Regla: You can take a ferry from nearby the Customs House, opposite Calle Santa Clara in Old Havana (or the Ruta 6 bus from Zulueta y Virtudes inland), to Regla, which has a largely black population and a long, rich and still active cultural history of the Yoruba and santería.
The extension room of the Museo Municipal de Regla (Martí 158 entre Facciolo y La Piedra, on the left side of the church), houses information and objects of Yoruba culture. Mon-Sat 0930-1830, Sun 0900-1300, US$2, T906989, phone to check it is open. Three blocks further on is the Casa de la Cultura, which has very occasional cultural activities.
Cojímar: The former seaside village, now a concrete jungle, featured in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, is an easy excursion (15 minutes by taxi) from central Havana.
He celebrated his Nobel prize here in 1954 and there is a bust of him opposite a small fort. The coastline (no beach) is covered in sharp rocks and is dirty because of effluent from tankers.
San Francisco de Paula: Hemingway fans may wish to visit his house, 11 km from the centre of Havana, where he lived from 1939 to 1960 (called the Museo Ernest Hemingway).
The signpost is opposite the post office, leading up a short driveway. Visitors are not allowed inside the plain whitewashed house, which has been lovingly preserved with all Hemingway’s furniture and books, just as he left it.
But you can walk all around the outside and look in through the windows and open doors. The garden is beautiful and tropical, with many shady palms. Next to the swimming pool (empty) are the gravestones of Hemingway’s pet dogs. 0930-1600, US$3, T910809, closed Tue. Hemingway tours are offered by hotel tour desks for US$35. No toilets. Photos US$5.
Parks & Zoos: The Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba is well-maintained with excellent collections, including a Japanese garden with tropical adaptations. There are only a few signs and so not as informative as it might be. There is a good organic vegetarian restaurant (the only one in Cuba) using solar energy for cooking. There is only one sitting for lunch, but you can eat as much as you like from a selection of hot and cold vegetarian dishes and drinks for US$12.
Water and waste food is recycled and the restaurant grows most of its own food. Wed-Sun 1000-1745, but in practice you may not be allowed in after 1530, US$5, T442516/18. Getting there: Km 3.5, Carretera Rocío, south of the city in Arroyo Naranjo, beyond Parque Lenín. Many hotel tour desks now organize day trips including lunch for US$25, better value than going independently and probably less effort. Taxi from Old Havana US$15-18 one-way.
Varadero: All hotels, restaurants & excursions must be paid in US dollars. Don’t bother to buy any pesos for your stay here. Book excursions at any hotel with a Tour Agency office.
There are many sailing tours to the offshore cays. The Jolly Roger, T667565, is a comfortable catamaran, US$70 including lunch and open bar, good food, several stops for snorkelling or beaches. Ask for a detour to the dolphinarium on Cayo Macho if it is not already included and if your fellow passengers agree. It is isolated, apparently in the middle of nowhere, with large pens for the dolphins. n US$5 for a show, US$5 to swim with them.
Cayo Mono lies five nautical miles north northeast of Punta de Morlas. During the nesting season in mid-year it becomes a seagull sanctuary for the ‘Gaviota Negra’ (Anous stolidus) and the ‘Gaviota Monja’ (Sterna fuscata and Annaethetus), during which time you can only pass by and watch them through binoculars.
Varasub I, a Japanese semi-submersible carrying 48 passengers, has six daily departures, adults US$25, children US$20. Reservations can be made with Havanatur representatives or the Varasub offices: Avenida Playa 3606, entre 36 y 37, T667279, and others. The Mundo Mágico submarine goes down to a depth of 35m with 46 passengers for 55 minutes. It leaves from the Dársena Marina, T668060-5. You can also see underwater by taking a trip on the glass-bottomed boat, Martín, which does a three-hour tour over the reef, open bar and snorkelling equipment.
On the road to Trinidad between the villages of San Antón and Guaos, 15 km east of Cienfuegos, is the Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos, a national monument founded in 1901 by Edwin F Atkins, the owner of a sugar plantation called Soledad, nowadays Pepito Tey. Atkins turned over 4.5 ha of his sugar estates to study sugar cane, later including other trees and shrubs which could be used as raw materials for industry. Different sections of the gardens are devoted to areas such as medicinal plants, orchids, fruit trees, bamboos and one of the world’s most complete collection of palm trees. 0800-1700 every day, US$2.50, children US$1, bar for drinks. The entrance is not well signed, look out for 2 rows of palm trees leading to the garden from the entrance at the road.
Playa Rancho Luna is about 18 km from Cienfuegos, near the Hotel Rancho Luna. The beach is quite nice but nothing special. The Centro de Buceo Faro Luna runs the diving here. If you continue along the road past the beach you get to the Hotel Pasacaballo.
There is a jetty here and another further along a rough track to the left, from where you can get a little ferry (US$1) across the mouth of the Bahía de Cienfuegos to the village on the western side, site of the Castillo de Jagua. The castle was built at the entrance to the bay in 1733-45 by Joseph Tantete, of France. There is only one entrance via a still-working drawbridge across a dry moat. 0800-1700 every day, entrance US$1 includes a tour.
