Cienfuegos – The Land of One Hundred Fires

For years, when we are asked “where were you when you learned about the new President of the United States?”, we will be able to answer with a most interesting response. We were in a taxi, travelling from Viñales to Cienfuegos, speaking to an incredibly interesting European couple. News travels slowly in Cuba, so it was days after the election results were released that this couple broke the news to us. A heated discussion about the state of world politics ensued, with the half-Swiss, half-Slovenian couple wholeheartedly agreeing that this new information had tarnished our trip; and all of us agreeing that each should go back to their home country and work their way up to the top of the political career in order to undo the negativity that is currently sweeping across the world from some of the world’s strongest States. We eventually had to take deep breaths and change the topic of conversation to something less disappointing, and spent the rest of the journey learning more about each other’s countries and lives.

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A Cienfuegos streetscape

The taxi ride from Viñales to Trinidad is a long one, so many tourists choose to stop a night or two in Cienfuegos on the way. There are quite a few tours you can do from Cienfuegos to keep your stay interesting; though if you can’t afford or aren’t inclined to join in on one of these, two nights here is enough.

The town itself is interestingly placed, with the ocean bordering one side, featuring a beautiful palm-lined esplanade leading to a fishing wharf; and historical streets and buildings throughout. What I found to be most interesting about this part of Cuba was the endless propaganda. Entering the city you will be greeted by billboard after billboard with slogans like “Socialism makes the impossible possible”, lining both sides of the highway. Within Cienfuegos, every walk will take you past pro-Che and pro-Castro propaganda, reminiscent of the propaganda seen during high school history classes, encouraging people to join whichever political movement was in power at the time. The propaganda here is emotive, strongly worded, graphically illustrated, and almost convincing.

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One of the many pieces of propaganda in Cienfuegos

On our first afternoon in Cienfuegos, we wandered through the centre of town, pausing to check out laneways filled with markets, and buy one or two souvenirs for ourselves and our loved ones. We had a very plain lunch at a courtyard restaurant, and ended up finding ourselves at the fishing wharf, where we sat for a time and watched beautiful little jellyfish drift out to sea with the tide. For a moment, I wondered where they would end up, and whether one day I would see them or their descendants in another place, at another time.

As the sun approached the horizon, we started home, pausing a moment to listen to a band at an outdoor bar play “Bailando”, an immensely popular Enrique Iglesias song we hear everywhere (and which every live band in Cuba plays at least once per set). With this catchy and uplifting tune stuck firmly in my head still hours later, I came to realise that for years to come, many of my favourite memories of Cuba would involve this song – and I loved this revelation.

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The Cienfuegos wharf

We had chosen to enjoy dinner at our casa that evening, which led to us meeting two lovely European ladies staying in the same place. We chatted with them over drinks on the rooftop terrace before dinner, and the conversation flowed on constantly throughout our meal and for a while afterwards, until the pair headed out for a night on the town. It was interesting to get their perspective on Cuba as two young ladies travelling without male companions, as apparently the whistles, date requests, and other forms of harassment were rife throughout this part of the world. I hadn’t experienced this very much because I always had a male with me, though I had been asked by a few Cuban men if he was my boyfriend or not. It would be a real annoyance to be constantly approached and not left alone, simply because you are a female without a male; particularly in Cuba, where the men are used to getting their way with women because there are apparently five or more women for every man (as many Cuban men reminded every female tourist they could talk to for long enough). Whilst Cuba is by no means a dangerous country, there are certainly annoyances, and they do wear you down after a while.

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This propaganda is right outside a school, and says “To defend the revolution is the most sacred task”. Interestingly, “tarea” translates to both “task” and “homework”. 

On our second day in Cienfuegos, we followed Lonely Planet’s recommendation and made our way to Cementerio la Reina, the oldest cemetery in Cienfuegos (founded in 1837), where many Spanish soldiers who died during the Wars of Independence are buried. We were amazed to learn that, because of the high water levels here, many bodies were laid to rest in the walls, rather than in the ground. As well as this, there were a great number of incredibly elaborate statues on top of graves, and beautiful farewells inscribed on tombstones. We didn’t know it yet, but we would go on to see an even more impressive cemetery when we returned to Havana. Nonetheless, this one was interesting and beautiful and we were glad we went.

