Ana Isabel and Miguel Ángel, a young couple from Madrid of 25 and 26 years old, decided, just a few days after getting married, to spend their honeymoon in Cuba. One of the greatest wishes of both was to give themselves an atypical, different wedding trip, a tailor-made trip steeped in history and adventure, an unconventional trip but at the same time allowing them to enjoy the comfort and romance that every honeymoon requires.
Cuba was their chosen destination, and they wanted at all costs to visit the island to learn about its revolutionary history, its culture, its musical, culinary traditions and its people. The beach, in the end, was almost the least, and they wanted a specialized travel agency to Cuba that could also recommend what to do and what to visit in Cuba. So they started researching online and drew in their minds the route they would like to take. After calling several travel agencies, they all told them that their approach was unfeasible, that they could not offer custom-made trips to Cuba with that level of personalization, but the call to CubaUnique changed things.
From the first moment the CubaUnique team was enthusiastically involved in designing the itinerary they dreamed of and assumed the preparation of this honeymoon as a challenge, since the idea was that the couple lived the cities, their history, their nature, blended in with Cubans, and at the same time they had to discover unique corners, charming accommodations and the best Creole cuisine.
The result was satisfactory for everyone! A personalized 15-day wedding trip to Cuba with a tour of the main historical and colonial villas of Cuba's central artery: Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, Camagüey, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Havana; They made visits to impressive nature spots such as Sierra Maestra, Laguna Guanaroca, Lago Hanabanilla and Ciénaga de Zapata Natural Park and they took some stops in transit at selected beach destinations such as Playa Larga (Matanzas) and Cayo Blanco (Trinidad). The agency made a selection of private charming accommodations perfectly located (private houses on a hotel basis) and chose a resort in Varadero as the final destination of the trip to Cuba, since they hardly had to take a detour from the route back to Havana, and after all, after this intense honeymoon trip, a few days in a 5-star hotel on one of the best beaches in the Caribbean didn't sound too bad, did it?
And so, with the suitcases full of emotions, Ana and Miguel left for Cuba, with the certainty that together they would have a special and unforgettable experience.
Havana, Wonder City
Ana and Miguel arrived at night to La Habana, to a charming hostal in the central area of Old Havana, comfortable and with an elegant colonial-style decoration. Once an Antillean writer said that for a traveler who comes to a place at night, passers-by move from one mystery to another ... And so the city was discovered: loaded with mystery, romanticism, and expectations.
In the morning they would discover Betty, the CubaUnique agent who came to their accommodation to go through the trip details, as well as to hand them a cell phone with a Cuban line with which from that moment they would always be in contact with her. "The truth is that Betty was great, a , she was an A+, taking care of us all the time, calling us. Íf we return to Cuba we would like to see her again because we got on really well”, says Ana Isabel showing a lot of love for her.
The CubaUnique team had prepared a route around Cuba that, from the first day, would combine history, architecture, adventure, nature, beach and contact with the joy and flavor of Cubans.
In Havana, her accompanying guide was Gabriela, a very charismatic, communicative and friendly young woman, with whom the couple says "there was great connection, and both had a lot of fun". In two days Gabriela showed them the charms of a Wonder City, in which Miguel confesses "having felt safer than walking around his neighborhood in Madrid"
In the capital, they enjoyed the contrasts that exist between colonial architecture, the elegance of republican buildings and the luxury of the most modern hotel constructions; the cheerful atmosphere of the terraces, places with excellent views and great music, ideal for a mojito, or a cold Cuban beer!
Here the Museum of the Revolution - formerly the Presidential Palace - guided them through the history written by figures such as the Argentinean Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, who are paradigms of integrity to their eyes, as philantropist and full of patriotic fervor. In the Plaza de la Revolución, they also found a site of great interest, where the traces of the historical past mingle with the daily lives of Cubans.
The color of a fishing village like Fusterlandia –which reminded them of the style of Gaudí, of Picasso– mixed with the Afro-Cuban religious traditions that are shown in the Callejón de Hamel, made them understand the eclecticism, the mixture, the Creole "ajiaco" that Cuba represents.
