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Danielle´s ‘Definitely Different’ Travel Idea

Also Recommended for: Scuba Diving , Beaches, Driving, People, Historic Hotels

What would you do would win a travel budget for a trip to Cuba? Not an easy question but most certainly, a fun one! That question became reality for Danielle, the Dutch winner of the ‘Definitely Different’ Competition offered by Cuba Travel Network during the months of April and May of 2014. She was able to use this budget on all Cuba Travel Networks services…and what a beautiful itinerary she made out of that! Together with her travel companion, she crossed the island in three weeks, visiting some of the most beautiful and interesting spots that Cuba has to offer. Read this travel idea and get inspired by her trip.

Get to know more about how Danielle planned her trip to Cuba by reading her interview with us on our blog: A free ‘definitely different’ trip to Cuba

Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrival in Havana

Let the adventure begin! The hardest part of the trip (the flight) is over and you can start exploring and enjoying your holiday! Danielle requested a transfer to take her to The Hotel Inglaterra, located in the heart of Havana. It is one of Havana’s oldest and best known hotels with classical décor and centrally located at the Parque Central. A perfect hotel if you, like Danielle, arrive late in the evening, as without venturing too far, you can already get a hint of the Cuban atmosphere…sip a mojito at the terrace bar, enjoy some live music, and take in the street scene. After that, tuck in early to be ready to explore Havana the next day.

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Inglaterra  4  from US$276 --> US$122

Day 1 - Arrival in Havana

Day 2 - A Cuban Start

Havana: a city that simply cannot be ignored when visiting Cuba. For most people, Havana is the first stop in Cuba as the main international airport is located here. But pragmatism should not be your only motive for visiting this fascinating city. Its beauty, history, eclecticism, art, chaos, Caribbean vibe and above all, rhythm, are unique in the world.

But Havana can be so vibrant…it can become a bit overwhelming. Therefore, we suggest you take it slow the first day: do like Danielle and take a stroll through Havana Vieja, the old part of town, and visit the squares, parks, and cobblestone streets, before noon. As it gets hotter, find a nice place for lunch, for example, in Plaza Vieja. During the afternoon, you can take a bus tour on the double-decker tourist bus, departing every 15 minutes from Parque Central. This tour will bring you through the whole city, passing by the capital’s main attractions, such as, ‘La Plaza de la Revolución’, while you just sit back and enjoy the Caribbean breeze. Another option is to take a spectacular city tour in a 2-hour excursion in a classic car, which will also take you to the most famous parts of town. Instead of feeling like a tourist, you will have the sensation of being a fifties Hollywood star as you whiz along the Malecón, the seaside boulevard.

Returning in the afternoon, you can enjoy a true Cuban dinner at Doña Eutemia. Doña Eutemia is a tiny little paladar (private restaurant) around the corner of Plaza de la Cathedral. Here, you will get the feeling of eating food prepared by your grandmother and dining in her living room. Be sure to make a reservation beforehand as it is one of Havana’s most popular restaurants.

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Inglaterra  4  from US$276 --> US$122

Excursion Private City Tour in Vintage Car - Morning Drive

Day 2 - A Cuban Start

Day 3 - Let Your Interests Be Your Guide

On your first day in Cuba, you got a taste of Havana’s vibe! Now it is time to explore some more! Havana is known for its rich cultural life…if you’re interested in history, ‘El Museo de la Revolución’ (the revolutionary museum) shouldn’t be missed. Or, if you’re an art-fan, the ‘Bellas Artes’ museum is a must, especially the ‘Edificio Cubano’ which houses Cuban art. But museums are not enticing to everybody and you might wonder what else you can do in a city that is so full of possibilities. So was Danielle. We would suggest letting your own interests guide you through the city. Danielle’s travel companion, Whitney, for example, is an enthusiastic boxer and Cuba happens to be a high-ranked boxing country. Unfortunately, there were not any matches during Danielle and Whitney’s stay in Havana, but it was possible to pass by one of the city’s oldest and most important boxing schools, ‘Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo’ (Calle Cuba 815, Habana Vieja). Danielle and Whitney passed by the gym to see if they could watch some training, or possibly join in…

You can let your interests lead you through Havana. From participating in a capoeira class in the open air on the Malecón, to a workshop about the Afro-Cuban religion, or maybe even a Cuban cooking class…everything is possible! Get inspired by our tours but if you have something different in mind, always feel free to contact us and we’ll help you to find the information you need. Also take a look at our ‘What’s on Havana’ guide, which you can download from our homepage, and gives monthly updates about temporary expositions, concerts, and shows in Havana.