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Some beautiful statues at Cienfuegos’ famous cemetery; behind them are the wall graves

We enjoyed some mid-afternoon beers on the beautiful rooftop terrace of our casa, before making our way down to the esplanade to watch the sun set. It was an enchanting, fiery, stunning sunset; changing every minute until we were left with only a golden-red glow where the sun had been moments before. “Cienfuegos” literally translates to “one hundred fires”, and the sunsets alone are reason enough. We sat at a waterfront bar, sipping the most expensive mojitos we’d had in Cuba from plastic cups, thinking about our families at home and wishing they could be here to share this beautiful, tranquil moment with us.

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A fiery Cienfuegos sunset

Viñales – The Gem of Cuba’s West

After three nights in Havana, enjoying dinner and drinks with Simon and Saskia every night, all four of us headed to Viñales on the recommendation of many other travellers. We had been expecting a taxi, but ended up waiting over an hour for a beaten up old van, packed full already, which we and our luggage were somehow jammed into, in a Mary Poppins kind of way. The speedometer didn’t work, the dashboard was virtually non-existent, the seats weren’t secured properly so you had a choice of slipping off or having the backrest hit into you with every motion of the car (this turned out to be the favourable option), there was no air-conditioning and the only windows that opened were the ones right down the front. Every one of the eleven passengers were around our age, and, in a way that only travelling several hours in a barely-road-worthy van together can, we pulled together and cheerfully chatted with one another about where we’d been, where we were going, and other travel stories. We met a European couple who had to speak in English to one another as one person was Italian and one was Dutch; a group of travellers at least one of whom was Italian but spoke fluent German to Saskia; and various other interesting, well-travelled people, all of whom were from Europe.

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Our ride to Vinales, photo courtesy of Simon S

We arrived safely at our casa and were greeted cheerfully by our hostess Elisabeth, who immediately showed us to our large, well equipped and comfortable room, and then promptly organised a tour of Viñales for the four of us for that afternoon. After getting settled in, we headed to a local restaurant for lunch and mojitos (at $2, how could you say no?). Lunch was plain but large and filling, and very cheap. We then headed back to our casa for our tour, which was CUC $30 for the four of us, and lots of fun. We were driven about by a young man in an old car to several different places in Viñales, the stand-outs being Cueva del Indio, the Mural de la Prehistoria, a tobacco farm, and Hotel Los Jazmines. At Cueva del Indio (cave of the Indian), we paid another CUC $5 each entry, but it was worth it. We saw a brief cultural performance outside the cave with Cubans dressed up in traditional costume. The performance involved a Cuban hutia, which is a rat about the size of a small adult cat. After this, we wandered on through the caves, only to find ourselves at the banks of a river. We were pondering if we should now walk back the way we came, as there didn’t seem any other option, when a boat showed up and ushered us on board. We were taken up and down the river for a short while, having various rock formations in the cave pointed out to us for their similarities to animals and people. After being dropped off outside the caves again, we got back into our vintage ride and continued on.

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Our boat ride inside the caves

The Mural de la Prehistoria is an absolutely enormous mural on a huge rock face, featuring several dinosaurs, snails, and humans. It is intended to symbolise the theory of evolution, and is famous in this area for its 120 metre length, and the fact that it took eighteen people four years to complete. At the tobacco farm, we saw what tobacco looks like before it’s dried, and watched cigars being rolled by an expert, whilst hearing about the process from workers. The farm was so proud of its product they gave free cigars out to tourists to try, and encouraged people to try them dipped in honey, as Che Guevara enjoyed his. We finished our tour at Hotel Los Jazmines, which has breathtaking panoramic views over Viñales.

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Watching cigars being rolled at a tobacco farm

We enjoyed dinner at our casa that evening, before heading out to Casa del Mojito a few doors down. A second German couple who were staying at the same casa as we were had recommended it to us, so the six of us together whiled away the evening enjoying traditional mojitos, and then trying more exotic, flavoured mojitos. The guayaba (guava) and mango flavoured mojitos are my picks – absolutely delicious! We ended up heading back almost every night of our Viñales stay, and voted the mojitos here some of the best in Cuba (read more about that here).

