Yellow Dog offers the best areas to fish in Cuba – Los Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), Cayo Largo, Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), the flats of Las Salinas, and the many cayes and inner lagoons of the Cayo Cruz/Cayo Romano Area. As good as these fishing destinations are, however, no trip to Cuba would be complete without experiencing the country itself – a destination that in many ways has not really changed much since the late 1950s.
A visit to Havana or some of the more rural areas of the country to experience the sights, the sounds, the people, the classic cars, the music, and the culture that Cuba has to offer is what really makes a trip to Cuba special. Havana is an endless playground for things to do and is one of the New World’s oldest, most historic ports.
Founded in the early 1500’s by Spanish conquistadors, Havana is rich with history. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the city’s cultural and historical importance, the Port of Havana was an obligatory stop on the maritime routes from the Americas to the New World, lending the city to influences from Africa and Europe which all contributed to Havana’s rich history. These days, Cubans are friendly and welcoming, and engaging to visitors, especially Americans.
We always tell anglers that you don’t want to go on a trip to Cuba ONLY for the fishing. While the fishing can be good, the cultural side trips are what make for a well-rounded and exceptional trip experience. Here are a few of our favorites both in Havana and a little further afield.
Havana – La Habana
Cuba’s capital city and home to over two million people can be a barrage to the senses. The intoxicating combination of classic American cars, Caribbean heat, narrow streets and crumbling architecture spanning the last 500 years of American and colonial history, communist propaganda, street art, flamboyant outfits worn by Cubans and the beats and rhythms of live music played on every other street corner can be an overwhelming yet exhilarating experience.
The Yellow Dog team has been traveling to Cuba since the late 1980s and we are happy to list a few highlights to check out during a visit to La Habana:
Stroll the Malecon
This iconic stretch of roadway runs along the northern coast of Havana. When storms approach the island, the roadway serves as a protective barrier against the waves and corrosive salt water. In calm weather, the broad sidewalk and seawall provide the locals with a place to escape the heat of the inner narrow streets of Old Havana and socialize or stroll as the sunsets. You can frequently find Cuban fishermen casting into the surf from the seawall.
Take in the Views and Have a Cold Drink on the Rooftops
The Central Park of Havana (called Parque Central in Spanish) is one of the most known and central sites of the city of Havana. Checking out the Pool Bar on the roof of Parque Central, the Kapinsky’s Bella Habana Pool Bar. Grab a cold Cristal or a mojito, bring a camera, and enjoy the views!
Museo de la Revolucion (Museo de la Revolucion)
A must for any history buff, the museo offers the opportunity to see all of the artifacts from the Cuban Revolution – the boat that Fidel, Raul, and Che used to come to the island, old airplanes shot down during the Revolution, and a comprehensive detail about all the events that resulted in today’s communist Cuba.
Half-Day City Tour in an American Classic Car
If you only have one day to explore Havana, we recommend a half-day with a driver and tour guide in one of the city’s many classic cars. You get to do a great overview of the city by visiting iconic places such as the Plaza of the Revolution, the University of Havana, and the Colon Cemetery where it is presumed that Christopher Columbus is entombed.
Tour a Cigar Factory
There are a number of cigar factories in Havana where all the big brands make their cigars. It’s a huge industry in Cuba. The climate in Cuba is the perfect environment for growing premium tobacco. The Cubans are the experts when it comes to tobacco and taking a factory tour, you’ll find out why.
Enjoy a Mojito and Daiquiri
Take a walking tour of Old Havana that is perfect for exploring. The streets there are so tight and narrow that cars can’t get in. It’s a place perfectly suited for bicycles and pedestrians to explore. Be sure to stop into the La Bodeguita where Ernest Hemmingway went to get his mojitos and La Floridita near the park central where he drank daiquiris.
