Cuba - Varadero and La Habana Vieja
Cuba...Oh my God, Cuba!! This has got to be one of my most favourite places I’ve travelled to. Let’s start with the people. Rich with dignity despite having so little!! Definitely know that a smile cost nothing!! We encountered this trait almost everywhere we visited on the island. I travelled there with my wife and daughter on a fourteen night packaged holiday of pure relaxation. We stayed at the Iberostar Varadero which brandished a five star rating and didn’t disappoint. The grounds were meticulously maintained throughout always making it a pleasure to walk around with two really nice swimming pools with swim up bars. Mine was a Pina colada every time.
Who said Cuba wasn’t renowned for its cuisine? The food choices, presentation and deliciousness there was on point. Couldn’t fault it! At least four signature restaurants to choose from as well as the buffet restaurant for informal dining. Coffee bars, ice cream parlours, supermarkets were all on site. The Iberostar Varadero aimed to spoil, and accomplished the feat!
Hotel Iberostar Varadero's grounds and buffet dining room
We were on an all inclusive stay which also included waiter service directly to our sun loungers on the hotel’s pristine, private white sanded beach. We enjoyed its hospitality immensely.
I have personally never walked into an ocean that felt like a spa. The water was so outrageously warm, like 28 degrees warm. It was like a magnet, I couldn’t get out, I didn’t want to get out!! Ultra clear turquoise waters, azure clear blue skies and a beach to die for are what dreams are made of! Out of the rainy season, this is what you can expect from most of Cuba’s beach resorts. I’m not usually a sun worshiper, but I just couldn’t get enough.
Hotel Iberostar Varadero's private beach
After a week of sheer indulgence, we hired a caddy and driver to drive us to Havana. Mega long drive, (two hours plus) with no seat belts!! 😩😩😩 All those really nice looking vintage old cars remain the same from the 1950’s, and have never been re-adapted for modern road travel hence no seatbelts. We were very mindful of this fact once we’d set off, rendering our journey rather worrying than enjoyable!! Touring around the city in one at slow speeds was ok, but we recommend you think twice before embarking on a longer journey in one. We were lucky, the universe had us earmarked for survival that day. 🙏🏾🙏🏾
We had arranged before we left the UK that we would spend four nights in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) living with a local family of a friend of ours which enhanced our appreciation of being grateful for the things we take for granted at home! Four fabulous authentic Cuban🇨🇺 life nights away from all our inclusive luxuries put things well and truly into perspective for us. We were humbled to our core at the generosity of this beautiful family. They treated us like royalty with the very little that they had, yet it was plenty!! We can’t thank them enough for that amazing experience.
La Habana Vieja
The homes in Vieja Habana are almost identical with striking views up and down the streets from the high balconies of people going on their everyday business. From these same balconies, food supplies are collected from vendors on the street below in a basket tied to a rope. Just put your list of items needed into the basket and lower it. One hour it’s fruit and vegetables, the next it’s dried provisions. No need to negotiate those steep staircases every time to collect groceries. We were also lucky enough to experience a tropical downpour while we were staying there which allowed us to witness how the locals deal with the deluge of rainfall water that breach their balcony doors. It’s like all hands on deck with sand bags, mops and anything else that could aid in keeping the water at bay. It’s actually quite amusing. 😁😁😁
La Habana Vieja
Spending those few nights amongst the locals gave our trip to Cuba real depth. Getting up in the mornings and going to the bakery to try and find bread rolls was crazy. It’s hugely first come first serve. Even the supermarket shelves were sparse. Everyone though, was so orderly, nothing like the plentiful world we travelled from where fights broke out when there wasn’t enough toilet paper to go around in the pandemic. 😁😂😁 Everyone in the tight neighbourhoods seem to know each other, and I liked that there was always a Buenos dias or a nod of acknowledgement as we passed one another on the streets. Saying that though, I think that is just a natural trait of the Caribbean in general.
Our particular packaged holiday/vacation deal came with the option of spending the four nights we spent in Old Havana, in the Iberostar’s sister hotel in the capital, Hotel Parque Central. But so, so pleased we opted for the treasured, priceless opportunity to live alongside this wonderful family. This experience will forever be etched in my memories!!
A really personal achievement for me was visiting the iconic revolution square and sealing my photographic moment by the gigantic etching of revolutionary hero Che Guevara with it’s world famous phrase “Hasta la victoria siempre“ which translated reads, “Onwards to victory always”. The etching is actually on Cuba’s ministry of the interior building. The square was originally called Plaza Civica (Civic Plaza), but was patriotically renamed after Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959. At 72,000 square metres in size, revolution square is one of the largest in the world. Not gonna lie though, after hearing so much and seeing so many photos of this square, I found it rather dreary and lifeless on arrival. So happy still to have had a moment in time there!!
Havana is an amazing city. There’s nothing new there yet it was so beautiful. The music, the language, the vibe. Absolutely everyone there in #lahabanavieja are going through the same struggle with the odd few having it a little easier as they may have family living overseas who are able to inject some much needed funds to help keep their families afloat. Despite the lack of everyday products, (that we take for granted) the people there have great dignity, carry themselves well, and are proud as hell to be Cuban. The crime rate, considering, is extraordinarily low which adds to the sense of freedom you feel as you roam around the capital, especially in the night time. Cuba exercises a zero tolerance policy throughout which is adhered to. I can only imagine that the consequences for breaching those strict rules are horrendous!
La Habana (Havana Old Town)
WiFi in Cuba comes at a premium, so it’s rather amusing to see people in their droves congregating in designated areas just to get a piece of the outside world. Very surprising, and I must say, a refreshing breath of fresh air, was the very relaxed attitude to the large transgender community that you come across around the city at night. I actually had to be told that a lot of the beautifully made up and dressed women were in fact transgender. There are some Caribbean nations that are extremely hostile towards the LGBTQ🏳️🌈 community, so it was like I said, a surprise to see that a country like Cuba with it’s very masculine, revolutionary, communist image, would be so same sex relations friendly. Apparently, there are even programs there in Cuba which discourages discrimination in any form. Another fabulous reason to love the energy there! Creole, Malatto, Caucasian, all shown the same love no matter your sexual or religious orientations!!
There’s nothing like Cuba!! We felt so at peace here amongst the locals, if only we could speak their tongue. I have not spoken to anyone who hasn’t had a memorable time here in the entire country. You will too if you’re thinking of making the booking!!
Hotel Iberostar Varadero's private beach
Dedicating this trip to my beautiful daughter, Kalila who unexpectedly transitioned to the spiritual world and left behind broken hearts 💔💔 forever!
Kalila Elizabeth Griffiths
8th June 1996 -1st February 2019