After leaving Havana and with the security of an experienced local driver, Saul and I tackled a fairly ambitious route around Cuba. Although we visited not just small towns, but also many of Cuba’s large cities, there is a strong rural feel to most of the country outside of Havana. Cuba is a fascinating place and selecting just a few out of hundreds of interesting photos was a hopeless task, but here’s our gallery of the Cuban countryside.
Our first stop after Havana was the town of Viñales in Pinar del Río, Cuba’s westernmost province. While much of the Cuban countryside is not dramatically beautiful, this was one of the prettiest areas that we visited.
Outside Havana, Cuba is still heavily reliant on draft animals. Hard-working but generally well-cared for oxen and horses are used extensively for both farming and the transport of people.
The Royal palm is Cuba’s national tree. These supremely graceful trees are everywhere, their tops gently moving in the breeze like ostrich feathers on a Parisienne’s hat. They are Cuban trees to me now – I will never see one again without thinking of Cuba.
Wikitravel describes the Mural de la Prehistoria as “perhaps the worst tourist attraction in Cuba” and I agree. Spoiling an otherwise gorgeous valley a few kilometres from Viñales, the idea for this giant “artwork” is attributed to two illustrious revolutionaries and a celebrated ballerina and was executed at great (and clearly wasted) expense in the early sixties.
The giant cliff painting in primary colours symbolizes the theory of evolution, and its creation must have been prompted at least in part by the anti-religious stance of the Cuban Communist Party (until 1991, only avowed atheists could be members of the party).
The tobacco industry in Cuba is profoundly labour-intensive, with every step of the process from planting to rolling the final cigars done by hand.
All Cuban cigars are rolled in government-controlled factories, with the farmers who supply the tobacco only allowed to roll a small number themselves, for personal use. Saul took this portrait of the 82-year old expert cigar roller at the Robaina estate while we were chatting to him after a tour we took there.
The Robaina family has been growing tobacco since 1845. Alejandro Robaina, who died aged 91 in 2010, became such an icon of the cigar world that the Cuban government created Vegas Robaina, a new cigar brand, in his honour in 1997.
The Cubans around us were polite but no doubt appalled at the waste of such a distinguished cigar. At least Saul and I, being non-smokers, shared only one, of which we finished at least a third!
Topes de Collantes is a nature reserve near the city of Trinidad where we did some hot and sweaty but rather beautiful hiking.
Restricted to Cuba and parts of the Bahamas, the Cuban pewee was our first bird of the morning on a guided birding walk in Playa Larga, on the Bay of Pigs (which we visited for the birds rather than the history).
Tocororo is the Spanish name for the endemic Cuban trogon, also the national bird of Cuba. Tocororos are fairly common in Cuba and easy to spot with their clear bell-like call.
We were lucky enough to see the endemic Cuban pygmy owl on 2 separate occasions in different areas
Las Salinas (the salt marshes) in the Zapata Swamp is one of the most spectacular wetlands birding areas I have ever visited. Definitely recommended for birders!
Also known as Caribbean flamingos (not strictly correct, as they also occur in the Galápagos Islands), the colour of their plumage is influenced by diet. In Cuba they are rosy pink rather than the strong salmon shade we saw in the Galápagos.
Our guide had great difficulty getting us out of Las Salinas, and with a sunset like this, who could blame us!
A pair of Cuban screech-owls popped their heads up after some gentle tapping on a dead palm trunk
Given that all the Cuban bird guides in the area seem to know about this palm tree, I guess the owls will have to move at some stage (or else embrace insomnia). Although perhaps the 2-hour walk into a mosquito-infested forest to get to them means they still get enough sleep…
One of the most-visited cities in Cuba, Trinidad somehow maintains its laid-back charm
“Profesor” is Spanish for teacher, and dancing with the profesor, whom we encountered in a bar in Trinidad on the afternoon of Saul’s birthday, was an absolute blast
Chatting to a mechanic restoring a Lada, which he reckoned would be on the road within a month. Unsurprisingly, the expertise in car maintenance and restoration in Cuba is incredible.
This was the view from a rooftop restaurant in Gibara, where Saul and I dined alone on a moonlit night
Hurricane Matthew hit Baracoa in Oct 2016. When we were there in Dec, the footage that we saw on people’s phones was truly frightening. Hurricane-savvy Cuba had however done a great job of evacuating. Only 4 people died. They were employees of a Canadian mining company who died 2 months later when a damaged bridge they were repairing collapsed. Hurricane Matthew killed more than 1000 people in 6 countries.
Maria makes sure Saul has enough to eat. This simple but lavish spread was typical of the casa dinners we had in Cuba.
The inscription on the wall reads “Block 7, Zone 26”. The Cuban government organises some services by block, e.g. historically each block had its own clinic and family doctor looking after residents of that block.
Evidence in support of my theory on Cuban shirt-wearing habits: the bigger the belly, the less likely that a shirt will be worn
Like many older people, this 92-year old retiree loved to chat. He was very upbeat about Cuban healthcare and said that he always got care immediately when he needed it – no waiting lists.
The phrase on this roadside propaganda billboard roughly translates as “the great fatherland that grows”