Gabriela was also in charge of advising them on what to do and what to see in HavanaIn addition, CubaUnique had provided them with a personalized guide to Cuba with gastronomic and leisure recommendations for their travel days.
One place where they would definitely return is El Cocinero, in Vedado, a unique trendy restaurant in Havana with a tower from which you access a panoramic terrace with first-class cuisine, "This was our favorite restaurant."
Just next to the restaurant is the Cuban Art Factory, a cultural venue featuring cutting-edge young music bands and new Cuban artists, mixing all kinds of artistic disciplines, from music to art, cinema, exhibitions, dance ... A perfect combination!
Santiago, hot land!
From the capital they traveled to Santiago de Cuba, a province at the very east of the island which takes about 14 hours by road to reach. Ana and Miguel made the trip by plane and, in just under 2 hours, they were already in “the hot land”.
There, they stayed in a small colonial house A 1930's house, restored with respect for ecology and care for its architectural value and located in the historic center just 350m from Parque Céspedes, Santiago's main square. From this unbeatable location they were able to move freely and easily to discover, to the beat of the trova and the son, the charms of this ancient city by the hand of a local guide who facilitated the tour.
They toured the city, the Santa Efigenia Cemetery, the Moncada Barracks, the Palace of Justice, the Plaza de Marte and Enramada street, one of the most popular in the city, following Calle Heredia, where the most important institutions such as Culture House, Trova House, UNEAC Center, Bacardi Museum, etc. The visit continued through the Government House, Diego Velázquez House, Cathedral and the famous Céspedes Park.
Exhausted from the tour, they received a well-deserved tribute and ate at an emblematic restaurant in the city, La Bodeguita del Medio, a place steeped in history that combines good gastronomy, famous mojitos, live music and Cuban folklore.
Santiago is at the genesis of the Cuban Revolution. In the city, in the mountains ..., so here they greatly enjoyed direct contact with nature and history.
Their favorite field trip was right in this city, the Jeep Safari to Villa Saltón, an ideal place in the heart of the Sierra Maestra to practice nature tourism where the farmers received them with great hospitality and experienced a great feeling of familiarity with them; “Without a doubt… .it is spectacular !, the view, the treatment of the peasants. Coming from Spain, we were very afraid of what we could eat or not, but we found that the food was delicious… lunch with the peasants in the Sierra Maestra was unforgettable… .very rich, they offered us everything! ”, Ana Isabel comments. They also remember Gerardo, their guide, with great affection, as he accompanied them on this adventure, and who they undoubtedly want to highlight because he was “A very cool guide with whom they had great connection”
From Bayamo to Camagüey!
From Santiago, and with a private car with Rogelio as driver, the couple started the way back to Havana. One of the advantages of touring the island with a driver at your disposal is that you can visit cities and towns which connect perfectly, as they are not distant, making the trip to Cuba much more exciting and personal, taking it out of the usual tourist circuits. In the words of Ana Isabel “A bus does not give you the closeness to see, to be able to meet someone, to feel that personalized and close treatment that a guide or driver gives you. Otherwise we would have known nothing of the cities, not even of the reality of the Cubans. All the drivers we had were incredible, but Rogelio was without a doubt the driver we felt the best with ”
On the way to Camagüey they stopped to enjoy a spectacular day in Bayamo, small capital of Granma, a pleasant city that preserves the traditions of the Cuban people practically intact and which they toured, discovering with their guide, the main and striking Paseo Bayamés, commercial artery of this "city of parks", among other places where bright colors, music, religion and traditions mix. They could enjoy live Cuban music at Casa de la Trova as well.
Already in Camagüey, Ana and Miguel spent a luxurious night at Roberto's house, host of the hostal VitalDecó, a cozy and well-kept colonial house restored respecting the original art-deco style of the 40s where the couple felt at home."We talked a lot with them and it was the family we were most close with," says Ana Isabel.
In the morning, a tour with a private guide allowed them to get up close to one of the first seven settlements founded by the Spanish in Cuba. Through its narrow and labyrinthine streets they were able to discover the history of this city whose historic center is World Heritage of the Unesco.