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Some of Cuba’s best mojitos at Casa del Mojito

In Viñales, there is one main street with almost all of the town’s restaurants on it, as well as the banks, the biggest shop, and most other things you will need. If you follow this road far enough in one direction (the opposite to the way you came in from Havana) you will reach the Jardín Botánico de Viñales (botanical gardens), which are free to enter and well worth a look. There are plenty of beautiful native plants, all of which will be pointed out and explained to you by a friendly and knowledgeable guide. Here you will find the güira fruit, from which maracas are made; a spiky tree which is used by Cubans for aspirin; the cacao plant (though we were told they don’t harvest the cacao here, the plants are purely for aesthetic pleasure); along with various other Cuban plants. There are also some Cuban parrots and a Cuban hutia (also known as a tree rat) to look at. Some people keep tree rats as pets, while others eat them, according to our guide. We were lucky enough to see a hummingbird’s nest, though a few weeks too late to see the baby birds themselves. The humidity and heat in Cuba is ideal for growing orchids, so there are several different varieties of orchid here to admire. At the end of the tour a tip tray is placed on a table but there is no pressure whatsoever to donate, though I encourage you to as it’s a beautiful place and it would be great to keep it going for future generations.

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One of the fantastic plants we saw at the Botanic Gardens

If you continue on this road for another few kilometres, you’ll reach Cueva del Indio, though it’s perhaps easier to visit this on a tour rather than walking. Near Cueva del Indio but on the opposite side of the road is a cave that features a restaurant during the day, and turns into a club at night time. We didn’t visit this, but did drive past it and it is certainly a nifty idea. Further away from Viñales there are other caves with pools in which you can swim, though again we didn’t visit them. Simon and Saskia hired bicycles and rode out to them, though they are a bit of a distance away. You can also take a horseback tour to these caves, which we would have loved to have done but ran out of time.

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The guira fruit, used to make maracas

A short walk from our casa was Cueva de la Vaca, which was a great little adventure for us. We had no intention of walking there initially when we set off, we just intended to see where the street lead us. After walking a little while, we came across a couple walking in the opposite direction, so I asked them if there was anything worth seeing further down the path. They told us about the caves and we were sold; it definitely sounded like an interesting place to visit. We ventured on and found a sign to a farm, which is what the couple had told us to watch out for. We entered the farm and wound our way down the dirt path to a hut set up with hammocks, chairs, tables and a tree rat on a chain. A man greeted us amicably and asked us if we wanted anything to drink here. We said no thank you, and he said we were welcome to continue on through his farm to the caves. We wandered through a field with a pond that a couple of horses were cooling off in; past a pig sty with piglets rolling around in the mud happily; over an interesting make-shift A-shape ladder that humans can climb but the farm animals can’t; and onwards towards a lengthy, slippery, damaged stone staircase winding up and up and up…

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The entrance to Cueva de la Vaca

We made it to the top, puffing and sweaty, but it would turn out to be worth our effort. The cave was small, but L-shaped, meaning that if you stood right in the middle, it was almost pitch-black. We used the light on Alex’s phone to make it safely to the other side, and then decided to clamber down the stony hillside to the paddocks at the bottom. We found a couple of cute little goats chomping on some grass, who were all too eager to say hello to us. They were tied up so couldn’t quite make it, but I decided to risk it and ventured carefully over to one. Inexplicably, the goat thoroughly enjoyed licking my legs, which was one of the strangest feelings I’ve experienced (and I’ve had my feet nibbled by fish in Cambodia). We said hello to the other goat, wandered a bit further through the fields, and then turned back when we came to a barbed-wire fence that silently said “You shall not pass!”. Once we made our way back to the cave, we were surprised to hear tiny little squeaks we hadn’t heard the first time around. We paused, pondering the odd noises, when we suddenly realised what it was. Bats! With the trusty phone torch lighting the way once more, we were lucky enough to look up and see, huddled in the crevices of the cave’s ceiling, hundreds of minuscule bats just starting to wake up. We took plenty of photos and a couple of videos to capture their unique voices, and then went on our way to let them grab a cup of coffee or perhaps some breakfast bugs to munch on.