If you still have enough energy after exploring your interests, go for a stroll along the Malecón in the afternoon, just as it is starting to cool off. At this hour of the day, beautiful pictures are guaranteed at Havana’s famous boulevard. Walk in the direction of Vedado and stop for a drink on the terrace of Hotel Nacional, where you can sip a mojito while enjoying the spectacular view. Afterwards, you can wander through Vedado, an up-scale area with an entirely different ambience than Old Havana. Many new paladares have opened in this area during the last few years and are definitely worth a try. Visit for example, the classy Café Laurent: a restaurant located on a rooftop terrace with a view over Vedado (Calle M # 257. entre 19 y 21, Vedado).

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Inglaterra  4  from US$276 --> US$122

Day 3 - Let Your Interests Be Your Guide

Days 4 – 6 - Going on an Adventure in Viñales

Time for a change of scenery! After three days of exploring city life, it will be nice to get to see some of Cuba´s nature. Viñales makes for a perfect destination to do just that! Viñales is not too far from Havana and has natural beauty like you’ve never seen before.

The easiest way to get to Viñales from Havana is by car. If you’re staying at Hotel Inglaterra, like Danielle and Whitney, the closest pick-up spots for your rental car would be Hotel Parque Central or Hotel Plaza. A nice idea before leaving on your road trip is to walk through Obispo Street and buy some CD’s with Cuban music. All the rental cars have CD players and you can add extra Cuban flare to your trip.

Danielle stayed at Hotel Rancho San Vicente in Viñales: comfortable accommodations in a peaceful and natural setting. Close to the hotel are the natural pools of the river San Vicente, where hypothermal waters are said to have therapeutic purposes due to their high mineral content. After arriving at the hotel, take a walk to the pools and let your body unite with the natural surroundings. For complete relaxation, you can have a mud-therapy session or a massage when back at the hotel.

The next day is the start of your first entire day in Viñales. Danielle decided to stay two days and three nights in Viñales. If you’re doing the same, it’s a nice idea to take the first day to explore the valley at a quiet pace, and the second day for an adventurous activity. For example, go on a hike through the valley, which is the perfect way to see the main attractions. Pass by a tobacco farmer who will explain all the details of the cigar making process, from growing and harvesting tobacco plants, to drying them and making actual cigars. Even if you’re not a smoker, it is a very interesting process! You can pass by the prehistoric mural, which actually isn’t prehistoric but painted in the sixties, which depicts a prehistoric scene. You can wonder about its esthetics, but, nevertheless, it is definitely an interesting piece of art. For lunch, go to Hotel Los Jazmines, which has a stunning view over the valley…photo op! After that, pass by Viñales most famous and accessible cave, ‘La Cueva del Indio,’ which you can enter for 5 CUC, including a boat tour through the cave. If you tour Viñales with a guide, ask him to bring you to some other caves which are not easy to find on your own but are definitely interesting and exciting. For an afternoon cocktail, pass by a bar just outside town that serves the best ‘coco loco’s’ - rum and coconut milk, served in a coconut.

The next day will be even more adventurous! Danielle was very excited to go horseback riding through the valley in Viñales. Tours can be booked based on level of difficulty and considering how much time you want to devote to the activity. You can arrange this at your hotel but be sure to communicate your specific wishes to your guide. Even if you have never been on a horse before, it is possible to take a horseback tour as the horses are very calm and used to having tourists on their back. Another option can be to go to the biggest cave in Cuba, ‘La Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás’; a spectacular 46 km cave system which is the second biggest on the American continent. It is about 15 km from the town center and basic tours are two hours. You must be accompanied by a guide. Other exciting activities to be considered are mountain biking and rock climbing.

If you’re not much of a meat-eater, like Danielle, dinner times can be difficult in Cuba, where basically all of the meals are either meat or fish-based. However, not in Viñales! Visit the restaurant, ‘Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso,’ where not only is the food is organic, but vegetarian meals are also served. A great dinner option for both meat lovers and vegetarians!