Santa Clara, city of the Che
On the way to Santa Clara, they made a pleasant stop at Sancti Spíritus, the fourth town founded by the Spanish in Cuba, which treasures one of the most beautiful and best preserved colonial architectural ensembles in the country.
They fondly remember Jaddiel, their driver on this trip, “We had a great time with him. He also made a stop on the way to have lunch at a peasant farm that we loved, where everything was super cheap and super rich, we really haven't eaten anywhere better on the whole trip”
Already in Santa Clara, and again in contact with history, Ana and Miguel greatly enjoyed the visit to the Ernesto Guevara Memorial Museum, where the remains of the Argentine fighter and other of his fellow guerrilleros rest.
Here they experienced the nightlife of a modern, multicultural city, and both agree that if there is one drink they will never forget about Cuba, it is the Revolution cocktail, - “delicious and very loaded ”- that they tasted at the Museum Café de la Revolución.
In Santa Clara the accommodation lived up to the previous ones, a private charming hostal located a few meters from the Leoncio Vidal Park. The house flowed through its wide interior corridors around a central courtyard garden with a colonial style fountain and elegantly decorated with well chosen pieces of art.
Hanabanilla Lake, a breathtaking landscape
Halfway between Santa Clara and Trinidad, in the Guamuhaya mountain range, also known as Sierra del Escambray, in the province of Villa Clara the Arimano, Guanayara, Negro and Jibacoa rivers join to form the Hanabanilla lake a landscape of surprising beauty and profuse vegetation, ideal to be in direct contact with nature in a delicious cooler microclimate.
This lake seemed to them a rural paradise where nature comes together in perfect harmony with the peasants who live there, and the best thing of all is that it is a place almost without tourists, which allowed them to ride in a bucolic boat and enjoy, with the wind hitting them in the face, of one of the most beautiful landscapes in Cuba, a field trip they rate as "Incredible, impressive! We also found the national flower of Cuba there", a flower commonly known as the Butterfly, which despite being native to India is so widespread on the island that it is known as the national flower. From there they also accessed the Río Negro Viewpoint and entered the Sendero de los Helechos on foot to take a dip in the cool waters of the Trinitaria Waterfall pools.
In this natural paradise of tree ferns and endemic bird species, José, the boatman who accompanied them throughout the tour, made them feel "as lifelong friends." These experiences are really the most enjoyed in Cuba due to the immense kindness of Cubans.
Trinidad: heritage and nature
When asked what to visit in Cuba? or what to do in Cuba? Trinidad is one of those places that no traveler should miss.The young couple not only enjoyed a guided walking tour through the labyrinthine streets of the best preserved colonial city on the entire island, but they also lived the incredible adventure of taking a Seafari on catamaran where they enjoyed the beauties of the Caribbean sea and a small virgin cay with abundant vegetation of red mangrove, crowded with hermit crabs, jutías, iguanas and other species.
The nights in Trinidad are as hot as they are lively, and this was confirmed by these young people when at the Casa de la Música, to the rhythm of salsa and rumba (and some refreshing mojitos) they sweated and danced with the locals.
They could have their deserved rest in the private charming hostal where they stayed: a house from the 1,800 era of high props converted into a hostel, which stands out for its particular colonial architecture and its comfortable rooms just 300m from the Plaza Mayor.
Cienfuegos, the pearl of the south
Just over 1 hour away lies Cienfuegos , whose visit was of course a must. This city, French in architecture, elegant, refined, neat and surprising, was discovered in a non typical way. Sometimes walking, some others riding a horse carriage, but always accompanied by Joselín, a very special, cultured and communicative native of Cienfuegos, with whom they toured the historic center and Punta Gorda, the most modern part of the city, flanked by a bay that invites visitors to the Palacio de Valle to drink a cocktail while listening to the voice of Benny Moré, the barbarian of rhythm, singing "Cienfuegos is the city that I like the most ..."
That night they stayed in a very special place, in the Cocuiche family house from Cienfuegos, and they were able to see closely what the warmth of a typical Cuban family means. This is an American architecture house from the fifties where a charming family of two lawyers with 3 children and grandmother Mima live. There, they received the care and attention of the helpful Dania and her husband Joselín and said goodbye with the sorrow of not having enjoyed them a little more.
