We left Havana on our 7 day tour and headed westerly towards Vinales.
The Valle de Viñales is a stunning national park with fertile rust-red soil and green expanses of tobacco plantations, with precipitous limestone buttresses of rock. This tranquil farming town is on the edge of the park and it has been said that this is Cuba at its most alluring and is the country’s second most visited tourist destination after Havana. I loved the ‘lay-back’ slow pace of life, the pretty houses all with a rocking chair or 2 on their verandahs and the rustic, lush, tropical feel. Unfortunately, with this kind of climate and growth, there are mosquitoes, which made sleeping difficult. If only I’d brought a mosquito net. Other than this small annoyance, Vinales was a beautiful 2 day stop.
Driving through Sugar plantations we stopped at the aqua-blue water of the ‘Bay of Pigs’. In 1961 this was the location of the failed military invasion of Cuba, undertaken by the CIA-sponsored paramilitary counter-revolutionary military (made up of Cuban exiles who traveled to the United States after Castro’s takeover) failed to overthrow the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. We had lunch overlooking the natural pool where many were swimming while others chose to dip the inviting Caribbean.
Next stop was short visit to Cienfuegos named after Camilo Cienfuegos, who was appointed head of Cuba’s armed forces shortly after the victory of Castro’s rebel army in 1959. I found his and the rest of Cuban history, most fascinating and our tour guide filled us in on some extra interesting information. Seeing these places of Cuba, brings the history more to life and reality.
We stayed in the pretty town of Trinidad for 3 nights. In the 18th Century the sugar industry became well established in the nearby Valle de Los Ingenios and Trinidad prospered, with the building of beautiful 18th and 19th century buildings, which now unfortunately are in varying states of repair. During this time the town was regularly attacked by pirates and it is said that the street layout is deliberately complicated so as to confuse attackers. With my phone-map in hand, I didn’t have a problem navigating my way around and loved the vibrancy and uniqueness found in the maze of winding, cobbled-stoned streets.
In the morning we went inland of Trinidad where we had a pleasant walk through El Cubano Reserve, hiking up to a waterfall and one of Cuba’s best natural swimming holes. Although it wasn’t the hot Summer weather, we were still relieved to stop for a cool swim before heading back to Trinidad for lunch and an afternoon exploring and enjoying Trinidad.
Our next hike was just inland to Topes de Collantes Natural Park in the beautiful, wooded Escambray Mountains, famous for its many endemic species of flora and fauna. What a stunning area! Strolling through this jungle, I loved listening out for the different bird calls and trying to spot them in the tall trees. The national bird, The Tocororo, so named as this is the sound it makes, was particularly difficult to see, but well worth the effort as it has very distinct colouring with a red underbelly. Also, it was the first time I’d seen a Woodpecker and a Humming bird. These tiny small black birds that hover over a flower with wings that beat so fast. Amazing!
On our last evening we learned how to make Mojito’s, Pina Collada’s and the national drink The Canchanchara and afterwards enjoyed the night life of this buzzing town.
Next day we headed to Santa Clara to visit the Museum dedicated to the famous Che Guevara. Guevara’s life continues to be a subject of great public interest and has been explored and portrayed in numerous books and films, including The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).
Then it was back to Havana where for my last 2 nights , I stayed in ‘Central Havana’. Unlike Old Havana, Central Havana is much less touristy and gives one a chance to experience the ‘real’ life of the city.