16 Highlights Of East Cuba

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

I knew very little about Cuba before my visit. Yes I ‘knew’ about Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the Embargo and the classic cars. But I knew next to nothing about the varied nature of the country. Or about the Cuban people. About the history of the country. And how that turbulent history shaped the society…

Highlights of East Cuba

Not knowing what to expect is perhaps the reason I fell pretty hard for Cuba. Even though I only spent 9 days in Cuba and explored only a small part on the east side of the country, Cuba offered so much more than I had anticipated!

1. Diving in Guardalavaca

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

Since getting my PADI in El Nido, the Philippines last year I have been crazy about diving! Since there is not so much diving to be done in the Netherlands (not much to see except in the Oosterschelde) it had been more than 9 months since my last dive on Koh Tao, Thailand. It was awesome to be back in the wonderful underwater world, floating weightless among colorful fish, hearing nothing but the sound of my own breathing.

2. Catching a ride in a classic car. Or an ancient Lada…

We wanted to ride in a beautiful classic car that are so plentiful in Cuba. But somehow we ended up in an ancient Lada and it was one of the most fun rides of my life!

Classic Cuban car oldtimer
Unfortunately our Lada was a little less pretty than this gorgeous blue classic car!

The moment we got into the car the antenna fell off. We drove for 500 meters before the driver got out and said he needed to fill up the tank first. Looking around I didn’t see a petrol station in the vicinity. But within a minute the driver was back with a large tank containing petrol, which he apparently got from his own garage. He opened the trunk of the Lada (I didn’t know there were cars with the tank in the trunk!) and started filling up the car. Once we had plenty of fuel to get to our destination, the driver hopped back in the car, drove another 200 meters before pulling over and loudly called the name of a friend hanging out in a bar we were parked in front of.

Vayas conmigo? Vamos a Guardalavaca!

And thus his friend hopped in and off we went. Within 2 seconds there was Cuban reggaeton booming from the ancient speakers and within 3 seconds our driver and his friend were engaged in a lively conversation, talking loudly (some may even call it yelling;-) with their hand and feet about their recent adventures. Something about the brakes of the car that broke down… I didn’t catch enough of the rapid-fire Spanish to understand it all, probably for the best;-).

It seemed like the car was going really fast, but I think that was mostly because it was very loud. As the speedometer was broken I have no clue what our actual speed was!

Classic oldtimer cars in Cuba
Again, how did we end up in a Lada instead of one of these beauties?!

Bouncing on the beats and over the bumpy road to Guardalavaca my mother and I looked at each other and were both smiling. In any other country, getting into a cab with two men late in the evening might not seem the greatest idea. But in Cuba I didn’t feel unsafe for a single moment.

Both men were very friendly, asking us repeatedly if the music bothered us or if they were speaking to loud and the driver slowed down whenever oncoming traffic was in sight. We were safely delivered to our hotel and I can truly say this is one of my most memorable rides.

That being said, I am not saying there is no crime at all in Cuba and you should always decide for yourself how you feel about a situation.

3. Ride in a horse drawn carriage

Horse drawn carriage Cuba

When I landed in Cuba and first saw the horse drawn carriages I thought it was like other countries, where this way of transportation is only used by tourists. However, after walking around in Cuba for a couple of hours I was proved wrong. The horse drawn carriages in Cuba are similar to a public bus, being used by locals as well!

4. Sharing is caring

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

Keeping with the transportation theme: in a country with a mere 80 cars per 1000 inhabitants you have to be creative in getting around and you can’t be too picky. That means pretty much everything that moves is used for transport. And not just used. Shared. Everybody hitchhikes in Cuba! From men going to their job, women with children and old ladies going who knows where. Also, every vehicle is used for hitchhiking, be it a scooter, tractor, bus or truck. A lack of resources certainly makes for creative solutions.

5. Go on a jeep safari

Jeep safari Pinares de Mayari Cuba

We went on a jeep safari to Biran and Salto del Guayabo and drove over dusty and roads, through tiny villages and along beautiful scenery. While listening to Cuban music and talking with Julio, our driver, and knowledgeable guide Oscar. What an excellent day!