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Some of the tiny bats in Cueva de la Vaca

Watching the sunset from the roof of our casa while sipping on Havana Club rum, we wondered what other excitement lay ahead of us on the next two and a half weeks of our trip in Cuba. So far, we were loving every minute of this relaxed, diverse, happy country, and we couldn’t wait to find out what was next.

Where to Stay in Cuba

Lonely Planet makes some suggestions of some good casas particulares (find out what that means in my first blog about Cuba, here) in each town; otherwise, some casas have Trip Advisor stickers on their front doors to advertise their success at hosting guests.

Usually, when you find yourself at your first casa in Cuba, you will pretty much be organised for the rest of your trip. Your hostess will offer to find you a casa at the next place you are headed, and book you transportation to pick you up at your door and take you to your new temporary home.

To find your first casa and get your trip going, you can either book online from home, or walk around and knock on doors when you arrive. If you choose to book ahead, keep in mind that it can be a slow process and take weeks to get replies between emails, so start organising well in advance. Ensure you write down all details of your booked casa, including the address and a contact name and phone number, in case you need them when you arrive. It is also a good idea to write down the contact name and phone number of the person you have been emailing to organise your casa for you, just in case. It is usually not a problem to walk around door-knocking, as most Cubans are awake until quite late at night and expect travellers to request a bed every now and then. However, you may be doing a fair bit of walking before you find a casa that suits your needs and has availability. It’s always better to have a place booked before you arrive if you can.

In case you want to organise your own accommodation and are looking for more suggestions than what you can currently read about in Lonely Planet, there are a few websites you can take a look at. I used http://casaparticular.org/ , but you should note that organising through this website will take several weeks. Other websites I looked at but did not personally use include  www.casasparticulares.com , http://www.casaparticularcuba.org/ , and http://cubaparticular.com/ .

I’ve listed below the casas in which I stayed and what I found good and bad about them, as a starting point. The prices listed are what I paid, though I understand they may be higher in the high season (the end of November, throughout December and possibly into January).

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One of the relaxing hammocks at Hostal Dos Leones, Playa La Boca

Havana Vieja

  • Casa Carusa, Calle Acosta 412, between Calle Egidio and Calle Curazao, Havana Vieja
    • Amelia was our hostess here. She was very helpful and kind, always up for a conversation and some advice-giving. She does not speak English; only Spanish.
    • Amelia can make you breakfast for CUC $5 per person per day. Breakfast consists of eggs, cheese, meat, vegetables, bread, butter, coffee, juice, and a fruit platter.
    • Amelia can do your washing for you if you’d like. We had quite a bit to do including pairs of jeans after our time in chilly Mexico City, so we paid CUC $12.
    • The property is conveniently located within a short walk of many of Old Havana’s greatest attractions, including several fantastic restaurants and bars, and many museums and architectural attractions.
    • The property has a long, slim staircase that would not be good for older or larger guests.
    • Our bedroom had a bathroom within, but there was no door between the two and it was very open.
    • The hot water was sporadic at best.
    • We paid CUC $30 per night for our room.

 

