Rick Steves from Seattle Times travels beyond Havana

Posted: 04-Jan-17 09:14

The well-known travel writer Rick Steves recently visited Cuba and toured the colonial city of Trinidad and the tobacco-growing region of the Vinales Valley. In both instances, he stayed in a B&B and got to know his host families. Two things are clear from Steves' experience: there is much more to Cuba than Havana, and the perhaps the country's greatest asset is its people.

Rick Steves from Seattle Times travels beyond Havana

Travel writer Rick Steves recently made his first visit to Cuba. Unlike many visitors, Steves ventured beyond the well-trod tourist destination of Havana and toured the colonial city of Trinidad, roughly a three-hour drive from the capital. Steves decided to make the trip in a classic taxi, which he found almost as efficient and economical as taking the bus.

Trinidad, though less visited than Havana, is nonetheless a popular tourist destination, and consequently the centuries-old city is dotted with restaurants, plenty of live music, and plenty of options for accommodations. Steves booked a B&B in the historic centre of Trinidad. "Casas particulares" (private residences) are a popular option for travellers as they provide guests with a more authentic experience of the country than a hotel.

For his tour of Trinidad, Steves hired a guide named Julio, who possessed a warm, welcoming personality and was a wealth of information on Trinidad. Like many other travellers to Cuba, Steves found that among the country’s many charms, its greatest is perhaps its people.

Steves also travelled to Vinales Valley National Park, a lush, primordial expanse of land near the western tip of the island. Viñales is one of the country’s most popular destinations; a relatively short drive from Havana, the area is beautiful, the air is fresh, and it seems worlds away from modern civilization. Again, Steves chose to stay in a B&B, where each day began with a rooftop breakfast as the sun rose.

While in Vinales, Steves had many of the typical tourist experiences in the area: a horse ride through the stunning countryside and a nvisit to a coffee plantation and one of the region’s many tobacco farms. The Vinales Valley is central to the country’s tobacco industry, and like many visitors to the region, Steves got to watch a tobacco farmer carefully roll a cigar from raw leaves.

Steves found that Cuba’s tourism industry and infrastructure are still underdeveloped. The writer recommends the privately-run "paladares", which are essentially small restaurants operated in a private residence. Though the embargo means that ingredients are often in short supply, paladares generally offer better food and service than government-run restaurants. Many B&Bs and casas particulares provide meals for an added charge.

Like many travellers to Cuba, Steves found that while there may be few of the major hotels and tourist attractions to which many foreign visitors are accustomed, the Cuban people are warm-hearted and welcoming to international visitors.


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