6. Learn about Cuban history

Cuban history reminders of the Revolution

As I admitted at the start of this post, I didn’t know nearly enough of Cuban history. When we were driving in the aforementioned jeep, our guide Oscar told us a lot about Cuban history and the development of the country throughout time.

One of the things I didn’t know is that when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba did too. As 85% of Cuban export used to go to Russia you can imagine the impact this had on the lives of the people living in Cuba. A very difficult period in the turbulent history of the country…

7. Visit the village of Biran

Biran Fidel Castro Village Cuba

It was very interesting to visit the village of Biran, where on the 13th of August 1926 Fidel Castro was born. Fascinating to see how the Castro family lived and how different Fidel’s ideas and philosophies were compared to those of his father Angel, a poor immigrant from Spain who built an empire from scratch and who hoped Fidel would become the family’s lawyer…

8. Cool off at Salto del Guayabo

Salto del Guyabo Cuba

The Salto de Guayabo is about 100 meter high and the tallest waterfall (or cascada in Spanish) in Cuba. The beautiful waterfall can be found in Parque Nacional la Mensura. Because the park is located on a 550 meter high table mountain, it’s a little cooler than the rest of Cuba. The park has its own microclimate and you can find rainforest and a lot of different ferns.

Fun fact: did you know there are more than 700 types of ferns in Cuba!? That’s even more than in New Zealand, the country whose national emblem is a fern!

9. Listen to Cuban reggaeton

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

Cubans are very musical people and it’s therefore not strange there is music everywhere. Walking along the streets, sitting in a bus, a bar or a boat, you hear Cuban reggaeton everywhere. One of the most popular bands of the moment is Gente de Zona. Look them up on YouTube!

10. Talk to local people and learn about their lives

Meet the locals in Cuba

I speak a little Spanish which enabled us to talk to a lot of people. For example Hugo, the wonderful cook in our hotel who invited us into his home and introduced us to his family. And guide Oscar, who taught us about Cuban history and society. Or friendly Maurice, who lead us to our beautiful Casa Particular in Santiago de Cuba. Little Manuel and his lovely mother, who walked with us around the tiny village of Guarda la Piedra.

And all the other kind people who happily welcomed us to Cuba, their city, home, bar, restaurant or taxi and shared their stories with us.

11. Explore Santiago de Cuba

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second city with a population 400.000+ people. It’s also the hottest city in Cuba and said to be the most musical one. Home to trova music, the traditional son dance, colorful buildings and noisy traffic it was an interesting place to spend 2 days.

12. Stay at a casa particular

Stay at a Casa Particular in Cuba

I’ll write more about Santiago de Cuba soon, but during our 2 days in this bustling city we stayed at a Casa Particular. We were welcomed into the house of our friendly hostess and got an awesome room with a roof terrace. Our lovely hostess cooked us a delicious Cuban dinner and extensive breakfast and made sure we felt at home.

It was a very special experience to stay in somebody’s house and be a part of their regular day and life, albeit for a very short time.

13. Take a boat tour in Santiago de Cuba and get stranded

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

You can read more about this incident here but long story short: we were cruising around the harbor of Santiago de Cuba on an old boat with a group of Cubans and us being the only tourists. The rum was flowing, Cuban reggaeton was beating from the speakers and all the friendly Cubans were basically lining up to talk to us. We were having a blast! And then our boat broke down and we ended up floating around for an hour and a half…

One of the most important lessons of my 5 month trip is to let go, enjoy the moment and just wait what happens because everything will usually work out fine. Which it did. It just meant our boat trip was a little longer, which gave us more time to talk with the people on the boat. Very. Much. Fun.

14. Relax at the beautiful beach

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

Need I say more…

15. Watch a beautiful sunset

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

Travel… Explore… Enjoy… Experience…

16. Go offline

highlights of east cuba

There is very little internet in Cuba, which meant I spent the entire week offline. It was nice to be away from it all, particularly since I have found myself been online more and more since I started Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog.