Havana – Vedado

  • Royal House, Calle 10 No. 113, between Calzada and Calle 5, Vedado
    • Luca and Taimy were our hosts here. They speak a little bit of English. They are kind and helpful.
    • The house itself is lovely, with a small balcony with a table and chairs for guest use, as well as the rooftop area having a bar, jacuzzi, and more chairs. The bedroom had many extra touches, such as our towels in different nifty shapes (swans, presents, lollies) each day, and throw pillows on the neatly made bed.
    • You are not provided with a key to your room, which was unusual for us as every other casa had given us a key to our room and the front door of the property. However, the property has high fences and several security cameras, as well as a gate that needs to be manually unlocked from the inside. Someone is always home to let you in, 24/7, as there is a man who works nights.
    • The casa offers breakfast, though we never ate there. There is also a food and drinks menu in your room with various snack options.
    • Our room had a huge bed in it, as well as a large TV, a radio/sound system, a small fridge, air conditioning, and a bathroom.
    • The hot water was consistent, though the showerhead wasn’t properly fixed to the wall and needed to be held to use it properly.
    • We had our room cleaned every day and new towels daily, which was unexpected.
    • We had our washing done here, which cost CUC $5 for our one bag.
    • We paid CUC $35/night to stay here, though it was high season at this point.
    • You can contact them on: Ph: (53) 78 307 947 or (53) 58 045 625; e: vacanzacuba@yahoo.it; vacanzacuba.it
  • Casa Viel, Calle Linea No. 1004 (Bajos), between Calle 10 and Calle 12, Vedado
    • Our hosts were Milagros and Victor. They were both astoundingly kind and went well out of their way to help us multiple times. Milagros doesn’t speak English, but Victor speaks fluent English and happily translates any/all conversations between you and Milagros.
    • The house is lovely with a balcony with several chairs and tables, as well as a lounge room with comfortable couches and a TV, and a dining room.
    • Our room had air conditioning, a large bed, a small fridge, and a bathroom.
    • The hot water was consistent.
    • Milagros and Victor explained that the water they use in the casa is all boiled and then purified so you don’t need to worry when they serve glasses of water or ice. They were there to answer any questions we had, and loved to chat.
    • When we stayed with them, I was very ill. They went well out of their way to make me tea with fresh mint from their garden, as well as plain pasta for my lunch and plain rice for my dinner. The next morning they made me more tea, and gave me crackers to eat as my stomach was still very unwell. They refused to charge us for any of this and said they just wanted me to feel better. We couldn’t imagine more hospitable hosts, especially in a foreign country when you are unwell.
    • On top of this, they woke up early to make Alex a full breakfast for 6am, with fruit salad, bread rolls, butter, jam, eggs however he wanted, coffee, juice, and pastries. This was CUC $5.
    • They made Alex dinner which was large and very tasty, consisting of juicy roast pork, rice and beans, mashed Malanga (kind of like potato), potato chips, tomato, cucumber, and lettuce. This cost CUC $10.
    • The next morning Alex was locked in our bedroom as the door malfunctioned and wouldn’t open. Without hesitation Victor ran to our aid and did everything he could to help, which ended up involving asking our taxi driver to shoulder-charge the door to break it open and get Alex out. They were nothing but apologetic that this had happened, and so kind to us in every way.
    • We were only able to stay one night as they had been booked out prior, but we would have loved to have stayed longer with them.
    • We paid CUC $35 for our night here.
    • You can contact them on: Ph: (053) 52 940 846; e: milagros6210@nauta.cu; http://casaviel.blogspot.mx/

 

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Our room at Royal House, Vedado, Havana

 

Viñales

  • Villa La Niña, Adela Azcuy Norte No. 11, Viñales
    • Elisabeth was our hostess. She was very helpful and understanding, and speaks some English, certainly enough to get by if you don’t speak Spanish.
    • The house is located right near the main street of Viñales, which is an excellent location within walking distance of a few of the main attractions of the town (including the Botanic Gardens and Cueva de la Vaca), and a bike ride length to most other attractions.
    • The house itself is lovely. It is all very clean, and there is a beautiful hut with electrical sockets you can use behind the main house. There is also a table and chairs on the rooftop which provides a beautiful view of the Viñales sunset and the nearby mountains.
    • Our room had a fridge, two double beds, and a bathroom within it.
    • The hot water was sporadic.
    • Elisabeth and her family were wonderful cooks. They provided breakfast on request for CUC $5, and dinner was CUC $10. The meals were delicious and so plentiful it was impossible to finish them. The food here was some of the best in Cuba.
    • We paid CUC $25 per night for our room.

