For many years Cuba has been on my wish list of destinations.   So close, yet so far, it has been forbidden fruit.  In 1963 diplomatic relationships between Cuba and the United States deteriorated with the Cold War.  The wildly popular hedonistic destination for Americans during the '50s was no longer.  Cuba did not want us nor did our government want us there.  Cuba restricted most other tourism as well at that time, yet reopened its doors to the rest of the world 30 years ago.  After more than 50 years relationships were beginning to thaw under the Obama administration.  It became apparent to Linda and myself that Cuba may open up to United States tourism again. We knew it was time to go.  Now, before the flood gates opened and the country became inundated with American tourists.  From experience, we have learned that once tourism gets a foothold, culture and heritage become a commodity up for sale.   The crowds appear along with the bungee jumps, zip lines, banana rides and banana pancakes.  The experience changes.

There was no way for us to enter Cuba legally from the United States as independent travelers.  With a little research, we discovered there were no restrictions for us to travel there, we just could not do it from the United States.  Aeroméxico had flights to Havana out of Mexico City.  Cool, we had a gateway into Cuba.  We would still need a travel permit and VISA.  Travel permits are only sold at the airport prior to boarding the plane,  We needed a reason for entering the country that would satisfy the Cuban government.  Only one of the 10 official options we were presented with that did not need some form of documentation was "Education".  Perfect, it sounded acceptably vague with lots of room for interpretation.  Linda and I wanted to learn about Cuba.  With plenty of cash in hand, we checked that option and were rewarded with a travel permit.   We knew that on arrival the Cuban government would eagerly accept our American dollars and issue us a VISA.  We were on our way. 

Welcome to Havana

When you think of Cuba, classic automobiles almost always come to mind.  The two are practically synonymous.  Cuba is a living museum of vintage American cars. Cars were never manufactured in Cuba, they were almost all imported from the United States.  When the Cuban Revolution took place in 1959 automobile imports ceased.  At that point, there were almost 150,000 cars in Cuba.  With the 1963 embargo importation of parts ceased as well.  There are still almost 70,000 of these vintage cars still registered and road worthy.  Many are family heirlooms that have been handed down, for at the average wage of $30 per month very few can afford to buy a car.  Although most have intact chassis, upon closer inspection one will notice that trim pieces are missing and the interior usually leaves something to be desired.  Where it really gets interesting is how they have managed to keep them running all of these years.  The Cubans have become masters of automotive innovation and adaptation.   Look under the hood and you may see a Russian Lada diesel motor married to an Argentinian Fiat transmission all hooked to a Chinese Greely drive train.   Most of the beautifully restored cars used for tours in Old Havana are owned by the government and enjoy the luxury of having fully intact drive trains recycled from Japanese manufactured automobiles.

Cuba is a land frozen in time.  Prior to the Cuban Revolution it had the third best economy in the Americas.  Its leader was Fulgencio Batista, a brutal dictator supported by the American government.  Fidel Castro, aided by Che Guevera and supported by the Soviets led a successful revolution and overthrew Batista in 1959.  With Communist Cuba, all growth and industry slowed until it virtually stopped.  The landscape has not changed much in the last 60 years

With nearly 500 years of history starting with Spanish settlement, it has some of the most diverse architectural styles in the world.  As a result of a focused reconstruction program, Old Havana has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The newest buildings in the city are dated to the pre-revolution 1950s.  The most prevalent style is Colonial from the 1800s when sugar was the driving force of the economy.

Its population is mainly of Spanish descent along with a large number who are of African descent from when slaves were used to work the sugar cane industry.  As a result of this mix and the cultural heritage they brought with them, it has become a center for the performing arts.  It would require much longer than the week Linda and I spent there to fully explore all that Havana had to offer.


During the late 1700s and until the late1800's, Trinidad and the surrounding Valle de los Ingenios was one of the wealthiest areas in Latin America.  Sugar was king and with the Bahia de Casida close by for a port, Trinidad emerged as the center of commerce.  With the crash of the sugar boon, Trinidad became a forgotten town that got passed by when modernization began to sweep through Cuba.

If it were not for the occasional vintage 50s car seemingly abandoned along the streets of Trinidad you would think you had been transported back to the  19th century.  Trinidad is said to be the most authentically preserved town in all of the Western Hemisphere.  UNESCO declared it a historical site in 1988.  While walking the streets you can easily imagine it being the early to mid-1850s.  Cobbled streets wind their way between Colonial homes and government buildings dating back to the 18th and mid 19th century. The aroma of BBQ emitting from courtyards hidden behind gates entices the passerby's in for a meal of roast suckling pock. 

Horse drawn carts transport people and goods throughout the town.  Away from the main square, you may see an occasional bicycle taxi roaming the streets.  The sounds of salsa music emit from many of the buildings in the village.  Trinidad is the cultural epicenter for salsa's rhythmic style.   In the distance, the chuffing and hooting of the steam engine pulling the Sugar Train are the only mechanized sounds to be heard. All roads into the village are gated and except for emergency vehicles, all others vehicles are prohibited entrance or operation except for a short period of time during the wee early morning hours.

Santa Clara

When traveling in Cuba it is common to experience the phenomenon of "You can't get there from here. We had no problems getting transportation from Havana to Trinidad.  For whatever reason, it was impossible to find transportation back.  After taking a couple of local buses Linda and I made our way to Santa Clara, the third largest city in Cuba where we would be able to catch a bus back to Havana.  With a few hours to spare before our bus left Linda and I explored a small part of the city.

Santa Clara is where the final battle of the Cuban Revolution took place in which Che Guevara helped to secure Fidel Castro as Cubas's future leader.  It is here where Castro constructed the Complejo Monumental Ernesto Che Guevara to memorialize  Che Guevara with a mausoleum for his remains. 


Vinales is the destination of dreams for aficionados of fine cigars. For some, a visit becomes the equivalent of a spiritual pilgrimage.  It is an indisputable fact that the finest tobacco in the world is grown in Cuba''s Valles de Vinales.

Linda and I visited Vinales for other reasons.  The traditional agriculture and the beautiful surrounding karst mountains have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Life is simple here. The farmers grow their crops and tend their fields much in the same way their ancestors have done for hundreds of years.  There are very few roads and to really experience the surrounding agricultural environment requires hiking or horseback riding. 

The karst mountains surrounding Valles de Vinales contain numerous limestone caverns.  Caverna de Santo Tomás is considered to be the 2nd largest cave system in the Americas.  The Santo Tomas River is feed from springs flowing from over 50 entrances from its labyrinth of caverns.   To see even more we rented a motor scooter and struck out on our own, discovering roads that wound down narrow karst canyons revealing small villages and plantations in beautiful hidden valleys.  Fidel Casto considers Valles de Vinales to be the most beautiful area in all of Cuba.

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