Originally published for the Curious Travel Company, February 2018
From classic car rides around Havana to the tobacco farms of Viñales and Fidel’s mountaintop Rebel HQ, a trip to Cuba is always going to be revolutionary…
1: See the Sights of Havana from a Classic Car
Everyone does it, but there’s a good reason why: experiencing Havana from the back of a classic car is just one of those unmissable, incredibly pleasurable travel experiences. At times, Havana’s streets resemble an automotive museum, as relics from the 1950s (Flame red Cadillacs, bright pink Chevrolets, bubble-gum Oldsmobiles) rumble through traffic.
As well as the obvious visual appeal, these cars serve an everyday purpose for many: some are filled with travellers on guided city tours, others packed with Cubans hitching a ride to work, many put to use as characterful taxis. Havana itself is deceptively large, with a lot of its major attractions spread out, so besides the experience of the car itself, a tour is an excellent way to see the city.
2: Feel the Music in Santiago de Cuba
Cuba is a country that comes with a soundtrack. Thumping rumba beats and infectious son rhythms seem to spill from every bar, house window and radio. There’s often a live band playing in a bar, or a solo busker serenading all who’ll listen.
Music is everywhere. To understand the significance that music holds in Cuban social life, a visit to Santiago’s Casa de la Trova is a must. These state-run venues focus on traditional folk music, with Casa de la Trova being one of, if not the, best on the island.
3: Hike in the Footsteps of Revolutionaries
After a failed assault on government forces in December 1956, Fidel Castro and his band of loyal followers, including Che Guevara, sought refuge in Sierra Maestra Mountains of Granma. It was here their guerrilla revolution took shape: the Castros would broadcast anti-government messages via pirate radio and unite a country in Revolution.
Batista’s forces never found Fidel’s rebel base, but you can hike the 4km from Alto del Naranjo to the Comandancia de la Plata, the rebel HQ, including Fidel’s House, in the forested mountains of Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra.
4: Visit a Tobacco Farm in Viñales
The Pinar del Rio region in Cuba’s far west is said to grow the finest tobacco in the country, and, as any farmer here will tell you, that means it’s the best in the world.
Visit a farm here and learn how traditional agricultural techniques are applied to cultivate the tobacco. Ox-drawn carts plough the fields and wooden, straw-topped sheds are used to dry huge bunches of light brown tobacco leaves. Viñales is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Viñales Valley. A serene setting of huge limestone mogotes and lush forest, the landscape is equal parts inspiring and surreal, and was said to be Fidel Castro’s favourite place in Cuba. It’s also popular with rock climbers and hikers.