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Our view from the roof of Villa La Nina, Vinales

 

Cienfuegos

  • Hostal Pink House, Avenida 42 No. 4913, between Calles 49 and 51
    • Henry and Lalita were our hosts. They were both friendly and helpful and spoke some English.
    • The water was sporadically turned off, without warning or reason. This was highly inconvenient at times.
    • Hot water was fine when the water was working.
    • There is an internet hot spot across the road from the house if you bought the card needed to access it.
    • Dinner was tasty and filling, and served with dessert. The prices varied depending on the type of meat chosen but was about CUC $7-10, with lobster costing more.
    • Breakfast was CUC $5 and was the usual eggs, bread, butter, fruit salad, coffee and juice. The juice was quite watered down on the first day but better on the next. We were also given sachets of mango jam and guava jam, which were delicious.
    • We paid CUC $25 per night for our room.
    • You can contact them on: Ph: (53) 4352 8734; e: lalita05@nauta.cu

 

Trinidad

  • Sarahi Santander Soler, Francisco Peterssen (also known as Callejón Chinchiquirá) No. 179, between Calle Rosario and Callejón de San Cayetano
    • Our hosts were not very hospitable. It felt awkward to ask for breakfast when we were there, and we didn’t feel particularly welcome, which was not how any of our other casas had been.
    • Our room smelled and looked quite mouldy and damp.
    • Our room had a powerful fan, a mini fridge, and a bathroom.
    • The water was hot and consistent.
    • The breakfast was CUC $5 and was tasty, except for the very bitter coffee. We were also provided with honey.
    • We heard the hostess speaking with other guests about dinner so I presume dinner is available if you ask for it.
    • There was a lovely patio area with tables and chairs surrounded by beautiful, lush plants that was available to guests.
    • We paid CUC $25 per night for our room.
    • You can contact them on: Ph: (53) 41 998 484 or (53) 52 617 812; e: sarahisantander@gmail.com; http://casasarahi.webstoreinc.com/
  • Hostal Tito y Vicki, Mario Guerra (also known as Callejón de San Cayetano) 177, between Frank País and Jesús María
    • Tito and Vicky were our hosts here, along with their son. They spoke a bit of English, the son speaks enough to get by if you do not speak Spanish. They were all lovely and hospitable.
    • The house is a grand house with plush furniture and a huge fish tank in the living room. The rooms are huge and the beds are bigger than normal.
    • Our room had a small fridge, two large beds, air-conditioning and a big bathroom with a waterfall showerhead.
    • The hot water was consistent.
    • There was a lovely shaded balcony area for guests with tables, chairs, and plants.
    • We had our washing done here. I believe it would have been halved if we had put it all into one bag; as it was it cost us CUC $10 for two bags.
    • We didn’t have any meals here, nor did they offer, though I believe they would have cooked if we had asked. We are told they don’t enjoy cooking at this property.
    • We paid CUC $30 per night for our room, which was well worth it, particularly after our previous casa in Trinidad.
    • You can contact them on: Ph: (53) 41 993 952 or (53) 52 701 548; e: titoyvicky@yahoo.es; http://titovicky.trinidadhostales.com/

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The beautiful, ornate ceiling at Hostal Tito y Vicki, Trinidad

 

Playa La Boca

  • Hostal Dos Leones, Avenida del Sol, Playa La Boca
    • We had Heidy and Rolando as our hosts. They were both extremely kind and caring, going out of their way to make our stay as relaxing and lovely as possible. Heidy speaks English but appreciates you speaking Spanish where you can. They have two children who are quiet and very sweet.
    • Heidy is one of the best cooks in Cuba, providing us with huge, healthy, delicious meals every morning and evening. Playa La Boca does not have anywhere to eat other than at your casa, except for one restaurant which sporadically serves food.
    • The house was a lovely, big, airy home with a beautiful, huge hut out the front under which we found three hammocks, along with two tables and chairs. This area always had a lovely breeze and we ate all of our meals here.
    • Our room was large, with a big double bed and a single bed, air conditioning, a fan, and a bathroom.
    • The hot water was consistent.
    • The house is a short walk to a nearby beach and within a few kilometres of nicer, sandy beaches. It is an 8km walk to Playa Ancón.
    • Speak to Rolando about snorkelling – he works at a snorkelling place about 3km from Playa La Boca, and was kind enough to give us a discount on our snorkel rental, as well as literally lending us the shoes off his feet to navigate the rocky ground leading up to the ocean.
    • Breakfast here was CUC $5 and came with not only fruit salad, eggs however you like them, bread, butter, jam, coffee, juice, and honey, but also homemade biscuits and cakes, wrapped up to take with you on your day’s adventures.
    • Dinner was CUC $12 per person per night, and was well worth it. Most nights we had a soup to start off with, followed by salad, rice, meat or fish of your choosing and potato chips, and every night we had Heidi’s delicious and unbeatable flan for dessert.
    • Overall, this was easily our favourite casa from our time in Cuba. If you’re headed to Trinidad, it’s well worth taking the short trip to Playa La Boca to stay a few nights at Hostal Dos Leones – we stayed 5 nights and we loved every minute!
    • We paid CUC $30 per night for our stay here.
    • You can contact them on: Ph: (53) 52 447 949 or (53) 52 816 591; e: rheidys35@nauta.cu

