Cuba – An Exceptional Travel Destination Part 2
By: Sarah Cherres
Friday March 1st, 2019
In the blog Cuba – An Exceptional Travel Destination we talked about Cuba and its main festivals, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, weather, currency, and much more about this exotic destination. In this article, we will explore more highlights about this beautiful island, educational statistics, places to visit, travel awards, required documents to travel to Cuba from the US legally and much more to assist you in preparation for upcoming group travel and to share Cuba as an exceptional travel destination.
Must See Stops in Havana
Cuba is a destination with deep seeded roots and a historical value dating back to the discovery of the Americas. Since travelers often visit for a limited amount of time, it is essential when preparing an agenda to get familiarized with top points of interest. Here we share with you a list of the top five areas to visit while in the capital city of Havana, what to look for, and just a preview of some of the reasons that make each stop essential for this destination.
- Old Havana – This part of the city center overflows with history and colonial charm. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural value and contribution to humanity. It is also one of the 15 districts that make up Havana. Within its grounds, you will find the magnificent Capitolio (Capitol Building), which is currently undergoing renovations in preparation for the City’s 500th Anniversary in November. It also houses the Catedral de San Cristóbal in Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square), the Plaza de Armas (Arms Square) with the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City), and the Palacio de Los Capitanes. Here you can also find the Plaza de San Francisco, with the Lonja de Comercio (Stock Exchange) and the Fuente de Los Leones (Lion Fountain). As you make your way through Old Havana, make sure to note the architecture, from neoclassical to baroque, to name just some of the periods and influences on the local infrastructure.
- El Cristo de La Habana & The Morro – Cabaña Complex – The impressive Christ Monument was built in Italy by Cuban artist Jilma Madera. It stands at the entrance to the Puerto (Harbor) de la Havana. It towers at 65 feet tall, weighs 320 tons, and was built using 67 different pieces made of white Gamarra marble. Stories say that the statue was modeled after an old lover the artist had. Another nearby point of interest is the Morro-Cabaña Complex, known for the Cañonazo (Cannon) Ceremony. Every night at 9 p.m. (EST) soldiers in military garb march, light torches, and perform this unique ceremony in a beautifully preserved stone complex. The dimly lit fortress, the sudden silence of the audience, and the air of expectation bring a sense of realness to the ceremony.
- The Malecón de la Havana – This five-mile stretch along Havana’s coast is popular amongst locals and visitors alike for its prime sunset-watching location, beautiful photo opportunities, and its history. Although some of the buildings surrounding the Malecón have decayed over time, they continue to be a site to be seen for their authentic charm, architecture, and air of nostalgia.
- Miramar District & Fusterlandia – Take a historical look into how the Cuban upper crust lived. During the glamorous 50s, the Miramar district was known for its luxurious residences, well-to-do residents, tree-lined streets, and high-end shopping. Its 5th Avenue once also had the prestige of New York’s 5th Avenue. If you want to venture out just a little further away, you will find Fusterlandia in Jaimanitas – a seaside town covered by the work and inspiration of famous Cuban artist José Rodríguez Fuster. As you walk along Fusterlandia, you will find colorful mosaics with famous quotes, elements of the Cuban culture, and local art. Fuster’s artful representations brought new life to this neighborhood which has been heavily hit by natural disasters. Fuster now has apprentices, which have continued his legacy of art and color in Jaimanitas.
- Plaza de la Revolución – This municipality houses many notable landmarks, such as the Cristóbal Colón Cemetery. The Cemetery is recognized as one of the most beautiful in the world with its stately mausoleums and intricate sculptures. Within Plaza de la Revolución municipality you will also find the Jose Martí Monument, built to commemorate the Cuban national hero by the same name, and the famous cultural social club Fábrica de Arte Cubano. The district of Vedado is also part of this municipality. As with Miramar, it was one of the neighborhoods with more affluent residents. As you tour this area, note the residences that were built to resemble palaces called Palacetes in the area of Vedado.
These five main areas can all be covered with excursions Havana Highlights, A Ride Through Havana on Classic American Cars or A Walk Through Old Colonial Havana to focus on the Plazas. If your group prefers an evening excursion, take an Evening Stroll Through the Historic Center of Havana. Multi-stop and more extended stay group programs for various interests are also available, with the option to customize the activities for your group.
Statistics & Interesting Facts
As you share Cuba with others, it is important to learn basic information, such as demographics, language, and location. It is equally important to look at its past, beyond the walls and the architecture, to the people and the wealth of history that it produced at its economic and social peak. Let’s dive into some statistics and interesting facts about Cuba.
- Cuba is an island located in the Caribbean, roughly 150 km from Key West in Florida. It is the largest island in the Caribbean. As of 2018, its population was estimated at just under 11.5 million where the largest population can be found in the main cities, particularly in the capital city of Havana, followed by the City of Santiago de Cuba. The national language is Spanish, with pockets of bilingual English-speaking residents. Much of its population is between 25 and 54 years of age, with the median age being 41.8 and a literacy rate of almost 100% in those aged 15 and older. The ethnic breakdown of its population is white of Spanish descent, people of mixed race, and black of African descent.