La Plaza Vieja
Just around the corner from La Bodeguita del Medio and a short walk through the streets of Old Havana from La Floridita Bar, is the Plaza Vieja (the old plaza) where a massive church looms over the open plaza. Plaza Vieja was the site of executions, processions, bullfights, and fiestas – all witnessed by Havana’s wealthiest citizens, who looked on from their balconies. It’s a place rich in history and unique architecture that should not be missed.
Visit the Crafts Market (Almacenes de San Jose)
This massive craft market borders the harbor and is a great place to find some art to bring home or simply take in the scene. Havana’s harbor has been a place for trade for centuries, and this warehouse is one of the oldest harborside warehouses in Havana With literally hundreds of artisans showing their work, you are bound to stumble across something that you can’t resist as a souvenir.
The Fabrica de Arte Cubano
Simply put, this nightclub contemporary Cuban art hub is worth the wait to get in the front door. A creative cultural center where art installations rotate frequently and include painters, photographers, jewelers, dancers, and musicians who showcase their craft. Housed in an old cannery building, it’s a place to explore a creative hodgepodge of hallways, staircases and installation pieces showcasing all aspects of a thriving Cuban art scene. Musicians and DJs play there on the weekends where Habaneros congregate for evening shows.
Casa de Musica
A popular music nightlife spot well worth the wait and the gauntlet depending on who is playing that night. Being so popular, it can be hard to get into. Lots of great music is performed on the stage of the Casa de Musica. It’s where all the best musicians play. It’s a great night club where you can see great salsa music and experience the local music scene. It doesn’t open until 11 pm and regularly there is a line around the building to get in. You can wait upwards of an hour and while you do, you need to tolerate getting harassed by locals on the streets that try to sell you things. It’s worth putting up with it cause once inside, it’s an incredible place.
Cojimar is a sleepy fishing village and harbor about 25 minutes east of Havana and an easy taxi ride for the afternoon. . Ernest Hemingway moored his fishing boat ‘Pilar’ in the harbor here and for the 21 years that he lived in Cuba, this was the departing point for his many fishing adventures. It is the port that inspired his iconic novel The Old Man And The Sea. Having a beer at the La Terraza de Cojimar is a nice way to pay homage to one of the most famous authors in Cuba and a dedicated fisherman.
If you have a few extra days or would like to tack on a side trip for a day or two to your trip to Cuba, these are a few of our favorite side trips.
The Viñales valley (incidentally another of Cuba’s UNESCO World Heritage sites) a few hours’ drive west of Havana in the Pinar del Rio province, is notable not only for its dramatic and photogenic landscape but for the traditional tobacco-growing techniques still used to produce some of the world’s finest tobacco.
A broad valley of rich, red earth is surrounded by limestone cliffs rising like islands from the bottom of the valley called “mogotes” some of which can be up to 300m tall. Known as the primary area for growing famous Cuban tobacco, this valley contains very rich, fertile soil and the locals still farm with traditional methods for tobacco including huge drying houses and farming fields with oxen-drawn plows. Visitors can tour the fields and visit with tobacco farmers to see how the tobacco is cured and observe how the famous Cuban cigars are rolled. A side trip to Viñales should include one night and a side trip to see the Mural de la Prehistoria, a huge mural commissioned by Fidel Castro in the early 1960s.
A few hours’ drive from Playa Larga and the flats of Las Salinas, a side trip to walk the cobbled streets of Trinidad can be a great stopover for a night or two. With terra cotta roof tiles, colorfully painted buildings, and cobblestone streets, it’s easy to imagine pirates stumbling the streets in this perfectly preserved Spanish colonial town. Yet another of Cuba’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, Trinidad has been referred to as an open-air museum and is a great side trip if photography and history are of interest, Nearby Playa Ancon (Ancon Beach) is one of the best in southern Cuba and a short taxi ride from the plazas of Trinidad.
If you have any additional questions about arranging for additional tours and side trips during your trip to Cuba, Yellow Dog can help with the details. Contact us for more details.
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