Staying in a casa particular is an excellent way to get more involved in the Cuban culture. You’ll meet more locals than you would staying in a hotel, eat more traditional Cuban food, learn more Spanish, and enjoy your time truly immersed in Cuba. We didn’t stay in any hotels, but I wouldn’t change that. We had the best time in Cuba, and you can always move to a new casa if you aren’t comfortable in the one you’re at – we did, and we’re glad! We highly recommend Hostal Dos Leones in Playa La Boca, and Casa Viel in Vedado, Havana. Of everywhere we stayed, these two casas were the most welcoming, kind-hearted and homely, and we hope to stay with them again one day!

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A typical Cuban casa – a rocking chair and a balcony – Casa Carusa, Havana Vieja

Where to Find the Best Mojito in Cuba

For months, when we told people we were headed to Cuba, we were flooded with comments about how jealous they were that we’d be sipping mojitos on a beach for three and a half weeks. Well, the beach part is harder than it seems, but the mojito part certainly isn’t. Everywhere you go, you can buy a mojito or two, sometimes in more than one flavour (though usually just traditional, which is all you really need). After our first few days in Cuba, having had at least one mojito per day, we decided we were obliged to find out for our readers where to find the best mojito in Cuba. Neither our wallets nor our livers could afford for us to try every single mojito we found on a menu, but we’ve tried every one recommended to us along with a few extras, and have come up with a list of must-try, and best-to-avoid mojitos. We developed a rating system including Price, Strength, Taste, and Extra Information, and have included our results for your reading (and drinking) pleasure.

Havana

Plaza Nueva –

Address: Plaza Vieja, San Ignacio, Habana Vieja

  • Price – $4.00
  • Strength – Not very strong
  • Taste – Average
  • Extra Information
    • Live music often in the venue or neighbouring venues;
    • Good view of the main square of Havana.
  • Overall score – 2/5

Nao –

Address: Obispo No. 1, between San Pedro and Baratillo, Habana Vieja

  • Price – $3.00
  • Strength – Very strong on first visit, not strong on second visit
  • Taste – Good, quite sweet
  • Extra Information
    • Venue is very well placed, with views of the ocean on one side and Plaza de Armas on the other;
    • Often live music at the venue;
    • Great breeze in outside seating and more atmospheric than indoor seating.
  • Overall score – 3.5/5

D’Lirios –

Address: Paseo de Marti, Habana Vieja – opposite Capitolio

  • Price – $2.95
  • Strength – Average
  • Taste – Good, sweet
  • Extra Information
    • Goes down well with the delicious food on offer, or while waiting for a table (as the restaurant does not take bookings).
  • Overall Score – 3.5/5

Paladar Don Lorenzo –

Address: Acosta No. 260A, between Habana and Compostela – upstairs

  • Price – $3
  • Strength – Not strong
  • Taste – Ok, very sweet
  • Extra Information
    • Added mint liqueur to the mojito, which made it sickeningly sweet and overpowered by the artificial mint flavour;
    • Arguably the worst of the mojitos we tried in Cuba; perhaps they had run out of rum the day we visited and added mint liqueur instead. For this price there are many better mojitos available nearby.
  • Overall Score – 1/5

