Cuba Top Fives
Top 5 Things to do in Havana
Havana is an amazing city. There's so much variety and life within the walls that it can feel overwhelming, and it would take several weeks' solid exploration to get a real feel for everything. Unfortunately, not all of us can take that much time in a Havana hotel, meaning we have to narrow it down to the very best. Here is our list of the top 5 things to do in Havana.
Plaza de la Revolucion
If you want to see one thing that encompasses the whole Havana holiday experience, then the Plaza de la Revolucion is most definitely it. Combining novel architecture with a sense of history and a splendid atmosphere, the area is a must see. The Jose Marti 138 foot memorial tower dominates the square, and visitors can ride a lift to the top for a stunning view of the city, so don't leave your camera in your Havana hotel! Behind the memorial are the political offices - for years, the workplace of Fidel Castro himself, and opposite that is the iconic image of revolutionary Che Guevara which makes the Ministry of the Interior's building. If you're looking for things to do in Havana, this historical site is a great place to start.
Cuban cigars are the product that's virtually synonymous with the island, and it goes without saying that most Havana holiday makers will leave with a case or two, but have you ever wondered how they're produced? The tours of the capital's cigar factories make for interesting things to do in Havana, showcasing every part of the process. The tour will give you an insight into how the luxury items are hand rolled, and even allows you to see the old tradition of the reader - someone hired to entertain the workers by reading the day's news from the newspaper. There are three main factories in Havana, and all of them offer tours and the chance to buy cigars afterwards: Partagas, La Corona and Romeo y Julieta.
Museo de la Ciudad
With so many of the things to do in Havana centring around Cuba's revolutionary past, it's quite refreshing to find a building that not only acknowledges a ``time before'' but is actually from that time itself! Built in 1791, the Museo de la Ciudad houses treasures from the city's foundation to the present day. As well as housing a sizeable collection from the war for independence, the museum includes a wide selection of the island's folklore, furniture, paintings, porcelain and art. Cultural tourists looking for things to do in Havana should definitely drop by this museum.
You may wonder if you've crossed the water between Cuba and the USA when you spy the Capitolio Nacional for the first time. Although it bears an eerie resemblance the US Capitol building in Washington, the structure is now home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences. Directly underneath the imposing dome, an imitation 24 carat diamond is set into the floor which shows the distances between Havana and the island's other main cities.
Museo de la Revolucion
You may think the Museo de la Revolucion's building is a little glamorous for a simple museum, and you'd be right - except it was fittingly the Presidential Palace from the administration ousted in the revolution! Inside this amazing building are interesting pieces, photographs and documents of the Cuban revolution, but it's not just limited to within the museum! Out the front, you will find the tank that Castro drove during the Bay of Pigs battle, and behind is the yacht that brought him and Che Guevara to Cuba from Mexico in 1956. A must see for any history buffs on a Havana holiday!
The Best Hotels in Havana
Without a doubt, our biggest sellers are our holidays in Havana. No other place in Cuba offers the great history, the lively nightlife and the sublime culture you can find with a stay in one of Havana's hotels. Yet, with so many fine hotels in Havana, it can be hard to decide which one to opt for, ranging across all budgets and styles. So to help you out, here are our favourites... the five best hotels in Havana...
5. The Nacional
As one of the most famous hotels in Havana, it's no surprise that The Nacional finds a home in our list. Its imposing figure has graced Havana's skyline for the best part of 80 years, and even today visitors are treated to stunning views of the sea and the city. Despite this, the inside of the hotel doesn't quite match its stunning exterior, and you can see why it's one star short of the full 5. The rooms are functional, but there are more luxurious hotels available for those with the budget. On the other hand this Havana hotel's executive floor is better, and the gardens, pool and history make this well worth considering if the room is not all important.
The Saratoga is another one from the 1930s, but unlike The Nacional is awarded the full five stars - and it deserves every one of them. Since its early days, it has had a reputation for decadence, and in those times attracted some of the top artists and socialites from all over the world. Today, visitors are treated to a rooftop swimming pool and some world class rooms overlooking some of the city's architectural hotspots for a similarly glorious experience.
3. Santa Isabela
If you're looking for convenience, then the Santa Isabel is for you. Right in the heart of Old Havana, the hotel has been authentically refurbished from its days of being the palace of Count Santovenia. Some of the rooms don't feel quite as modern as they should, but the Santovenia Suite offers an experience making it amongst the best hotels in Havana. The rooms look out over the delightful Plaza de Armas - a charming colonial square at the very centre of the old town.
2. Condes de Villaneva
Perhaps part of what makes the Condes de Villaneva so special is its exclusivity. With only 9 rooms, you're lucky to get a place at this charming family hotel in Havana. The splendid family service and history that seems to echo around the building makes this memorable - and inside the former slaves' quarters is one of Havana's finest cigar shops, making this a great choice if the legendary tobacco is the main draw of your visit.