They got up early. That day interesting experiences were also waiting for them and they did not want to miss the colonies of pink flamingos of the Laguna de Guanaroca, a wetland that feeds on the fresh water of the Arimao river and the waters of the Jagua de Cienfuegos bay. They started with a light walk accompanied by a specialized guide to observe the local flora and fauna. Then, in a rowing boat, they enjoyed a nice ride to see the colonies of pink flamingos. The trip continued towards the dolphinary at Rancho Luna, to enjoy the spectacle of these incredible animals, they were also able to swim with them, which they describe as a “very cool experience”
Playa Larga, lulled by the waves
The first stop in the Matanzas province was Playa Larga, there, hosted at a beautiful but simple house , a few feet from the sea, the couple enjoyed the peace, harmony and beauty of this place where witnessing a sunset lying on the sand, listening to the lullaby of the waves, is a unique and unrepeatable experience; “The best house we stayed in was Playa Larga, it had a unique site and beautiful views; We really liked all the houses we stayed in, we can't make a single complaint, but this one was particularly very cool ” .
After a romantic dinner by the sea, the next morning an American vintage car picked them up for hiking in the Ciénaga de Zapata Park, an field trip they describe as "impressive" and "where we were lucky enough to be able to photograph Tocororo, the national bird of Cuba", specifically on the Sendero Enigma de la Roca, a walk through the forest along a tectonic foult full of cenotes, to take a refreshing swim. They took a historical part of this field trip with a view of the Playa Girón Museum, where they could learn about the recent history of the failed landing of the Americans in Bahía de Cochinos in 1961; “Our guide on this excursion, Ana María, was an ace, a very complete guide who taught us just as much about biology in the swamp as about Cuban history at the Museum”
To have a snack and refresh, they stopped at Punta Perdiz one of the areas with the largest coral formations and great marine life on the entire island, "crazy, a very good place to snorkel with a free buffet to eat that was not bad at all," says Ana.
Varadero, the pearl of the Caribbean in the Atlantic
After 12 intense days touring the island, they only had the culmination of the trip, 3 days of absolute rest as every honeymoon requires, at the Meliá Internacional de Varadero, a five-star hotel recently remodeled and modernized in one of the best Caribbean beaches.
Being the cliché of the honeymoon (luxury hotel, romantic dinner by the beach, massage in the SPA for two...), it could have been the best experience for young people. The hotel, which exhibits all its elegance and comfort, for this couple in particular, became a little cold though after all they had experienced. "The truth is that everything was great there, but it is a place where we could not have contact with ordinary Cubans, where the reality of the island is not appreciated, where one does not eat as in the house of a peasant" although relax, beach vibes and rest were 100% guaranteed.
Ana and Miguel are grateful for the excellent planning of CubaUnique and they think that thanks to the punctuality and level of organization of the team they managed to visit many interesting sites: "Perhaps on our own we could not have visited the places that really mattered ...", they say. The field trips, the people who attended them in the private houses where they spent the night, the drivers, the guides, the anecdotes they treasure have touched them; "Is another mentality, a human quality that we are not used to"Miguel tells us.
And that is why when asked "In a word or phrase, how would you describe Cuba?" they become thoughtful, they doubt, they do not rush to answer… and they conclude that this island is definitely "Another world, very different from the picture we had in our minds". And agreed that "You have to live it, not in Varadero in a hotel, you have to interact, see, feel, talk to everyone"
Today, Ana and Miguel tell their honeymoon with enthusiasm, with a special sparkle in their eyes. Cuba witnessed the love of these young people and they carry a little piece of the island in their hearts.
Article written by Gabriela Rodríguez, independent guide of Cuba. Photographs courtesy of Ana Isabel and Miguel Ángel and photographer Juan Manuel Cruz del Cueto. www.cruzdelcueto.com
The entire CubaUnique team thank you for your kindness, involvement and enthusiasm for conducting this interview. It has been a real pleasure to organize your honeymoon. Thank you and see you next time!0