|Photo by Freeimages.com/Maarten De Wispelaere|
The Daily Telegraph, March 21, 2016
14 sights to catch before Cuba changes forever.
As US president Barack Obama continues his historic visit to Cuba, here are 14 highlights of a beguiling Caribbean nation going through a fundamental shift...
1. Wander Old Havana
There are many, many sides to the Cuban capital but it's the enticing Old Havana (La Habana Vieja), a Unesco World Heritage site, which has the city's prettiest buildings. And it's here you should spend most of your time wandering. For an in-depth itinerary to the city, read our guide to spending a weekend in... Havana
Our Caribbean expert Fred Mawer suggests these relaxing places to stay in the city .
2. Take a stroll along Havana harbour
The Malecón - the miles-long promenade on the Havana waterfront - was built to protect the city from the water, and is often used by strolling locals. From here, you can see the 17th-century Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro. This castle's neighbour, the huge 18th-century Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña is the largest fort in Latin America
3. Drink a mojito in the place where it was invented
La Bodeguita del Medio is one of the best known places to drink in the entire country, partly due its celebrated clientele (past drinkers have included Salvador Allende, Pablo Neruda and Ernest Hemingway), and partly due to its most famous invention, the mojito. James Bond enjoyed one in 2002's Die Another Day. Read more
4. Smoke a Cuban cigar
The legendary Cuban cigar looks set to become a lot more commonplace around the world as the geopolitical thaw takes hold. Even non-smokers may be tempted to take a puff in-situ, before the export run begins. Hotel Conde de Villanueva (Mercaderes, corner of Lamparilla; hotelcondevillanueva.com ), with its renowned cigar shop La Casa del Habano (official purveyor of Cuban smokes), is a five-minute walk from the cruise terminal. In February Havana hosts an annual cigar festival ( habanos.com ).
5. The beautiful tobacco heartlands of Viñales
Now see where the tobacco is grown. Rent a car and head west down to Viñales valley, Cuba's most beautiful corner, where striking limestone outcrops rise out of tobacco-growing fields - recommended as a winter-sun destination.
6. The crumbling, colonial town of Trinidad
This is how Telegraph Travel writer, Ian Henderson, describes the town on the south of the island : "The town is a UNESCO heritage site for good reason, attracting coachloads of tourists; old houses filled with the finest crystal and porcelain bought with vast profits from sugar and slaves, crumbling frescos and elaborate facades lining narrow cobbled streets."
7. Santiago de Cuba
Five hundredth anniversaries have been quite the rage in Cuba recently. 2014 was Trinidad's turn, last year it was Santiago de Cuba, the sultry former capital known for its musicality and laid-back spirit.
8. Baracoa, a colonial alternative
A reader summed it up well : "Head for Baracoa, where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492, and the country's first capital. "It's in the far north east of Cuba, 620 miles from Havana. Cobbled streets, single-storey period buildings, funky music and laid-back locals make for a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Glorious isolated beaches are close by virgin rainforest; and overlooking it all is El Yunque, Cuba's version of Table Mountain. Baracoa has its own Malecón, an attractive seaside promenade which ends at Baracoa's statue of Columbus, carved from a giant tree stump. Best of all is the food, richer and spicier than the rest of Cuba; don't miss out on cucurucho, an ambrosia of fruit, nuts, coconut and honey served in palm bark."
9. See the legacy of Che
A certain revolutionary looms large in the iconography and psyche of Cuba - Che Guevara. And the monument in Santa Clara in Cuba is perhaps the best place in the country to appreciate the scale of his hold over the country.
10. Take a motorcycle tour with a Guevara
You can now also even take a motorbike tour with the youngest son of Che Guevara, showing an entrepreneurial spirit that might have concerned his father. Ernesto Guevara's La Poderosa Tours ( lapoderosatours.com ) will run trips for bikers on two routes across Cuba using Harley-Davidsons. See here for more information about the Che Guevara motorcycle tour
11. Home stay with Cubans
In the current Cuba, inexpensive home-stays staying with Cubans (see cubacasas.net ) are part and parcel of the independent travelling experience, along with eating in private houses, called paladares. Try this while you still can.
Although Cuba's big draw is its fascinating colonial and 20th-century history, it does, of course have some marvellous beaches. Varadero is the main resort, the island's most accessible, where the best asset is its fine beach. There are 12 miles of soft white sands and shallow, aquamarine waters.
13. Take a dive
With the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea lapping around the island, it's hard to resist diving in. Try snorkelling at Playa Giron - better known as the Bay of Pigs - or Maria La Gorda, which are both known for their snorkelling potential. A reader recommends a welcoming, comfortable casa just inland from Playa Giron with its own dive school. (Camino Principal, Playa Giron; 00 53 45 984 129; www.playagironcasa.com )
14. San Miguel de los Baños
It has been described as a cross between an alpine village and a ghost town, a once thriving spa village that fell into decline. Now the faded, ruined grandeur can still be wandered around. This image is taken from the interior of the Balneario San Miguel de los Baňos.
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