1. NH Parque Central
The best hotel in Havana would have to have an outstanding modern service, be steeped in history and have easy access to the highlights of the city. The only hotel in Havana to tick every one of these boxes is the outstanding NH Parque Central Hotel. With huge, comfortable rooms, quality food, an air conditioned bar and a rooftop pool, the NH Parque Central is to our eyes, easily the best hotel in Havana.
Top 5 Things to do on a Varadero Holiday
By reading the tourist guides and looking through brochures, you may be tempted into believing that a holiday in Varadero starts and ends with the resort's beach. It is magnificent (more on that later), but there is a lot here beyond that which should tempt anyone from their Varadero hotel room. Here are our favourite 5 things to do in Varadero...
The Glorious Beach
Just to get it out of the way first, yes, the beach is magnificent. Varadero holiday makers will find this is the biggest beach resort in Cuba, and the fine white sands and crystal clear waters stretch for a massive 20 kilometres. On top of this, there are plenty of things to do on Varadero's beach from sunbathing, to pedalos, to some water sports. It's true to say you could spend your entire holiday here, only retreating to your Varadero hotel at night, but you'd be missing out on a lot...
The length of Varadero's beach means that there are 32 established dive sites spread across the area, catering to divers of all abilities and experience. There's also several courses and schools for beginners, so there's no excuse for Varadero holiday makers not to don a wet suit and see the whole new world beneath the water's surface. There's real variety here too, with night dives, cave dies and open sea diving. The strong array of marine life beneath the surface is waiting for you in one of the best things to do in Varadero...
The Charm of the Market
Getting a bargain at a local market is always a pleasure for those on breaks in exotic climes, and Varadero holiday makers will find bartering here an enjoyable experience! Varadero's market is amongst the biggest you will ever see, with stalls filling the town and selling everything from leather works to musical instruments. Even browsing is fun, and if you leave empty handed, the chances are you'll still have had an excellent time with one of the most interesting things to do in Varadero...
Casa de la Cultura
The cultural centre is a must for those who want to absorb the local culture on their Varadero holiday. Promoting all forms of art, the area is home to a world renowned rumba group, poetry recitals, musical performances and local troubadours performing the visitors. The centre also houses the gallery 'Arte, Sol y Mar' which exhibits and sells works by local Cuban artists.
To get a feel of the place before mass tourism took hold, the Museo Municipal is well worth a day's visit, as it guides visitors through the region's history via the revolution and beyond. If you're a history buff, you'll find plenty to draw you from your Varadero hotel here.
Top 5 Things to do in Guardalavaca
If relaxation is the main focus of your trip to the Caribbean, then a holiday in Guardalavaca, Cuba should be just the thing. Guardalavaca's hotels offer the beach experience of Varadero without the crowds and the noise! It's the very definition of a hidden gem with a top notch beach and plenty of activities for visitors to the resort, and yet it still manages to remain secluded, quiet and unspoilt. Relaxation, thy name is Guardalavaca!
Here's our top 5 things to do on a holiday in Guardalavaca, Cuba:-
The beach is without doubt, the biggest draw of a holiday in Guardalavaca, and rightly so. There are actually three - Guardalavaca beach, Esmerelda beach and Playa Pesquero. Getting between them is easy, even for those made lazy by the relaxation, as there's a mini train that connects Esmerelda to Guardalavaca. All three beaches are worth visiting, and share the essential Cuban beach qualities: pristine white sands and clear waters. The water is calm, thanks to the nearby coral reef making the place a good choice for families. Catamarans, pedalos and other beach activities are available for those who get bored of the sunbathing (do people get bored of sunbathing?).
Of all the diving spots in Cuba, Guardalavaca is one of the favourites thanks to its enormous coral reef just a few miles off shore. It's teeming with wildlife, and is an absolute wonder for divers on the lookout for exotic fish and plant life. It's not just about the reef though, with plenty of caves and shipwrecks to explore, everyone from scuba-newbies to diving veterans should feel right at home here.
Swimming with Dolphins
When you think of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, swimming with dolphins probably comes quite high up the list, but with a Guardalavaca hotel room, it can be every day if you wish! Nearby the resort is the Acuario Cayo Naranjo aquarium which hosts spectacular dolphin, seal and walrus shows as well as allowing visitors to swim with the dolphins themselves. A life jacket is provided, and guests of all ages are taught how to get the dolphins to clap and splash, and are then allowed to `surf' on the creatures at the end. Recommended.
Deep Sea Fishing
The link between Cuba and deep sea fishing has been established ever since the 1930s, when legendary author Ernest Hemingway moved to Cuba. Guadalavaca would have been ideal for him. As a keen hunter and fisherman, Hemingway no doubt found the abundance of tuna, barracuda, sailfish, snapper and grouper a boon to his hobby, and a Guardalavaca holiday is a great place for people to learn - or to engage their prove their skills. You can be taught the basics by experienced crews here, and you'll be enjoying this exciting activity in no time!
