Pearl of the Caribbean Sea

Increasing numbers of tourists choosing Cuba each year for holidays

Increasing numbers of tourists choosing Cuba each year for holidays

At the recently held tourist exhibition, FITCuba-2016, Cuba’s Tourism Minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, noted that, last year, Cuba welcomed 3.5 million travellers. He added that, in 2016, 3.8 million are expected, and Cuba is aiming for closer to 5 million.

Interest in the unique archipelago in the Caribbean Sea is huge, due to 300km of unspoilt beaches, a warm ocean and around 300 sunny days each year. The islands boast luxurious tropical greenery and the smaller ones are largely uninhabited. The Cuba Autentica tourist route accents the nation’s rich culture and history.

Where should you go if your heart is broken and you are without hope? If you think you’ve seen it all and that life holds no surprises? Head to Cuba, which offers more than travellers realise.

Havana is top of the list for most visitors. Last year, the biggest city within the Caribbean (home to around 2.5 million people) received 1.7 million tourists. Founded in 1519 (as La Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana), the Cuban capital is brimming with notable sites, its historical centre being recognised by UNESCO. You can promenade to your heart’s content, soaking up the atmosphere of times past: from Spanish conquistadors to American mobsters. The old city has 52 streets and over 1,000 buildings of architectural and historical value. You truly are surrounded by 16th-18th century colonial buildings, with their ornate columns, and carved wooden lattices on balconies and around courtyards.

Reconstruction is underway everywhere, with fragments of frescoes and masonry from ancient times being restored. Each of its five major squares is unique, but the Plaza de San Francisco is unmissable, with its beautiful basilica; classical music is always heard beneath its walls.

Plaza de Armas (the Square of Weaponry), where Havana begins, is known for its El Templete chapel (built to mark the city’s foundation), its La-Fuerza Fortress (built in the 16th century) and its magical ceiba tree. They say that if you walk around this sacred tree three times and make a wish, it will come true. You’ll always see tourists putting the miracle to the test.

Havana’s Revolution Square is dazzling, with its 18m tall marble statue of Christ, blessing the city. You can also walk the narrow alleyways of the legendary La Cabaña Fortress, where Che Guevara was a commandant; the main gun fires each day, at 9pm, marking the arrival of night. You might want to stay at the hotel where Hemingway slept, or go to the café where he drank mojitos in the afternoon, or the bar where he ordered daiquiris in the evening. There’s a museum in an 18th century manor, and a huge theatre, whose walls remember Sara Berner, Maya Plisetskaya, Anna Pavlova, Enrico Caruso, and the famous Tropicana cabaret, which Al Capone once visited.

A completely different world reigns beyond the capital, with snow-white beaches, extreme sports, and a trip back in time, to 160,000 years ago. Varadero Beach, located 150km from Havana, is a three-hour journey by road. The sand is as fine as flour, embracing your toes, and its Atlantic Ocean shore is lapped by turquoise waves. Over 52 hotels are available, to suit every taste and purse (from rather good three-star hotels to those of royal status). There’s a spa, a dolphinarium in a natural lagoon, discos, and Creole cooking to sample. You can head to Cayo Blanco, a truly uninhabited island, is you seek solitude; it’s just 40 minutes via catamaran.

Meanwhile, Pinar del Río Province offers visitors a unique experience at its natural park. The Valle de Viñales has won awards as a cultural treasure, thanks to its pre-historic rock paintings. In the early 1960s, a panel measuring 120mx180m was discovered. Some believe it depicts the evolution of humanity, while others think it reveals the history of the archipelago.

It would be impossible to list every tourist site on the Island of Freedom. There’s fishing, diving, snorkelling, kite-surfing, tranquillity untouched by civilisation, and the French charm of Cienfuegos, as well as the magnificence of the Spanish architecture of Trinidad, and passionate Latin American rhythms.

Only about 2,500 Belarusians make the trip each year but the Cuban Ambassador to Belarus, Gerardo Suarez Alvarez, notes, “We’re waiting for you! We’re not strangers, having a common history. Despite the distance, we’ve always understood each other.” Ivis Fernández Peña, a representative of the Tourism Ministry in Varadero, asserts, “I’m sure that Belarusians will enjoy our sun, cooking and cordiality, just as Cubans like all these things. We know that it’s not a cheap choice for you, so one of our strategies is to reduce prices for the Belarusian market. We’d like to develop our tourism, and are ready to negotiate, liaising with Belarusian colleagues.”

By Galina Toropetskaya
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