In our Slow Travel Manifesto we said that one of our most enjoyable ways to explore a new place is to wander aimlessly and be open to what we might come across. In a big city this can be overwhelming and the best way to focus your exploration is to choose a specific neighbourhood. Our favourite cities have distinct diverse neighbourhoods with their own characters, and we gravitate towards areas with independent businesses and restaurants, good food, an artistic creative vibe, beautiful architecture, or a village-like feel.
Planning a trip to Cuba isn’t as simple as it is for Mexico or Central America. Before you go you’ll want to get your visa and money sorted, read up on its complicated history, and do any online planning before you get there as you can’t rely on the internet. Despite taking a bit more effort we think it’s worth it as this vibrant, magical and confusing Caribbean island is unlike anywhere else we’ve travelled.
Gazing at Trinidad from above I’m reminded of a tropical Tuscany. It’s as impossibly picturesque as so many Italian towns and there are the cobbled streets, and the terracotta tiled roofs against a backdrop of rolling green hills. But we’re in Cuba so there are Caribbean flavours: the blue sea in the distance, the palm trees lining the streets, and the one storey houses in bright and pastel shades—saffron yellow, sky blue, pale green, apricot orange and soft pink.
We emerged from the traffic of Havana onto the quiet roads of rural Cuba, driving past bright green rice paddies and tobacco fields, little wooden houses, and horses and cows grazing in the fields. Our fellow road companions were the occasional rusting 50s Buick or a horse and cart, and the the roads were empty of shops and advertising save for large billboards bearing motivational Communist slogans. It was pretty, peaceful, but the scenery really turned to spectacular four hours later as we neared Viñales and got our first glimpse of the bulbous limestone rock formations called mogotes rising from the verdant landscape. Even the rain and grey skies couldn’t dampen the impact of the view.
Many people are surprised that Cuba is not a cheap country to travel in. The average Cuban salary is around $25 a month after all, and travellers expect prices similar to those in Central America. But as we’ve said, Cuba is unlike anywhere else we’ve visited and you can’t expect things to be that straightforward.