Trinidad: Inland from Trinidad are the beautiful, wooded Escambray mountains, whose highest point is Pico San Juan, also known as La Cuca, at 1,140m. Rivers have cut deep valleys, some of which, such as the Caburní and the Guanayara, have attractive waterfalls and pools where you can swim.
The Parque Natural Topes de Collantes is a 110 sq km area of the mountains which contains many endemic species of fauna and flora. There are several paths in the area and walking is very rewarding with lovely views and lush forest. There is no public transport but day trips are organized to Topes de Collantes by Cubatur or Rumbos by jeep or truck, which take in swimming in a waterfall. You can see lots of wildlife, butterflies, hummingbirds and the tocororo, the national bird of Cuba. A great day out. Private tours do not go to the same places as jeep tours, whatever anybody tells you.
Rumbos will also take you to the Torre de Manaca Iznaga in the village of the same name about 15 km from Trinidad on the road to Sancti Spíritus, or you can hire a private car to take you for about US$10 or you can catch a train heading to Meyor or Condado, US$7 return, to Manaca Iznaga. The tower, built between 1835 and 1845 is 43.5m high, has seven floors and 136 steps to the top. It was built as a lookout to watch the slaves working in the valley at the sugar mills. It has UNESCO World Heritage status alongside Trinidad city, because of its historical importance. There is a great view of the surrounding countryside, including the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) and the Escambray Mountains as well as the roof tops of the village below. 0900-1600 or 1700, US$2.
The lagoon in the Bahía de Naranjo has a small marina, where sailing trips and fishing expeditions can be arranged. Near the mouth of the lagoon is an aquarium, 10 minutes by boat from the dock, with dolphins and a sea lion, and a restaurant.
West along the coast, Playa Pesquero is a lovely sandy beach, the east end is better for children as there are strong currents and deceptive sand bars to the west. There is a lifeguard on duty even out of season. The 309-room LTI Costa Verde Beach Resort (Gaviota), and the Sol Club Playa Pesquero, opened in 1999-2000.
A few km from Guardalavaca on a hill with a wonderful view, is the Museo Aborigen Chorro de Maita, a small but well-presented museum displaying a collection of 56 skeletons dating from 1490-1540, exactly as they were found. One is of a young Spaniard of about 22 years of age with his arms crossed for a Christian burial, but the rest are Amerindians, buried in the Central American style, lying flat with their arms folded across their stomachs. Tue-Sat 0900-1700, Sun 0900-1300, US$1 per photo, plus US$5 per film, small shop with souvenirs.
The Museo Indocubano Bani, Gen Marrero 305 y Av José Martí, in Banes has a good collection of pre-columbian artifacts, probably the best in Cuba. Tue-Sat 0900-1700, Sun 0800-1200, US$1. The town of Banes was originally the site of the Bani chieftancy and the museum contains treasures discovered by the many archaeological digs in the area. Read more at http://www.ciudaddeholguin.org/en/architecture/museum-indocubano-bani.html
Santiago de Cuba
South of Santiago: The Ruta Turística runs along the shore of the Bahía de Santiago to the Castillo del Morro, a clifftop fort with the Museo de la Piratería, a museum of the sea, piracy and local history, charting the pirate attacks made on Santiago during the 16th century. Pirates included the Frenchman Jacques de Sores and the Englishman Henry Morgan, and you can see many of the weapons used in both attack and defence of the city (closed for renovations, T91569). You can wander around the fort, US$3, even if the museum is still closed. From the roof you can admire the thrilling views over the Bay of Santiago and Cayo Granma and you can follow some 16th-century steps almost down to the waterline. There is a good restaurant on a terrace with a great view, main dish US$6. Turistaxi to El Morro, US$10 round trip with wait.
East of Santiago Excellent excursions can be made to the Gran Piedra (26 km east) a viewpoint from which it is said you can see Haiti and Jamaica on a clear day, more likely their lights on a clear night. It is a giant rock weighing 75,000 tonnes, 1,234-m high, and reached by climbing 454 steps from the road (only for the fit). The view is tremendous and buzzards circle you. US$1 to climb. There are no buses but a private car will charge you about US$15 there and back (hotel tour desks will arrange a tour, good value).
Some 2 km before La Gran Piedra are the Jardines de la Siberia, on the site of a former coffee plantation, an extensive botanical garden; turn right and follow the track for about 1 km to reach the gardens. The Museo La Isabelica is at Carretera de la Gran Piedra Km 14, a ruined coffee plantation once owned by French emigrés from Haiti, the buildings of which are now turned into a museum housing the former kitchen and other facilities on the ground floor with farming tools and archaeological finds. Upstairs is the owners’ house in authentic 19th-century style. Tue-Sat 0900-1700, Sun 0900-1300, US$2.
On the Carretera Siboney at Km 13½ is La Granjita Siboney, the farmhouse used as the headquarters for the revolutionaries’ attack on the Moncada barracks on 26 July 1953. It now has a museum of uniforms, weapons and artefacts used by the 100 men who gathered here the night before, as well as extensive newspaper accounts of the attack. Tue-Sun 0900-1700, T9836, entry US$2.
