Have you ever talked with someone, who has been to Varadero or Cayo Coco? If so, you properly not recognize Cuba as we illustrate it here on the blog. The reason? Because Varadero, Cayo Coco and so on are beautiful places, but have nothing to do with the real Cuba. Here you stay in a well-groomed plastic version of a great country, with everything you can imagine. Huge all-inclusive resorts with vast buffets at the restaurants, lots of bars, beaches and postcard-like nature.
The impression that the evergreen forests, rivers and crystal clear waterfalls gives are fantastic. Entering the community is to have the certainty that such beautiful sites really exist and that human efforts to protect such natural environment will persist. To breathe in Las Terrazas is to rejuvenate and feel a great spiritual enjoyment. In 1985, Unesco declared Las Terrazas “World Biosphere Reserve”.
After staying 4 days in Havana, we went south towards Vinales / Pinar del Rio and the more calming parts of Cuba. This region is full of some of the most impressive Cuban nature you can imagine, and very known for the tobacco farms. The main city of the region is Pinar del Rio, and there is a lot of farms in the surrounding areas outside the city.
On our own in the rented cars, we went to see the tobacco museum in Pinar del Rio. On our way, trying to find the place, a young bloke around 20 years, stopped us and asked what we where looking for? Properly easily spotted the lost tourists, due to the fact that licenses plates on rental cars in cuba, have their own color. Who got that idea? He was on a bike, which where in a size for a 8 year old, but he just tramped faster in the pedals, showing us the way to the museum. These guys, making a buck showing you the way, are in all the bigger cities. Our “guide” tried to get us go to somewhere else, but we insisted to see the tobacco museum. His english wasn’t that good, but he showed us to the museum, which was closed! 🙂 Ahhh – so that was what he meant. After this he showed us to his families tobacco farm outside the city, and that was a great experience. At the farm we were shown their entire production of tobacco, how they dried the leafs, handled the tobacco, and made the cigars. At the farm we visited, they produced Cohiba cigars, and also told us a lot about how the life as tobacco farmers in Cuba is.
In Vinales we lived at Hotel Los Jazmines, which is placed at a great canyon. In this area you find a lot of very cool nature, caves and canyons. The views are fantastic and breathtaking. But it is, like most Cuban hotels, NOT luxury… If you go here, you go for the nature and location.
Near the hotel is a paladar ( private restaurant) with small balconies at the canyon. If you can find it, you must try to eat here. Is is a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel. The Paladars are fantastic places to eat, due to the fact, that the often provide you with the food that they would eat at their own table. Fx we saw some fruit at a nearby tree, and a few seconds later, the waiter brought the fruit for us to taste. These places offers you super service, and experiences.
The nearest city is Vinales – which is a small local city, and not a place where you meet a lot of tourists. Our best recommadation is to take a few hours to walk around in the city, to explore the true cuban life in a city like this.
One thing you must remember – in these parts of cuba, money almost not exist, but as a tourist you can not get by without money. But your CUC’s worth 22 times more, that the Cuban Pesos (which the locals use). So in Vinales we properly bought the most expensive bananas in the known world history…
How to “Cubanize” in the right way…
Yes – their flat might be in pretty bad shape, and the clothes worn down, but compared to a lot of other countries, like Haiti fx, Cubans have a lot better life. They do not have a lot, but they really don’t need a lot. In the countryside you will see that the money-less society actually work really well, and there is not that much that cost money for the people living there.
We also recommend to bring a little old clothes, and leave it for the people that really needs it. But you must really think about what and how you do it, because you might do more damage than you think, just by giving out money or stuff to the people asking for it. There is a reason for the vast amount of beggars in the big cities. It is where the big money, in Cuban standards, is!
We visited Cuba in easter 2012, for at 17 day roundtrip in rented cars on our own.
A great way to see this fantastic country. When you arrive to the airport outside Havana, would will find a completely different country under your feet. For the time you are going to stay in Cuba, make sure that your are open for a totally different world and see things for a new point of view. You will meet a lot of people trying to make some money of you, cows on the high way, flamingos at your breakfast and a very proud history.
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