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article imageOp-Ed: Cuba - Cigars, Culture, and Caves Special

By Bryen Dunn     Nov 3, 2011 in Travel
Cuba is a long narrow island comprised of many rivers, mountains, and unique species of flora and fauna. The landscape ranges from semi-desert lands to tropical rainforests, making it a great place to get out and experience all there is to offer.
On a recent visit I was able to discover a couple areas that aren’t necessarily on the radar of the tourist masses. I visited Cayo Santa Maria, which is actually a small island located in the Bahia de Buena Vista off the north coast. The island is connected to the mainland of Cuba by a forty-eight kilometer long causeway, and is one of the newest areas to welcome tourism. Driving across this is somewhat surreal as you are surrounded by water on both sides separate by a thinly constructed roadway leading to the magnificent beaches and upscale hotels that are all located along the north coast. Once in the area, there’s not much in the way of activities or city life, but the nearly 15-kilometres of uninterrupted beaches will most likely make up for it. There’s also a clothing optional beach located on the west side of the hotel Sol Cayo Santa Maria.
The country is steeped in history, and I mean ancient history, as in the 500 year old colonial city of Trinidad in the central region that I had an opportunity to explore. It was founded in 1514, and walking the streets in the historic old part of town makes it feel like time has not changed a thing. Only a few square blocks in size, the tiny cobblestone streets, sun-tinged pastel painted edifices with red terracotta roofs, and the grandiose Plaza Mayor make it feel like you’re part of a movie setting. Most evenings come alive with casas de musica, live outdoor music performances that attract both locals and tourists. For those seeking a later night experience there are two unique bars worth checking out, one within the ruins of a church, and the other in a huge cave once used as a war time hospital.
Nowadays, Trinidad's main industry beyond tourism is tobacco processing, so it’s a great spot to pick up those famous Cuban cigars. The city was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, which will help to ensure the preservation of its beauty. There are no large hotel properties found within the city, so some visitors choose to stay at one of the many casas particulares, a kind of Cuban bed and breakfast inexpensive lodging option. For those preferring more comfortable accommodations, the all-inclusive Brisas Trinidad del Mar is located right on the shore, a short 15 minute ride along the Ancon Peninsula.
Ancon Beach is also nearby, which was one of the first areas to be developed for tourism after the revolution of 1959, and many still consider it one of the best in the country. Trinidad is located near both the Escambray Mountains and the Caribbean coastline, and local attractions include Topes de Collantes, one of Cuba’s premier ecotourism centres, and Casilda Bay, which is a great spot for diving. The Los Helechos Hotel is a moderate mountain top hotel definitely worth an overnight stay if your plans allow.
Cienfuegos is a city about twice the size of Trinidad located on the southern coast, and often referred to as Pearl of the South. The city was founded much later in 1819, and the architecture is reflective of this time period. There is no other place in the Caribbean which contains such a remarkable cluster of neo-classical structures. In 2005, the city was given its UNESCO designation, specifically for its well-preserved 19th century early Spanish Enlightenment design. This is where you will find more of the sugar trade and coffee plantations on the city perimeters, and it’s also home to the University of Cienfuegos, giving it a more cosmopolitan feel. The Hotel Rancho Luna is a modern style property located not very far from the centre of town for those wanting to explore this region more.
Cuba has a moderate subtropical climate with a predominance of warm temperatures throughout the year, and its various ecosystems are well preserved. Ecotourism is a way of enjoying travelling in close contact with nature, while contributing to its preservation. Other areas around the island where ecotourism can be enjoyed are in Sierra del Rosario, Soroa, Valle de Vinales, Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, La Guira National Park, Caimanera-Guantanamo, Sierra Maestra National Park, and the Desembarco del Granma National Park. Turnat is a local organization that works to preserve and protect many regions of Cuba, and they also offer guided tours on occasion.
El Nicho is a natural paradise located between Cienfeuegos and Trinidad, and is best done by way of jeep with one of the local operators. At mountains of the El Nicho there are numerous trails for hiking, caves for meandering your way through, and bird watching in a protected sanctuary where you might catch glimpse of a Tocororo, Cuba's national bird. The cascading waterfall in the Sierra de Trinidad mountain range is a great spot to plunge in and cool off after all the outdoor adventures. On the climb up to the top there are magnificent views of the horizon, and you will pass plenty of working plantations with coffee, mango, banana, and other citrus fruits.
Tourists first arrive for the sun and rum, and return for the unique cultural experiences. Many Cubans have had the opportunity to develop their creative skills, and several musicians, writers, filmmakers, photographers, and artists have moved beyond the island barriers to appear internationally in venues across the world. Others have honed their skills on plantations or traditional handicrafts. Of course the collection of vintage vehicles on the roads that can’t be found elsewhere, are very much a novelty attraction in itself.
Although for the most part it feels like you’re in a 1950’s time warp, with the lack of modern technology and infrastructure, this might be just what our 24-7 plugged-in society needs in order to once again appreciate the simple things in life.
Cheers to a frosty Mojito and a freshly rolled Montecristo cigar - Esa es la vida!
Hola Sun Holidays have identified themselves as “The Cuba Specialist” for 20 years now, offering a wide range of products and tours for the Canadian marketplace. Since they only offer Cuba as a destination, they have established relationships with properties across the country, reaching out beyond the typical Havana and Varadero hot spots. As part of their 20th anniversary year, the company has launched their “Collection Prestige” package of luxury resort offerings, ensuring that they will be ready for the next influx of tourists. Combine this with their “Club Tropical” upgrade options, and one of their many “Experience” packages, and you’re guaranteed top-level service from start to finish. They also offer customized packages, long-stays, sun and city combos, and specialty tours like their dance program and biking tour.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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