Cuba is relatively unknown among European travellers, but for years it has been a popular holiday destination for tourists from North America. With good reason too, because it surely is a wonderful tropical island known for its music, cigars and old American cars. However, Cuba has much more to offer, from historic cities to beautiful national parks. UK and Irish travellers are also eligible for a Cuba visa. This article introduces you to some highlights for planning a trip to Cuba.
Havana is the capital of Cuba. In 2017, Camila Cabello scored an international hit by singing that her heart is in Havana. It is easy to see how you can fall in love with this beautiful city.
Just like many European cities, the liveliest part of Havana is in the historic centre, which is over 500 years old and is said to be named after a local indigenous chief. In and around the Plaza Vieja, Havanaʼs central square, you will encounter colourful historic buildings everywhere. There are several interesting museums with something for everyone. Among other things, you can visit exhibits about the revolution, art, Cuban music and the colonial past. In addition, despite the fact that Cuba has officially been an atheist country since the revolution, there are many church buildings to visit.
On the outskirts of the city lies the district of Fusterlandia. Here it is a lot quieter than in the happening streets of the city centre. In this neighbourhood, artist José Rodríguez Fuster has transformed so much of the area with his artwork that in 1990 it was eventually named after him. Colourful graffiti art, large ceramic sculptures and street drawings can be seen everywhere. Fusterlandia is certainly a feast for the eyes.
To really get a feel for the Cuban lifestyle and culture, you can enjoy Havanaʼs restaurants and nightlife. Cubans are known for their love of music, partying and dancing, and their fun-loving nature and their spirit can be found not only inside but also outside on the streets. Whether you enjoy listening to live music in a tapas restaurant, sipping a tropical cocktail overlooking the sea, or dancing the night away, Havana has it all.
A rooftop view of Havana
Varadero: the blue beach
About a two-hour drive from Havana is one of the largest seaside resorts on the Caribbean Sea: Varadero. Although the sand there is mostly white, this place is nicknamed "Playa Azul", or blue beach. For centuries, Varadero has been the ideal holiday spot for famous people like the infamous gangster Al Capone, whose former holiday home is now a restaurant.
In Varadero, you can relax under a parasol and have a great time swimming. What makes this place particularly unique are the several caves throughout the area where you can jump off the rocks into the ocean.
Because Varadero is not near any big cities, the surrounding nature is still quite preserved. Here you can go on beautiful hiking trails, the highlight of which are many interesting caves.
In the Spanish-speaking world, there are many cities with the name Trinidad (trinity), and Cuba is no exception. Trinidad is older than Havana and is primarily known as an authentic city with features from its colonial past. Because this city has managed to preserve much of its original buildings and appearance, it is on UNESCOʼs World Heritage List. The most visited buildings are the church and the houses around the central square (Plaza Mayor). In Trinidad, you will find that even a normal residential house can be so architecturally interesting that it doubles as a tourist attraction. In addition, there are loads of restaurants and places to stay around Trinidad. The city is located next to Topes de Collantes National Park where you can take hikes through the rainforest past waterfalls and, if you are lucky, you will bump into animals other countries can only find in a zoo.
Diving into the gardens of the queen
“Los Jardines de la Reina” (The Queenʼs Gardens) are located on the seabed at the southern end of Cuba. Although Queen Isabella never visited, this archipelago was named after her by Columbus. It is a protected area where no one lives and where people come to do sport fishing (under strict conditions) or to put on a diving suit and see the coral reefs. There they encounter fish, rays and sea sponges, as well as sharks, including the Caribbean reef shark. Donʼt worry, this reef shark that can grow up to two meters long has more than enough to eat. This reassuring fact makes them especially impressive to swim past.
How do you get to Cuba?
From Europe or the UK, flying is actually the only option for those travelling to Cuba. You can sometimes find direct flights from London, but many flights have a transfer in Paris. You can land at the José Martí International Airport in Havana. There are also flights from London to Santa Marta Airport, near Varadero.
To enter Cuba, travellers need a Cuba visa, regardless of the duration of the trip and the age of the passengers. This means that children also need a visa. The visa must be applied for online, must be applied for online, and you will receive a paper document that you must take with you to Cuba. The approved travel document will then be sent to your home by mail. This way, you save yourself a trip to the consulate. It is also a good idea to keep the visa with your passport once you are travelling.
The Cuba visa is valid for 30 days, which is plenty of time to enjoy all the highlights of the island and also time to spend a few days lying on one of the many beaches.