See more about Vinales

We recommend:

Hotel Rancho San Vicente  2  from US$110 --> US$54

Morris Garage MG5

Days 4 – 6 - Going on an Adventure in Viñales

Day 7 - Havana Break

One of the destinations Danielle definitely wanted to visit was Villa Guamá in the province of Matanzas (see day 8). However, driving directly from Viñales to Villa Guamá seemed a bit intense as the roads in Cuba are not always paved well and you will find yourself regularly slowing down for farm animals. Therefore, she decided to return to Havana and spend another night and move on to Villa Guamá the following day. A benefit of this decision is spending some extra time in Havana! If you plan this to be in Havana during the weekend, you can check out and enjoy the capitals’ nightlife.

Plan your departure from Viñales during the morning and stop at Las Terrazas, an eco-tourism village where many artists reside. This quiet environment is lovely for a stroll, visiting some of the local artists, and just overall enjoying the pretty surroundings. It’s also a nice spot for lunch: the vegetarian restaurant ‘El Romero’ serves unique and creative dishes. Top your lunch off with a deliciously brewed coffee at Café de Maria, which she prepares for you with care, and you will have new energy to get back on the road and continue to Havana.

Upon arriving in Havana in the afternoon, first settle into your hotel. Danielle stayed at the eclectic Hotel Telégrafo, which has amazing architecture on the inside and holds interesting history. From there, walk down Paseo the Prado to the Malecón, where Cubans gather to celebrate the start of the weekend. Walk to the Hotel Nacional, but this time settle in front of the hotel by sitting on the Malecón instead of on the hotel terrace. Bring a drink and gather with the locals!

When you’re getting hungry, walk up to Calle 23 and call for a taxi . When you see a big smoke stack with ‘El Cocinero’ on it; you’ve arrived at the new hotspot in town! Have dinner at the El Cocinero, which serves superb food and has a lounge type atmosphere.

After dinner, check out next door, ‘La Fabrica de Arte’ or, ‘The Art Factory’. Here you will find art and photography exhibitions, performances, films, concerts and DJ’s, all mixed together in what feels most like Berlin-underground. Also, the cocktails here are really tasty! La Fabrica de Arte is open from 8 pm to 4 am, Thursday to Sunday. When you want to return home, taxis are waiting as you leave the building.

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Telégrafo  4  from US$166

Day 7 - Havana Break

Day 8 - Immerse Yourself in Nature at Villa Guamá

Villa Guamá was one of Danielle’s dream destinations! She had first visited Villa Guamá 15 years ago and still had strong and wonderful memories of the place. Therefore, she really wanted to visit again and show the place to Whitney as well. And for good reason: Villa Guamá is a unique place in Cuba. Villa Guamá is a reconstruction of a village of Cuba’s indigenous population…and if you find that interesting or not, it is still definitely worth a visit.

Getting there is an adventure in itself. After leaving from Havana, you take the Autopista Nacional until arriving at Jagüey Grande, where you take a right. Go straight until arriving in Boca Guamá, and here, park your car.

What? Yes…Park your car as it is no use to you anymore! Villa Guamá is only accessible by boat…And that is the part of the charm of this place.

You’ll arrive to the hotel by boat. The hotel consists of cabins built on stilts over the water in the middle of nature. The cabins are wooden with palm-leaf roofs; very simple but fully equipped. In the evening, you can take the time to read a book, play a card game, and most importantly, indulge yourself in the natural surroundings. The next morning, it is quite possible you’ll wake up with the sound of a woodpecker nesting next to your window, or a Zunzún (hummingbird) flying around on your veranda. The idyllic setting is not only bird-watchers, but also photographers, paradise! After breakfast, go on a boat tour over the stunning Lago del Tesoro, where a guide will alert you to natural beauties that you probably wouldn’t have notice otherwise.

Villa Guamá is an amazing natural place, but it is one where you should take precautions…because of the aquatic surroundings there are a lot of mosquitos. Be sure to bring enough mosquito repellent with you as it is hard to find in Cuba.

See more about Bay of Pigs

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Guamá  2  from US$74 --> US$54

Day 8 - Immerse Yourself in Nature at Villa Guamá

Day 9 - Wandering Through Trinidad

Trinidad: a phenomenal town with phenomenal location! It isn’t without reason that this small city is the 3rd most visited place by tourists in Cuba. Intimate atmosphere, colonial architecture, cobblestone streets and a great beach close by, are some of Trinidad’s key features. If you are staying here for only one night, like Danielle, we advise you to experience Trindidad in its purest way by just walking around its streets. The city is full of art galleries, and new private restaurants . In addition to that, the sights that the city offers are some of the most picturesque you’ll find in Cuba. Take your camera, stroll the streets…and just enjoy the great vibe of this peaceful city.