A Trip to Holguin
Strictly speaking, not something actually in Guardalavaca, but the nearby town of Holguin is well worth a visit, and can be combined with visits to the town's sugar and cigar factories which give an insight into two of the island's biggest and most fascinating industries. It's not too far away, and makes for a pleasant change from your Guardalavaca hotel.
Cuba Diving Holidays - Top Five Sites
Diving in Cuba is one of the biggest draws to the island, and hundreds of scuba enthusiasts travel with us every year to see the best coral reefs and the most exotic fish! It's no wonder, with an average annual temperature of 24 degrees and an average visibility of 98 feet, Cuba is amongst the best diving hotspots in the world. Additionally, the lack of strong currents and variety available makes the island the perfect training environment for Cuban diver virgins. But where's the best place to dive on the island? Here's our top 5 Cuban diving sites...
In the south of the island, Cayo Largo is the obvious choice for diving in Cuba. With virtually untouched beaches and coral reefs, this is a great place to feel isolated from the world at large. It's also a great place for beginners, thanks to the huge nearby coral reef, there are no strong currents. If all of this sounds perfect, except for the location, you'll be pleased to hear that although this is 177km from Havana, there are local domestic flights between the two, meaning you can be there within an hour!
Maria la Gorda
To the west of the island, Maria la Gorda is a stunning dive spot right in the heart of nature - it's one of the least developed areas of the island. Within the Guanahacabibes Peninsula is the dive site itself - a world biosphere reserve with two dive zones. When you get beneath the surface, you can see black coral walls, 18th century shipwrecks and plenty of flora and fauna. For more experienced divers, there are caves and caverns to explore and night trips for the thrill seekers. At four hours from Havana, serious Cuban divers need only apply - but the trip is most definitely worth it!
If you want something a little closer to Havana, Cayo Levisa is a great choice. An hour outside the capital on the north west of the island, this Cuban dive site is home to sponges, black coral and some of the larger tropical fish. Alongside these are some of the more memorable shipwrecks of the 17th and 18th century. If diving is the whole purpose of your trip, then you may want to stay at the Hotel Cayo Levisa which allows Cuba's divers to stay in its 40 rooms for the duration of their visit.
Playa Giron can be found near the Bay of Pigs, and is renowned for its shelf diving, as well as the trips to local caves in the region. The area has sheer drop offs near the shore which make for some great swim-throughs. Over four hours away from Havana, this is one for the determined, but its well worth the trip - indeed, dedicated divers may wish to stay at the Hotel Playa Giron. Cuban divers love this one - in 1994 a new ship was deliberately sunk to give the diving population more to see!
If you want to take underwater photography, you simply cannot beat Faro Luna. Why? It has some of the cleanest water in Cuba, and a good variety of sea life and environments with a variety of ship wrecks and stunning coral reefs in its 28 dive sites. The coral formation barriers are so high that you can actually see them on the surface. This really is our pick of Cuba's dive locations!
Cuban Bird Watching: The Top 5 Birds to Spot
One of the greatest pleasures of visiting the island is the wide mix of Cuban wildlife that you won't be able to see anywhere else. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the skies - Cuban bird watching draws people from around the world, and those with the patience will find it a truly wonderful and rewarding activity. So here's a guide to the Cuban wildlife you can expect to take in, while bird watching in Cuba.
The Cuban Trogan
The Cuban Trogan should be easy for Cuba's bird watching enthusiasts to spot - it's the country's national bird due to its colourful plumage which matches the Cuban flag: blue, red and white. If you're on the look out for this fine specimen of Cuban wildlife, try in forests near streams and look out for its dark green head feeding on insects by hovering above flowers.
You may struggle to find the Bee Hummingbird - partly because it's labelled as `threatened', and partly because it's the world's smallest bird. Growing to a maximum size of 2.25 inches, you are most likely to find this world renowned example of Cuba's wildlife in the island's valleys, gardens and forests.
If you find the Bee Hummingbird too small to spot when bird watching in Cuba, then perhaps something slightly bigger would be easier. Try the Cuban Finch - a whole inch longer, and with amazing energy! If you want to spot its attractive yellow head, keep an eye on shrubs, where it nests.
There was a time when you were guaranteed to spy the Cuban Parakeet while enjoying the wildlife of Cuba, but it's becoming less and less common thanks to habitat destruction and trapping due to its reputation as a crop pest.
Determined Cuban birdwatchers will most likely find the creature in grasslands with palms, woodland edges and in undisturbed forests. Although rare, you'll know it when you see it: bright green red spots on the head, neck and wing with a white band of flesh around its eyes.
Yet another example of Cuba's wildlife that's endangered, the beautiful Cuban Kite is in a critical state due to loss of habitat. Bird watchers in Cuba should be pleased to see it at all - it was thought extinct for a while, until 3 Cuban Kites were found in the east of the island.
To stand any chance of seeing this bird of prey at all, you should look in heavily forested areas, where it lives mainly off snails.