Back in 2014, when my partner suggested Cuba as our next holiday destination, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I’d never even considered Cuba before; it had been completely off my radar. I had absolutely no idea of what to expect from Cuba. I’m always up for discovering new countries and cultures though so I agreed that we should visit.
We flew from London direct to Havana where we caught a transfer coach over to Varadero, a small peninsula on the northwest coast of Cuba. We flew with Virgin and the flight was okay – my only qualm being that they ran out of booze a few hours into the 9 hour flight. The entertainment system on the flight was pretty good, so the flight wasn’t too dull at least. From Havana we then took a 3 hour transfer over to Varadero by coach.
We have since found out that there is actually an airport in Varadero itself, with a short transfer time of just 30 minutes. Next time we visit we will certainly be flying direct into Varadero to cut out the long coach journey to and from Havana.
We’d chosen a pretty nice looking hotel with great reviews, and it actually turned out to be an ex-Sandals hotel. The site of the Royalton Hicacos Resort is big and incredibly clean. We don’t have children, so the selling point for us was that this was an adults only, super all-inclusive hotel. There are 6 restaurants at this hotel, we only ate at three of them but they were all great. There was a pool bar too, which was a firm favourite of ours.
The hotel itself was lovely. There were things going on all day and night, from water aerobics in the pool to beach volleyball on the hotel’s own private section of Varadero beach. The cabana boys would walk all round the beach and pool, offering to get you a free cocktail from the bar and bring it back to your sun lounger. I almost always tipped them for this, but they honestly didn’t expect a penny from you. I would usually have to chase them with their tip as they were already halfway down the beach by the time I had gotten some pesos out of my bag.
In the evenings there was usually some sort of show on. One night they had a great Michael Jackson tribute act which was amazing. My personal favourites were the acrobats. The outdoor terrace of the restaurants overlooked the stage, so you could watch the show while enjoying dinner or drinks.
What really sold me on this hotel was the staff. I have never met such a friendly, caring and courteous bunch of people in my life. We became good friends with some of the staff by the end of our holiday and cannot wait to see our friends Michel and Juan the waiters again.
One thing that I never expected from the Cuban people was their extreme optimism for life. Cuban people are relatively poor due to the communist values of their government and we soon found out that not all Cuban people share these values. Despite their lack of income, every Cuban person we met on our holiday was a complete joy to be around. We didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t incredibly friendly and welcoming.
Cuba is affectionately known as the Land of Miracles, but it was hard to get a firm idea of the Cuban culture because Cuban people are not allowed into Varadero unless they are employed by one of the hotels or businesses in the town. This meant that every person we met was at work when we met them. We did meet a few taxi drivers who gave us the run down on what they felt were issues with their country. One of the drivers explained to us that the traditional Cuban meal is pork, beans and rice, but no Cuban person could afford this meal.
The driver also explained a bit about the laws in Cuba. For example, did you know that it is illegal for a Cuban farmer to kill and eat his own cow? Or that it’s illegal for a fisherman to catch a lobster and take it home to eat? Doing either of these things can mean sentences of 4 years and 10 years, respectively. Bizarre.
I couldn’t write this post without mentioning the famous Cuban cars at least once. They’re absolutely everywhere and are mostly used as taxis. Up until 2011, it was actually illegal to buy or a sell a used car in Cuba. The Cuban government also prohibited the import of foreign cars, so Cubans had to keep the old cars that they already owned.
The government has since changed their stance on the import of cars, so there is a new car dealership in Havana now. Not many Cubans can afford the sky-high prices of the new cars though, so many Cuban people use their vintage cars as taxis. We took a ride in one of these cars down to the marina and they are very well cared for and loved. The leather interior was a bit toasty in the 30 degree heat though!
I was deliberating on whether I should include a section on Cuban food, because quite frankly there’s not much to say. Traditional Cuban cuisine is scarce in Varadero so we were unable to try it. In our hotel we were offered mainly western food all of which was imported, from the meat to the tomatoes. The food was of good quality, fresh and cooked well so I was happy. We were even treated to a half-lobster and caviar one night!
I knew that Cubans love rum, but I didn’t realise just how much they loved it. We actually struggled to get a rum and coke. Turns out Cubans only like you to drink rum neat. I sadly found this out at 10am one morning on an excursion we did. It was not a good morning. They did offer us a delicious lemon daiquiri later in the day, which made up for the early morning shots IMO.
Drinks other than rum are readily available at all the bars and hotels. You can easily pick up an imported brand of beer or spirit. We were rather partial to a Blue Lagoon cocktail made with Russian Standard vodka while out there. I’m a huge lover of a Pina Colada though, and I have to say Cuba make the best Pina Coladas I’ve ever tried!
We visited Cuba in October and it was very warm, post-30 degrees. I’ve heard that many people avoid visiting in October as this is hurricane season, but we had no issues with the weather. It was bright and sunny every day, with temperatures reaching the mid 30s. It did rain on one of the days for about 45 seconds, which I welcomed as it was so hot!
We were in Cuba when Hurricane Gonzalo hit Bermuda, before it made its way across the Atlantic to the UK. My mum was frantically texting me, worried that we were experiencing bad weather on holiday. We could see Hurricane Gonzalo from the beach, and while it did get a bit windy, we didn’t get a spot of trouble from it.
In the time it took me to write this post, I have managed to convince my partner that our next holiday should be Cuba. Oh how the tables have turned. It really is a wonderful country, full of amazing people and lots of smiles and I’d be happy to keep going back every few years for the rest of my life.
Have you ever visited Cuba, or maybe plan to in the future? I’d love to hear your thoughts!