At dinner time, a good option is paladar Taberna la Botija (Amargura 71-B, esq. Boca), just around the corner of the main square, Plaza Mayor. The food here is a fusion between Spanish tapas, Italian, grill, and the Cuban kitchen. All the dishes are very tasty and vegetarians can also enjoy themselves here as they serve various vegetarian tapas. Try the fried malanga!

After dinner go the Plaza Mayor. Around the corner (the music will call you), are ‘the stairs of Trinidad,’ on which ‘La Casa de la Música’ is situated. Live bands perform here every evening and people dance fiery salsa on the cobblestone stairs. Here, you’ll spend a Cuban evening like you have never imagined one! Order a mojito (or two) and join the Cubans dancing!

If you still have energy after showing your best moves on Trinidad’s stairs, continue the party and move on to ‘Ayala’, a disco that is located in a cave. Here you can party until the early hours between the stalactites and stalagmites, while moving around to more modern Cuban tunes (reggaeton).

Danielle decided to stay at Finca Maria Dolores, about 3 kilometers from Trinidad’s town center. We can recommend the same and if you do, try to stay around during the next morning in order to experience a bit of the unique environment that Finca Ma Dolores offers. This is a hotel that brings a new concept to Cuba as you stay with a farmer. You will wake up to milk fresh from the cow, and then hop on a horse for a ride around the surroundings of Trinidad. This place is a great stay for those who love nature. However, if you prefer a stay in the center, book a room in a Casa Particular and you will spend the night in a home stay, with a Cuban family.

See more about Trinidad

We recommend:

Hotel Finca Ma. Dolores  3  from US$68 --> US$54

Hotel Casa Colonial 1830  3  from US$40

Day 9 - Wandering Through Trinidad

Day 10 - Get Lost in Camagüey

Entering the city of Camagüey can be tricky business. When the town was first established, it was frequently attacked by pirates. Thus, its residents tried to confuse them by building their streets like a maze. Today, it is still a maze, confusing tourists rather than pirates! Therefore, we suggest you leave your car as quickly as possible and continue by foot through the city.

Unless you’re very well versed in map reading, it is most probable that you’ll get lost here. Not only is the city built as a maze, the street names have changed over the past few years (like in many other Cuban cities) so map reading can be quite confusing. We recommend not even to try it: get carried away and wonderfully lost in Camagüey’s labyrinth. Nicknamed both ‘The City of Churches’ and ‘The City of Parks,’ you are certain that you’ll find churches and parks on your way. Camagüey is Cuba’s Catholic soul, and Catholicism has left its print on its streetscape. The city has probably the highest concentration of churches in Cuba, of which each one is beautiful. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced is by far the most impressive one, with mysterious catacombs you can explore. It also houses an old convent where nuns are still living, although less each year.

Between all the small and crumbling streets, there are many open spaces and parks which are great for relaxing with a coffee or beer (or mojito!). On many of the squares, you’ll find works of art, of which the Plaza del Carmen is the best example, displaying full-size statues of chatting Cubans. Camagüey has a vibrant art scene, probably the best one of Cuba after Havana, and this presents itself not only in a lot of street art, but also in the many galleries and museums. The city has been home to many of Cuba’s most celebrated artists, like poet Nicolas Guillen, whose birth house you can visit. On your stroll through the streets, you are likely to encounter many artists and galleries…enjoy them!

Coincidentally, Camagüey isn’t only Cuba’s second best art scene, it also has the best paladars to offer outside of Havana. For dinner, enjoy a meal at Restaurant 1800, where you are sure to have a great meal in a fabulous environment (also with vegetarian option)!

After dinner, saunter back through the streets and check out Plaza del Gallo. Here, you will find the Hotel Camino del Hierro and where Danielle stayed while in Camagüey. It is a colonial house with an ambiance that fits in flawlessly with that of Camagüey. It makes the perfect place to crawl into your bed at night and have vivid dreams about pirates and artists.