Siboney, 16 km east of the city, is the nearest beach to Santiago with a reef just offshore which is great for snorkelling. Take bus 214 from near bus terminal. Very crowded at weekends. At Km 24 is the Valle de la Prehistoria, a huge park filled with life-size carved stone dinosaurs and stone age men. Great for the kids but due to the total absence of shade it is like walking around a desert. Take huge supplies of water and try to go early or late. Entrance US$2, extra US$1 to take photos.
Daiquirí beach (turn right at Km 25) is beautiful and quiet but the resort there is now reserved for the military. The next beach, 1 km after Daiquirí, is Culebrín, featuring a seawater swimming pool and a few tourist facilities like cabins. Continuing east at Km 35 is Comunidad Artística Verraco, a small artists’ community, where you can buy original artwork.
An Aquarium and Dolphinarium on this stretch of the coast has three sea-lion and dolphin shows daily, at 1000, 1130, 1445, however small the audience. The show is of a high standard and visitors are invited to dive in and play with the dolphins for an extra US$20, for about 10 minutes. The aquarium has many species of fish as well as turtle and sharks (feeding time is spectacular). There is a basic refreshment bar where you can get a sandwich for US$1 and a beach with trees for shade but no facilities. US$5. Laguna Baconao is a large murky lake in a beautiful setting. Flanking the lake is a crocodile sanctuary, but they are kept in small enclosures with barely enough water to drink. US$1 to enter the Laguna Baconao area, which includes a boat ride to a floating bar in the middle of the lake.
West of Santiago: Ten km west of Santiago is El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (‘El Cobre’) where the shrine of Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, is built over a working copper mine. The story goes that in the 17th century, three fishermen were about to capsize in Nipe Bay, when they found a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary floating in the sea. Their lives were saved and they brought the statue to its current resting place above the altar. Downstairs there are many tokens of gratitude left by Cubans who have been helped by the Virgin in some way. There is a pilgrimage here on 12 September. Watch out for the touts; probably best to take a bit of copper and offer 50 cents or some pesos, otherwise they will be waiting for you when you leave the church. There is no bus, so either hire a car and driver, about US$8, or get on a truck at the bus station for a few pesos.
West from Santiago runs a coastal road along the Sierra Maestra with beautiful bays and beaches, completely deserted, some with black sand. It is only possible to visit by car. Many of the villages have connections with revolutionary events. El Uvero, about 60 km from Santiago, has a monument marking the attack by Castro and his men on the Batista troop HQ on 28 May 1957. The building which was attacked is now a small museum. About 20 km further west is a turning for Pico Turquino (1,974m), just before the village of Ocujal. You can drive a short distance and park and walk. This is the highest peak in the Sierra Maestra.
At Pilón (pop: 12,000) a small town with a harbour, the road turns inland towards the Golfo de Guacanayabo past Ojo de Agua. After the village there are three separate signs and plaques marking the spots where three groups of men who disembarked from Granma crossed the road in underground water conduits, before heading into the Sierra Maestra. The road follows the Río Sevilla to join up with the Manzanillo-Niquero road running down the other side of the peninsula to Cabo Cruz at the tip. Turn left to Niquero from where a dirt road leads to the spot where Castro’s 82 revolutionaries disembarked from the yacht, Granma, on 2 December 1956 in a mangrove swamp just southwest of Playa Las Coloradas. By the road is a small park where a replica of Granma can be seen and a 2 km concrete path through the swamp takes you to a rather ugly concrete jetty and a plaque marking the occasion. The dirt road ends at Cabo Cruz at the tip of the peninsula.
Isla de La Juventud
The Presidio Modelo (the Model Prison), 4 km east of Nueva Gerona in Reparto Chacón, was built by the dictator Machado to a high-security ‘panopticon’ design first developed by Jeremy Bentham in 1791 to give total surveillance and control of the inmates. It is a sinister and impressive sight; wander around the guard towers and circular cell blocks, and see the numbered, tiered cells. Inmates have included many fighters in the independence struggle, Japanese Cuban internees in the Second World War, and Fidel Castro and fellow Moncada rebels imprisoned 1953-55. He closed the prison in 1967. Open Mon-Sat 0800-1700, Sun 0800-1300, US$2, cameras US$1.
The Cueva del Punta del Este contains paintings attributed to the original Siboney inhabitants. They were discovered in 1910 by a shipwrecked French sailor and contain 235 pictures on the walls and ceilings, painted long before the arrival of the Spanish. They are considered the most important pictographs in the Caribbean and have been declared a national monument. It is believed that they might represent a solar calendar. The only way to get there is by organized excursion. US$92 flat rate divided between however many passengers there are.
The Cocodrilo crocodile farm is a one-hour drive (any car) south and west from Nueva Gerona, including several km of dirt road. Guided tour (in Spanish) of the hatchery and the breeding pens where the crocodiles stay for 4-5 years until they are released. Entry US$3.