I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ve never had Cuba at the top of my Travel To Do List. The well known fact that Cuban culinary offerings are rather lackluster and that most Canadians plop themselves at an All-Inclusive to soak up the sun never jived with my authentic adventure aesthetic.
This winter Cuba Cruise launched its first seven day circumnavigation sailing which has revolutionized the way tourists experience Castro Country. I was thrilled to hop on board, exploring the islands rich culture and explosive history while wandering through cobbled streets that seem to have been forgotten in time. Whether you are a seasoned Cuba tripper or skeptic like me, there’s no denying Cuba Cruise has changed the game:
- explore hard to reach destinations with an opportunity to travel across Cuba in a comfortable, affordable and accessible fashion.
- visit world famous beaches, six UNESCO World Heritage Sites and four national parks in the span of one week.
- enjoy a different adventure every day by hopping on daily excursions hosted by friendly local guides.
- sail away on the Louis Cristal, a relatively small vessel for Caribbean cruising standards which stops in petite ports that other operators are unable to visit.
- ports of call include Havana, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth and Montego Bay Jamaica.
I boarded the Louis Cristal at Montego Bay Harbour and spent my first day settling into my suite and touring about the boat. After whisking my way through a sports bar, entertainment lounge and casino I headed outside to grab a celebratory “sail away Mojito.” The ships entertainment team offered salsa lessons while tan fans found their perfect light poolside.
After sailing overnight I was happy to be greeted in the morning by warm sunshine that poured over the port of Cienfuegos. I opted to hop on the excursion to Trinidad, a colonial village located a 90 minute drive east.
A Spanish settlement was first established in Trinidad in 1514, but interest in the area was short-lived as the gold mined in the area soon ran out. It wasn’t until the 1580s that the Spanish population rose again and local agriculture took off. By the 1750s the region possessed over a hundred tobacco plantations and a population of almost six thousand.
The sugar boom in the mid-eighteenth century made Trinidad one of the country’s most prosperous cities. Thousands of African slaves were imported to cope with the increasing demands of the industry. Today Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where tourists flock to adventure through a colourful past.
Be sure to explore the cobbled, traffic-free colonial district on foot. Highlights from my visit include:
Lunch at Santa Ana The restaurant is located in a historic prison which offers a breezy cobbled central square, live salsa music and traditional Cuban lunch buffet featuring hearty chickpea soup, grilled fish, roast chicken, beans + rice and ice cold cerveza.
Casa Chichi is a petite pottery house which has been handcrafting ceramics for years. A boutique has been set up on the main floor of the family’s home where guests can watch as mounds of clay are transformed into perfectly round bowls. Be sure to check out the wall over the front door as it is covered in framed photos of famous Cuban dignitaries who have visited in years gone by.
Plaza Mayor is the heart of Trinidad’s colonial old town. Comprising four simple fenced-in gardens, each with a palm tree and dotted with various statuettes, it’s surrounded by pretty painted colonial mansions. Pop into Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad which stands on the north side of the Plaza. The city’s main church is outfitted with impressively crafted altars most of which were created by Amadeo Fiogere a Dominican friar assigned to the church in 1912.
The Municipal Museum of Trinidad is the cities finest although rather sparse compared to international standards. A stroll through the museum features superb examples of nineteenth-century furniture that reflect the wealth and taste of one of Trinidad’s sugar industry families, the Canteros. Don’t leave without heading upstairs, where a spiral staircase leads up into a tower providing fantastic views of the plaza below and surrounding hills.
La Canchanchara Bar is located in one of the oldest buildings in Trinidad, combined with architectural styles from the 18th and 20th centuries. The one drink on offer, the Canchánchara is a perfect thirst quencher in the afternoon. The cocktail is a traditional 19th Century liberation army beverage made of water, lime, honey and rum. It is known as one of the best bars for live music, with a band here most days and nights. A long shady courtyard, lined with squat benches, provides a sociable laid back environment to the end of a long day.
My visit to Cuba was a press trip coordinated by Cuba Cruise. Flights, cruise and excursions featured in this destination guide were complimentary.