I love writing on my blog, don’t get me wrong! But it was nice to disconnect, talk with my mother, read a book, stroll over the boulevard or just gaze over the ocean without any desire to check my email, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account.

Nevertheless, I am happy to have Internet again so I can share my experiences in Cuba with you!

Planning on visiting Cuba soon?

Guide Oscar
My mother and I went on 2 tours with guide Oscar and if you are looking to do some tours, excursions, road trips or looking for a casa I highly recommend getting in touch with him. He knows so much about Cuba and enthusiastically shares his knowledge and stories with you in perfect English.

His email address is oscar.cala at nauta.cu and his phone number is +53 52 38 92 96.

Clothes and shoes
Also, if you are going to Cuba consider taking some clothes with you that you no longer wear to give away. Did you know that a pair of jeans costs about $25 dollar in Cuba? This is the equivalent of a monthly wage for most Cubans. You can imagine this makes it very difficult for many people to buy clothes.

If you happen to have clothes or shoes you don’t need, take them with you and give them away. This frees up plenty of space in your luggage for the way back so you can buy some great souvenirs ;-).

Are you an American planning a visit to Cuba?
Check out this this complete guide by Laura detailing how to go about planning your trip to Cuba as an American.

Planning a solo trip to Cuba?
Emily shares her experiences, tips and tricks from a 3 week solo trip around Cuba (info about transport, accommodation, do’s and dont’s).

Have you been to Cuba?
I love to hear about your experiences!

Not knowing what to expect is perhaps the reason I fell pretty hard for Cuba. I explored a part of east Cuba which offered plenty of highlights! From diving in Guardalavaca to sightseeing in Santiago de Cuba. From taking a jeepsafari to the Salto del Guayabo waterfall to riding in an ancient Lada, East Cuba has a lot to offer! Not knowing what to expect is perhaps the reason I fell pretty hard for Cuba. I explored a part of east Cuba which offered plenty of highlights! From diving in Guardalavaca to sightseeing in Santiago de Cuba. From taking a jeepsafari to the Salto del Guayabo waterfall to riding in an ancient Lada, East Cuba has a lot to offer!

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  1. April 6, 2016 / 9:29 am

    You certainly paint a colorful and intriguing picture of Cuba! It definitely sounds like my kind of destination. 🙂 And love the idea of giving away clothes and shoes – very nice gesture! 🙂

    • Lotte
      April 6, 2016 / 11:11 am

      Thanks Liz! I can highly recommend visiting, the sooner the better…

  2. Hedwig
    April 6, 2016 / 12:20 pm

    Beautiful, I love Cuba! And it’s very photogenic:).

    • Lotte
      April 6, 2016 / 1:28 pm

      It’s so photogenic! I am looking forward to hearing your stories about Cuba when we meet up:-)

  3. April 7, 2016 / 11:08 am

    Hi! I really like this post, it’s really interesting.
    This article is so original and the photos are so good 😉
    You’ve included in few words the essential things to see and to do.
    Well done!

    • Lotte
      April 7, 2016 / 11:56 am

      Thanks, that’s really nice to hear! Glad you enjoyed the post and pictures:-)

  4. April 9, 2016 / 12:48 pm

    I am so jealous you went to Cuba!! I have tried to fit it in in the last few years and just haven’t got there – but at least this way I get to read awesome posts like yours which give me so much more insight before I go. I had never considered diving there (silly really, it is an island after all!) and I would love to drive round in a classic car! Looks like you had an amazing trip and will be back before long to explore the west side 😉

    • Lotte
      April 9, 2016 / 3:58 pm

      Thank you for your lovely comment Vicki:-). Great I could give you a snapshot of Cuba! It’s definitely an island worth visiting and I would love to go back and explore more of the country.