See more about Camaguey City

We recommend:

Hotel Camino de Hierro  3  from US$108 --> US$81

Day 10 - Get Lost in Camagüey

Days 11-12 - Diving at Playa Santa Lucia

Danielle was really looking forward to her first diving experience while on her Cuba trip. Playa Santa Lucia made for a perfect stopover between Camagüey and Guardalavaca, and has the extra bonus that it is one of the best diving spots in the Caribbean. Playa Santa Lucia has the prefect proximity to the world’s second largest coral reef, closest at only 200 meters!

At Playa Santa Lucia, you cannot only have a great diving experience admiring the corals, but with more than 35 diving spots, you can also dive between shipwrecks. And we didn’t even mention the most thrilling experience of all yet: watch how the guides hand feed bull sharks, which can be up to 3 meters long!

To arrange your dive at Playa Santa Lucia, go to the ‘Shark Friends Dive Center’, located between Brisas Santa Lucía and Gran Club Santa Lucía. Here, they will give you all the information you need, determine your level of experience, and see what are the diving possibilities suited for you. The costs for diving start at 30CUC for a single dive, up to 360CUC for a diving course.

Danielle stayed at Hotel Club Amigo Mayanabo, which is a good choice for anyone who enjoys scuba diving. The property is surrounded by lush vegetation and has easy access to the coral reef which holds beautiful multicolored fish and old sunken ships.

Even if you’re not much of a diver, Playa Santa Lucia is still well worth a stopover. The beach here is one of the most stunning in Cuba and can easily compete with Varadero for its beauty, as well as, length. A great place to relax in an intimate environment for a couple of days!

See more about Playa Santa Lucia

We recommend:

Hotel Club Amigo Mayanabo  3  from US$57

Days 11-12 - Diving at Playa Santa Lucia

Days 13-17 - Complete Relaxation at Guardalavaca

It has been an intensive 2 weeks: getting to know a new culture, adapting to the Cuban way of life, travelling all over the island… So, now it’s time for some days of well-earned, ultimate relaxation! Danielle decided to cool off at Playa Guardalavaca since some family friends are living close by. Even if you don’t know anybody in the area, Guardalavaca is highly recommended as a place to visit and is an attraction in itself. Even though it is quite a tourist destination, many Cubans also pick this beach for their holidays. This makes Guardalavaca a more diverse beach and as a result, you’ll feel less like being in a tourist-bubble.

The main reason to go to Guardalavaca is to enjoy the great beach and ocean…and you should spend a lot of your time doing just that! But, if you want a break from lying in the sun and swimming in the bright blue waters, there are some other possibilities. You can go for a stroll through the small village and browse through the local craft market – a great way to collect souvenirs for friends and family. If horseback riding in Viñales got you enthusiastic, you can do it again in Guardalavaca…but this time on the beach! Also, you can choose from a wide variety watersports, such as snorkeling, canoeing, windsurfing, and excursions in a catamaran, and can be arranged at most hotels. If you’re up for a real adrenaline rush, it is also possible to go skydiving with Paracaidismo Guardalavaca (approximately 150CUC).

If you want to go for a day trip, there are two recommendable destinations not too far from Guardalavaca. First, there is the city of Holguin, Cuba’s fourth-largest city. Holguin is abundant with parks, arts, and an overall friendly atmosphere. Have a chat with the locals in one of the parks, or enjoy a game of domino while enjoying a freshly squeezed pineapple juice. The other recommended destination is the small fishing town of Gibara. This dozy village, which hosts a bustling film festival once a year, makes for a nice afternoon escapade as you wonder through the calm streets with its attractive architecture and pleasant people. After that, you can return to your hotel to enjoy a last swim for the day in the pretty, azure ocean.

See more about Guardalavaca

We recommend:

Hotel Club Amigo Atlántico Guardalavaca  3  from US$57

Days 13-17 - Complete Relaxation at Guardalavaca

Day 18 - Going from Guardalavaca to Baracoa

Baracoa is a bit of the odd man out in Cuba, and that’s just what makes it so interesting. Separated from the main island until relatively recently, the Baracoans developed their own culture…Cuban, but yet still unique. This uniqueness is further emphasized by the fairy-tale like nature surrounding Baracoa. No wonder this place was at the top of Danielle’s wish list for where to go in Cuba!