- Cuba was once a gathering place for the rich and famous. Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, and JFK were just some of the celebrities and notables that enjoyed in the lap of luxury and tourism in Cuba. One of the key places to visit, The Club Tropicana, was a high-end cabaret and casino for the who’s who of the 1950s. It has been said that Rita Hayworth and Marlon Brando were amongst those who witnessed its heyday. Bola de Nieve, a famous black piano player of the time, was a staple at the Cabaret. Today the Tropicana continues to have a spectacular show with over 100 dancers, live singing, and elaborate costumes.
- Cuba is also famous for its ties with the famous American writer, Ernest Hemingway. His property and home in Cuba, Finca Vijía, is said to have inspired some of his celebrated works, such as The Old Man and The Sea as well as For Whom the Bell Tolls. Some of the places he frequented, such as La Bodeguita del Medio and The Floridita in Old Havana, have mementos of his passage through the city and his alleged love for mojitos and daiquiris.
- Cuba is also famous internationally for producing the finest cigars in the world. Every year, the City of Havana hosts the International Habanos Festival. It welcomes a wide variety of attendees, from industry experts to the curious, who come to experience cigars at the source. It is also known to draw celebrities such as socialite Paris Hilton and supermodel Naomi Campbell, amongst others. It is a unique opportunity to find a variety of cigars under one roof, humidors, collector pieces, and more – a playground for the cigar lover. Walking around the Festival allows for an appreciation and an observation for the artful manufacturing of cigars through rolling demonstrations, sampling opportunities, conversations with experts, and sometimes even market introductions of new products. A Cuban Rum, Cigars, and Art Excursion might be intriguing for this group.
- Cuba is known for its contribution to music and dance. It was the birthplace and incubator for the son, the salsa, and the rumba. Cuba also hosts the International Cuban Dance Festival, welcoming students from around the world to train with top Cuban talent. This year, the Meliá Cohiba Hotel will be the main grounds for the festival. Dance groups such as Compás have formed around the country to perform. To learn more about the love of art and dance in Cuba, check out the blog Dance & Art Are For Lovers In Cuba.
Cuba has earned many travel industry awards and nominations. During the 2019 World Travel Awards likened to the Oscars of the travel industry, Cuba was recognized in several categories, competing in the Caribbean Division with numerous renown destinations, such as The Bahamas, Aruba, and Turks and Caicos amongst others. The historical and five- star Hotel Nacional de Cuba came out on top, earning the award for Cuba’s Leading Hotel for the 9th year in a row. Except for 2010, it has received the award every year since 2004. This hotel has also been named a National Monument as well as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Other nominees in the category for Cuba’s Leading Hotel were the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski Havana, Hotel Florida, Iberostar Parque Central, Meliá Cayo Coco, and Melia Cohiba. The Iberostar Grand Packard Hotel and the Paradisus Los Cayos were also nominated for Caribbean’s Leading New Resorts. The Port of Havana was also nominated in 2019 as a Leading Home Port. Then, the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a must visit in the island, was also one of only two nominated for Caribbean’s Leading Entertainment Venue.
The Condé Nast Johansens Awards, a leading source of recommendations on where to stay while on vacation, has also recognized Cuban properties. In 2019, it awarded the Meliá Buenavista All Inclusive, The Level & Spa, located in the Jardines del Rey Archipelago in Villa Clara, Cuba. It also recognized, the Royal Service Paradisus Río de Oro, located in the Rafael Freyre municipality within the Province of Holguín in Cuba. Both properties were celebrated for their beaches and their personalized VIP treatment.
Individual and group safety is often an area of prime interest for any destination. During the 2018 International Tourism Fair (FITUR) Cuba was also awarded the Excelencia Award for “Safest Country.” Professional agencies such as OnCuba Travel work tirelessly to provide a safe and organized travel experience for groups.
These recognitions and more are important highlights to share with travelers that may be unfamiliar with Cuba and all the great things the island has to offer.
As you prepare to travel to Cuba, there are certain documents you are required to have. In addition to a valid U.S. Passport, you will also need a Tourist Card/Visa which must meet one of the 12 authorized reasons for travel. The most common ones for visitors are “Support for the Cuban people” and “Educational activities and people-to-people exchanges.” It is equally important in the planning process to be informed about the hotels and businesses that have restricted access for American travelers. OnCuba Travel and its associates offer support to travel professionals and independent travelers to make the right selection for travel categories and to process all required documentation to travel to Cuba.
The planning process begins with the Contact Form. Travel professionals are encouraged to visit the Travel Partner page for additional insight for group travel to Cuba, learn more about available resources, and benefits of working with a dedicated agency. OnCuba Travel also offers the option to customize group programs and excursions to best meet your group’s interests, budget, and desired level of activity. Browse the blog Visit Smokin’ Hot Cuba in 2019 to see a sampling of activities by areas of interest.
On Our Next Blog
Did you know about the African roots and African influence in Cuba’s culture? On our next blog, we will dive deeper into the immigration of African culture into the island. We will also share insight on how African culture has transcended many genres, from cuisine to art and dance. There is so much more left to explore. See you next time.