  5. April 9, 2016 / 1:51 pm

    I’d have to get a ride in a classic car Lotte. Always my fave aspect of Cuba-themed post. Followed closely by the stunning beach with you shared with us 😉


    • Lotte
      April 9, 2016 / 3:59 pm

      Haha, the cars are very cool;-)

  6. April 9, 2016 / 2:44 pm

    I’ve been hearing a lot about Cuba recently! I would LOVE to ride in a beautiful classic car – that would be the dream. Though didn’t know about jeep safari’s, and the horse drawn carriage sounds like a fun way to get around too. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lotte
      April 9, 2016 / 4:01 pm

      The classic cars are everywhere and come in every color. (Almost) all of them are shiny and beautifully maintained, their owners are really proud of their precious wheels:-)

  7. April 9, 2016 / 8:48 pm

    Cuba also surprised me with the number of things one can do there. Really makes me want to go back!

    I also stayed a few days in the eastern part of Cuba where I finished my trip in Santiago. Didn’t have a chance to visit the coast north of Santiago but did visit a lot to the west, including the Sierra Maestra!

    And I recognize that casa particular 🙂

    • Lotte
      April 9, 2016 / 9:41 pm

      Yes I would love to go back too Hugo! I haven’t nearly seen enough of the country and all the people are so lovely. I read you Sierra Maestra post, I really wanted to go there but without our own wheels it was pretty much impossible. Ah well, maybe next time;-). And what a coincidence about the case in Santiago!

  8. April 10, 2016 / 2:07 pm

    That beach is just calling out to me. I have been reading a lot about Cuba lately, now, I want to go.

    • Lotte
      April 10, 2016 / 3:20 pm

      The beach was phenomenal;-). I can highly recommend visiting Cuba, the sooner the better!

  9. April 10, 2016 / 6:15 pm

    I love those cars!! I’ve been hearing a lot about Cuba recently. And pity that I haven’t been there.
    Whenever I go to mountains, I always carry some clothes and woolens to give to locals. Two direct benefits of this are, you are helping the locals in some way, second is that it reduces the weight of your luggage and makes way for something which you might buy … again to help locals.

    • Lotte
      April 10, 2016 / 9:20 pm

      I agree Nisha! I feel it’s a good way to help without (both giving away clothes as well as buying local goods), better than giving money…

  10. April 11, 2016 / 1:23 am

    I would love to visit Cuba one day soon. It must’ve been great to hear the stories from the locals. How fantastic that you speak enough Spanish to have a good enough conversation with many Cubans, that’s a great gift. Looking forward to reading about the rest of your time there.

  11. Katharina
    April 11, 2016 / 3:02 pm

    Cuba is one of those photogenic locations. every time I see photos of Cuba, I start to drool. And yet it has a bad reputation and isn’t necessarily easy to get into. i think a lot of people get put off. But actually it looks like an amazing destination. i think it is on the rise. more and more people are going.

    • Lotte
      April 11, 2016 / 5:46 pm

      It’s so photogenic! And depending on where you are from it’s not hard to get into at all:-). I’ll write a more detailed post about it, but in general all you need is a passport and a medical insurance declaration.

  12. April 12, 2016 / 11:09 pm

    This is really awesome article Lotte! Cuba looks absolutely a place to be. Looks laidback and pretty chill!

    • Lotte
      April 12, 2016 / 11:25 pm

      Thank you Evan! You are very right: Cuba is laidback, beautiful and worth a visit:-)

  13. April 13, 2016 / 5:25 am

    Love the writings on the sand! I assume you are polishing your Spanish in Cuba. I’ve never been but I plan to visit this year. How do they speak Spanish there? Is it like Mexico?

    • Lotte
      April 13, 2016 / 8:58 am

      Thanks Trisha:-). I was very happy to practice my Spanish in Cuba, it had been so many years since I spoke it (2008…, I’m getting old!). I have never been to Mexico so I wouldn’t know how the Spanish compares but there are definitely some other words and sentences than European Spanish.

  14. April 15, 2016 / 8:16 pm

    Beautiful! The retro cars remind me of the 1960s! Seems like Cuba is attracting a lot of tourism recently.

    • Lotte
      April 15, 2016 / 10:46 pm

      The classic cars are so beautiful! It’s a shame they don’t look like that anymore nowadays…

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