Irish visitors to Cuba are growing and the Caribbean destination is featured in several Irish tour operators’ programmes. Lainey Quinn reports from the city of Trinidad – and offers her Top Ten Facts You Didn’t Know About Cuba.
Trinidad is a city of colonial tales, winding cobblestoned streets and rainbow-coloured buildings. It has been perfectly preserved since the early 19th century, even the shop fronts and locals don’t seem to have changed their appearance. However, it’s not just the appearance that makes it so easy to fall in love with this small Cuban haven. From the crack of dawn until the sun goes down, the sounds of salsa music, horses’ hooves clip-clopping on the cobbles as their wooden carriages rumble behind them, and children singing and laughing, fill the narrow streets. Trinidad welcomes tourists to immerse themselves in its history, charming culture and music.
Salto del Caburni Excursion (Horse-riding, Hiking and Natural Pool Swimming)
If you are staying in a casa particular, ask your host to organise the Salto del Caburni Excursion for you. Casa hosts in Cuba are the most friendly and warm people I have ever met and they will be more than happy to help you organise trips and excursions. You’ll get picked up by a horse and carriage outside your casa and brought to where your trusty steed awaits you.
After riding your new four-legged friend through the coloured city of Trinidad, your guide will bring you through the vast countryside where you will stop at a small, secluded farmyard for a quick break. After you replenish yourself with freshly pressed sugarcane juice, you’ll continue on horseback through a tropical rainforest followed by a short hike to the magical pools and waterfall. Enjoy a fresh swim and relaxing cocktail in these gorgeous surroundings before you head back to your casa exactly the way you came. Altogether, the excursion takes six hours and only cost us 20 CUC each.
Eat, Drink and Smoke, Cuban Style
The most popular dish in Cuba is rice, beans and pork and is absolutely delicious – and even better with a freshly made mojito on the side. Food is extremely cheap in Trinidad so expect to only have to pay roughly €5 for a main dish in an authentic restaurant and €2 for a mojito.
Head to a tobacconist and pick up a few Cuban cigars (never buy them off the street), the shop owner will be more than happy to advise on flavours and strengths. At night, go to Rincón de la Salsa for live music, the best cocktails in the town and get ready for it to turn into a vibrant salsa nightclub!
Most casa hosts will offer their guests breakfast and I’d recommend taking up the offer. A typical Cuban breakfast consists of tropical fruits such as papaya, banana and pineapple, warm bread rolls, biscuits and a cup of Cuban coffee or tea, yum!
Become a Salsa Pro
There is salsa absolutely everywhere in Trinidad and it’s very easy to find classes that suit your needs and budget. Head to Casa la Musique and enquire about doing lessons either in a group or privately. They last for about an hour and cost 8 CUC per person, which isn’t too bad considering you’ll be a pro salsa dancer by the end of it.
After your lesson go to Rincón de la Salsa and put those new moves you learnt into action. If you fancy continuing your salsa skills in Ireland, there are plenty of bars and clubs that offer lessons for beginners and advanced dancers. The River Bar in Dublin has cheap salsa and bachata classes on nearly evening of the week and it’s in a fun, group setting.
Here’s a quick video of our Trinidad instructors showing us how it’s done: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo7Uait-3CI
Lainey’s Top Ten Facts You Didn’t Know About Cuba
- Cuba has a 99% literacy rate, which is one of the highest in the world. In 1961, Fidel Castro closed down Cuban schools for a year so that the students from the sixth grade and up could teach illiterate Cubans how to read and it was very successful.
- There is no such thing as ‘Coca Cola’ in Cuba due to the embargo, but they do make a lovely rendition of their own. The only other country in the world where Coca Cola is not officially sold is North Korea.
- You can’t put anything down the toilet because the irrigation system is bad in many parts of the country. Everything goes into the bin!
- Billboards in Cuba are not used for advertisements. Instead, they celebrate past revolutionary leaders such as Che Guevara and the fight for freedom that took place between 1953-1959.
- There’s a bronze statue of John Lennon in Havana’s John Lennon Park with an inscription that reads: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”.
- Government vehicles in Cuba are legally required to pick up any hitchhikers.
- John F. Kennedy ordered 1,200 of his favourite Cuban cigars the night before he signed the Cuban embargo.
- The famous Hotel Nacionale in Havana used to be run by the US mafia and plenty of world-famous figures have stayed there, including Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Steven Spielberg and many more.
- Cuba has one of the best health care systems and has a large amount of medically trained professionals. The Latin America Medical School located in Havana is the largest medical school in the world.
- Wi-fi is still heavily restricted and controlled by the Cuban government. In most cases, homes are not allowed to have Internet and only academics, engineers or government officials can have Internet connection at work.