By Joy Martin /

CubaBlog

Lose track of time. Find Cuban bliss.  

Get lost in the allure of the Caribbean’s coolest destination and find joy in the world’s most recent hot ticket for adventure travel: Cuba. Hike by day, dance by night, and all the while discover a history, people, and place that even a cosmopolitan cowboy like Hemingway couldn’t get enough of. For your next trip-of-a-lifetime, feast your senses on these 14 classically-Cuban crazes:

14. Havana Vieja: An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Havana represents nearly 500-years of historical importance and colonial grandeur. Stroll along the Malecon, people-watch on Calle Obispo, and let your hips get swept into the romance and grooves of salsa music carried on sea breezes.

13. Wildlife: Besides matchstick-legged flamingos, biologists are constantly discovering new species on Cuba’s sprawling archipelago. Some of our favorite endemic creatures, however, include the Monte Iberia Dwarf Eleuth (the smallest frog in the northern hemisphere), the super-cute Cuban Tody (Todus multicolor), and the bee hummingbird (the smallest known bird in the world).

12. Playa Giron: Known for the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion, this former epicenter of the Cold War is now a world-famous dive site, welcoming explorers to don fins and masks and investigate a flourishing coral reef. After a day of smile-inducing snorkeling, diving, or lounging on nearby Playa Larga, enjoy freshly-caught seafood and hard-earned mojitos to the sound of lapping waves and sun-kissed travelers.

11. Yuca fingers & Malanga fritters: Cuba’s versions of the French fry, these salty roadside snacks are best dipped in Tamarindo ketchup.

10. Las Terrazas: This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and pioneering eco-village is the perfect escape from the buzz of Havana. Home to 117 different bird species, including Cuba’s national bird, the tocororo, enjoy lilting songs as you trek along hibiscus-, bamboo- and palm-lined trails, cooling off in clear pools along the way. This reforestation project dates back to 1968, aiding Cuba’s green – not red – revolution.

9. Cigars: What’s a trip to Cuba without visiting tobacco fields and a cigar factory? After driving past and trekking through numerous tobacco fields around the country, checkout the historic Francisco Donatien Cigar Factory, where 58 cigar rollers proudly produce Trinidad and Romeo y Julietas cigars in the fascinating rooms of a former prison. Purchase some at Casa del Tobacco across the street.

8. Leaping lizards: The leaping Cuban crocodile found only in Cuba is considered to be the most aggressive and fastest of the New World crocs, known for jumping out of the water and into overhanging trees to catch small mammals. Catch a glimpse of these powerful creatures (from a safe distance!) at Cienaga de Zapata, a designated national park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

7. Casas particulares: Much like a bed and breakfast, these private accommodations and homestays provide an amazing way to connect with the Cuban locals. Spend the mornings over a cup of coffee and light meal practicing your Spanish and learning about the lifestyles of those experiencing the “real” Cuba.

6. The Malecon: The town of Cienfuegos, Cuba’s Pearl of the South, captures the soul of the Caribbean with its French flair and musical vibes. Much like the Malecon in Havana, this promenade comes alive as the sun sets and artists and poets flank the walkway as lovers stroll arm-in-arm along the seawall of one of the world’s finest natural bays.

5. Finca Vigia: Of course, when in Cuba, you should wander the grounds of Ernest Hemingway’s former estate. This famous locale is where the surly writer penned The Old Man and the Sea and finished off For Whom the Bells Toll. The house-turned-museum is nearly the same as Hemingway left it when he moved back to the states in the early 60’s.

4. Sandwiches & such: Sandwiches? Yes. No trip to Cuba is complete without sampling a Cubano, which consists of roasted pork, melted Swiss cheese, mustard, and dill pickles served on a sweet, eggy bread. If you’re looking for something more traditional, opt for ropa vieja or moros y cristianos. And for dessert? Why, tropical fruit, naturally!

3. Valle de Vinales: This UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches across the tobacco fields of Pinar del Rio and boasts gorgeous, towering limestone domes. Below the sweeping vistas, Vinales hides numerous caves and caverns open to the curious who wish to walk amongst the stalactites and stalagmites of the underworld.

2 .Parques: From the waterfalls and forested trails of El Cubano and Javira to the swimming holes and pine-clad mountains of Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, Cuba’s outdoor paradise beckons to hikers, bikers, cliff-jumpers, and birders.

1. Sunshine: Primetime weather for Cuba travel is from November to April, when temperatures average a balmy 70-degrees. For landlubbers, this is the perfect climate for exploring the old-growth rainforests, rolling mountains, and protected wetlands of Cuba’s wild interior. Meanwhile, sea-faring folks will enjoy the warm waters, coral reefs and stunning coastlines of the northern Caribbean Sea by boat or fin.

 

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