La Catedral –

Address: Calle 8, between Calle 5 and Calzada, Vedado, Havana

  • Price – $1.05
  • Strength – Average to strong
  • Taste – Good
  • Extra Information
    • The cheapest mojito we tried in Cuba, and well worth trying;
    • The food is very tasty, and enormous servings for the price.
  • Overall score – 4.5/5

 

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The (far too green) mojito at Don Lorenzo, Havana

Viñales

Casa del Mojito –

Address: Adela Azcuy Norte, just past Villa La Niña (No. 11)

  • Price – $3.90
  • Strength – Quite strong (Menu advertises 80ml of Havana Club 3 years)
  • Taste – Excellent
  • Extra Information
    • Large glass;
    • Excellent service – when your mojito is delivered you are advised to wait one minute, then stir, then drink;
    • The menu advertises the use of safe ice;
    • Best mint in any mojito we tried – flavoursome, well scented;
    • Several options as well as the traditional mojito, including mango and guava mojitos, both of which are amazing.
    • Extra fun provided with the super-long straws – see what you can make out of them!
  • Overall Score – 4.5/5

Yellow Restaurant on the corner of Salvador Cisneros and Adela Azcuy Norte –

  • Price – $2.00
  • Strength – Quite strong
  • Taste – Excellent
  • Extra Information
    • Small glass
    • Lime present in glass.
  • Overall Score – 3.5/5

La Plaza Bar & Café –

Address: Opposite the church in the centre of town, on the street off Salvador Cisneros

  • Price – $3.00
  • Strength – Good
  • Taste – Good
  • Extra Information
    • Small glass
  • Overall Score – 3/5

Paladar La Colonial –

Address: 101 Salvador Cisneros, Viñales

  • Price – $2.50
  • Strength – Good
  • Taste – Good
  • Extra Information
    • The food here unfortunately left a lot to be desired. You would do better to save your money and head to Casa del Mojito.
  • Overall Score – 3/5

 

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Two of the flavoured mojitos from Casa del Mojito, Vinales

Cienfuegos

Los Pinitos –

Address: Paseo El Prado, Cienfuegos

  • Price – $5.00
  • Strength – Average
  • Taste – Good
  • Extra Information
    • The bar is right next to the waterfront in Cienfuegos, which means beautiful sunset views sipping on a mojito.
    • This was the most expensive mojito we found in Cuba, and was certainly by no means worth the extra expense.
    • Served in small plastic cups.
  • Overall score – 2.5/5

 

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Our sunset mojitos at Los Pinitos, Cienfuegos

Trinidad

Taberna Ochún Yemayá

Address: Calle Boca, between Calle Jesús María and Frank País

  • Price – $2.00
  • Strength – Average
  • Taste – Good
  • Extra Information
    • The food and service here are excellent;
    • The mint in the mojitos is diced finely rather than a whole twig being put into the glass, meaning the flavour is released into the drink more.
  • Overall score – 3.5/5

 

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More fun with the straws from Casa del Mojito, Vinales – Guerrilla advertising!

It should be noted that very few mojitos we tried had evidence of lime present, though it may be that the juice was squeezed and strained before being added. Additionally, the mint in Cuba doesn’t seem to have much flavour, so most mojitos we tried were basically soda water, rum, and sugar, with a large amount of mint leaves in the glass which served more as a garnish than a flavouring device.

Weighing up the price with the other factors, we concluded that La Catedral in Vedado, Havana is where to find the best mojito in Havana; and Casa del Mojito in Viñales is the best mojito outside of Havana.

As a bonus tip, the best piña colada in Cuba is undoubtedly at Plaza Nueva in Havana Vieja. Perfectly creamy, deliciously coconutty and sweet, it is definitely worth a try (or two). If you happen to find yourself in Viñales, the piña coladas at La Plaza are very tasty, too.

Let us know if you find an amazing cocktail where you’re travelling – we’d love to try it out!

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A Pina Colada at Plaza Nueva, Havana