The road from Guardalavaca to Baracoa is not very well maintained, so we advise to get up and out early as the bumpy path may take you some time to maneuver. Not only will a bouncy drive take up some of your time, the natural surroundings here are so beautiful that you might want to make some stops for photo opportunities. While you have your camera at hand, try to pass by Cayo Saetia. This island inhibits a protected wildlife park where over 19 species of exotic animals are walking around freely…a very strange thing to see in Cuba and therefore, worth a visit (you can even see giraffes!).

From Cayo Saetia, it is more or less a 3 hour drive to Baracoa. About 20 Kilometers before arriving at the city center, you will find a piece of almost undiscovered beach, Playa Maguana. At this beach is Villa Maguana, one of Cuba’s most exceptional hotels. This completely ecological accommodations, exists of 4 cabins, each with 4 rooms, spread out over its natural grounds. This is from where Danielle chose to explore the village of Baracoa. From here, it takes about an hour more to reach the city center, again due to bad road maintenance. We suggest that after arriving at the hotel, explore the breathtaking surroundings of the hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon on its lovely grounds and beach.

See more about Cayo Saetia

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Maguana  4  from US$74

Day 18 - Going from Guardalavaca to Baracoa

Days 19-20 - Get Acquainted with Quirky Baracoa

Now…get ready to explore the quirky city of Baracoa! Baracoa was separated from Cuba’s main land until 1964, when La Farola was constructed; a 55 kilometer road that runs through the mountains surrounding Baracoa, and one of the seven civil-engineering wonders of modern Cuba. Baracoa’s separation resulted not only in a distinct culture from Cuba’s mainland, but also in unique cuisine. For example, unlike the rest of Cuba, the Baracoans are not afraid to use spices when preparing food.

The first and foremost thing you should do in Baracoa is eat. Two things you should definitely try here are, the cucurucho, which is shredded coconut mixed with almonds and honey and wrapped in a cone of palm tree leaf, and the batán, which is a dish of crab mixed with mashed banana, lemon and coconut milk, and boiled in banana leaves. If you are brave enough, also try the tiny tetí fish, a regional delicacy. A good place to try these dishes is at La Terraza (Flor Combret 143), a nice restaurant with a spectacular view, where locals and tourists come together to enjoy Baracoa’s traditional dishes. Don’t get too full though, as you should leave some room to try the original Baracoan chocolate. 75 % of all Cuban chocolate is grown in Baracoa and it even has its own brand, surprisingly called, Baracoa Chocolate! This chocolate definitely has the best taste of all the chocolate in Cuba.

After all of this eating, you can spend the rest of the day checking out the streets of Baracoa…enjoy a chat with the friendly people and take in the view of El Yunque, the flat-topped mountain overlooking the town. If you don´t feel like driving all the way back to Villa Maguana in the evening, the recently opened Hotel Rio Miel also makes for an excellent stay.

On your next and last day in Baracoa, it is time to explore the natural attractions. Danielle did this by going on an excursion to the Alejandro Humboldt National Park, home to Villa Maguana and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. The park is said to be the most humid place in Cuba and inhabits over a thousand plant species, making it one of the most diverse plant environments in the Caribbean. You can depart directly from Villa Maguana and opt for a tour by foot or, like Danielle recommends, by boat. After the tour, you can have dinner at Rancho Toa, a peaceful place next to the River Toa, which prepares excellent food.

Another option for active nature lovers can be to climb Baracoa’s symbol, el Yunque. 8 Kilometers up and down doesn’t make for a quick hike, but definitely a beautiful one with a lot of vegetation and wildlife to see on the way. The biodiversity is not as grand as you can find at the Alejandro Humboldt National Park, but the view from the 575m top is stunning as it looks over the bay and three different rivers.

Upon returning to the hotel, all tired from this active day, take the opportunity to enjoy the relaxed surroundings and wonderful beach for the last time, before departing for Santiago de Cuba the next morning. If you do feel up for more action, there is the possibility to rent snorkels at the beach and explore the underwater world in front of Villa Maguana.

