of Paladars. These are private restaurants, that have only recently been allowed to open. We visited two and were served amazing food, far better than I expected as we had heard some quite negative things about the food. We ate at Dona Eutimia and Paladar Los Mercaderes. I've used their trip advisor links here because neither restaurant have their own website. There are lots more around with waiters standing in the streets waving menus to tempt people in.
Sightseeing in Havana is mostly about the architecture, which is still beautiful, despite the crumbling, and of course the rum and cigars.
We stayed in the Melia Cohiba in Havana, which was a bit of a mistake... not enough research and relying on a friends advice because his wife is Cuban... I won't be doing that again. So my lesson to myself is always ask why someone recommends a hotel/restaurant. Your riorities may not be the same !
The hotel was nice enough but it was not in the centre of town... which is great if you want a pool based rest, but not if you want to explore the city. Getting a taxi in and out for lunch and dinner was not ideal. If we go back I think the Iberostar in the centre of Havana would be my preferred option.
In Varadero we stayed at the Royalton Hicascos. We chose this because it got good Trip Advisor reviews and because it is adults only. It was on a very nice stretch of beach, but the resort itself was quiet tired looking and a bit run down. As with most of the resorts it was all inclusive. This isn't normally something I would choose to do as I like to find small local places to eat out, but in Varadero, this wasn't really an option. The food was good and of course unlimited. Lots of nice salads and fruit were available and lots of BBQ meat and fish, lots of choice for everyone.
For us the resort choice was perfect, we spent the rest of the trip reading books (thank you whoever invented the kindle) and relaxing.
A perfect combination of city and beach for a fortnight of R&R.
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