See more about Baracoa

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Maguana  4  from US$74

Hotel Hostal Río Miel  3  from US$39

Days 19-20 - Get Acquainted with Quirky Baracoa

Days 21-22 - Dancing around Bustling Santiago de Cuba

Time flies when you’re having fun…and it’s already time for the last stopover before returning to Havana by plane. But the last destination is an exciting one - Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second city and Caribbean heart. After arriving in Santiago from Baracoa, settle down in your hotel and go for some dinner. We can recommend paladar Casa Micaela (at #260 Hartmann, between Maceo and Habana), a paladar that makes you feel like eating in the garden of someone’s home. After dinner, check out Santiago’s nightlife. If you were planning to master some of Cuba’s dance styles, Santiago is the place to do it! Take on the rhythms of the rumba, dance the serene son, or swing to the salsa; Santiago breathes dancing. Classes can be arranged at several places in town, such as La Casa del Estudiante, or Casa del Caribe, and cost between 5 and 10 CUC. But there are always loads of locals who are happy to teach you the basic steps at Santiago’s night venues. So, even if you don’t feel like taking classes, you can participate in some dancing by visiting several bars or clubs. Your best bet is to go to Calle Heredia, where the most musical settings are found. Take your pick between one of the music houses: La Casa de la Trova, La Casa del Estudiante or, just around the corner, La Casa de la Musica, for a dazzling night of dance and music.

Danielle stayed at the basic, but charming, Hotel Libertad, situated at the popular Plaza de Marte. After sleeping in to recuperate from the crazy night before, go upstairs and sip your morning coffee on the rooftop terrace and take in the fabulous view over the Plaza de Marte and the rest of the city. Once you feel like you have regained enough energy, Danielle recommends you to go to the Castillo de San Pedro del Morro. This fort is situated about 10 km south of the city center and is best reached by taxi. Originally built to defend the city, it didn´t serve this purpose for a long time as by the time it was finally finished, the attacking pirates had disappeared. Nonetheless, today, the Morro houses an interesting museum about piracy, El Museo de Piratería. The fort itself makes for a very interesting visit as it consist of elegant architecture with many alleys, corridors, stairs, exhibition rooms, and spectacular views. Lunch can be held at the Morro itself, where you can enjoy a little overpriced meal but it comes with an amazing view. Another option is to take a ferry to Cayo Granma, the island right across the water, which takes about 20 minutes. Here, at this small island, with a slow pace, quiet surroundings and again, astonishing views, you can enjoy fresh seafood at restaurant, El Cayo.

After lunch, walk around the island and see the life of the local fishermen, which runs at a completely different velocity than the life in Santiago’s city center. You can also head back to the mainland and visit Santiago’s majestic cemetery, The Cementerio Santa Ifigenia. Consisting of over 8000 tombs, including those of many important historical figures, gives quite an impression to visitors. Get back to the city center by horse chart and if time allows, explore the many boutiques to stock up on souvenirs before going home.

See more about Santiago de Cuba City

We recommend:

Hotel Libertad  2  from US$42 --> US$26

Days 21-22 - Dancing around Bustling Santiago de Cuba

Day 23-24 - Saying Goodbye to Cuba

Now, the saddest part of the holiday… the last days. You can use your last day in Santiago for a not-so-much-fun job: clean out the car (which is probably necessary after a two-and-a-half week trip) and start packing your bags . And most of all, take advantage of these last days to eat arroz morro (rice and beans) again, savor your last mojito, and breathe in the Cuban atmosphere!

Danielle spent her last night, after flying back from Santiago to Havana, at the Telegrafo Hotel; the same hotel that she stayed in previously in Havana. Her best memories and absolute recommendations for others are the horseback riding in Viñales, and diving in Playa Santa Lucia. She puts those two activities as truly unforgettable experiences. Her favorite hotel was the Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca, although she can also recommend Villa Gaumá in Matanzas, and Villa Maguana in Baracoa. But now, it is time to go back…

If your last day in Havana is during a weekend, like Danielle, you shouldn’t miss out on taking a walk down Paseo de Prado. During the weekend, this avenue turns into an open-air art fair, where painters and sculptors sell their wares and give workshops to children. At the end of Prado, you can have a lovely lunch at Restaurant la Guarida. This restaurant is situated in a house that served as the film set for one of Cuba’s most famous movies, Fresa y Chocolate. It is decorated in vintage and for a large part, still the same as in the film. The waiters are quick and friendly and the food is considered some of the best in Havana. It makes a great setting for an unforgettable last lunch experience!

And then, it’s time to return home…We hope you’ve enjoyed Danielle’s trip as much as we did!

See more about Havana

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Hotel Telégrafo  4  from US$166

Day 23-24 - Saying Goodbye to Cuba
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