Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Cuba

Bailey actual 2 Bailey taking in the beautiful views of Trinidad © Bailey Freeman

Bailey Freeman, Lonely Planet's Destination Editor for Central America and the Caribbean, recently took a trip to Cuba to check out two of the country’s historic cities: Havana and Trinidad.

Tell us more… Over the course of a week, I got a Cuba crash course. I had the chance to explore the famously beautiful streets of Havana, attend a performance at one of the capital city’s most famous jazz clubs, road trip across the country in a 1950s Bel Air, take a salsa lesson in Trinidad and go swimming in a crystal clear pool in rural Cuba.

In a nutshell… Cuba is one of those places you can read about over and over, but nothing compares to hitting the ground and experiencing it first-hand. Havana’s striking visage is the first thing you’ll get wrapped up in, and when you start digging a little deeper, you’ll find all sorts of unique surprises. I was most impressed by Havana’s thriving art scene; fantastic galleries, boutique shops, artisan crafts all fuelled the creative energy. Trinidad is like Havana’s laid-back cousin – the streets are quieter and the town itself feels more tropical and southern, but it’s home to just as much interesting history and plenty of fun nightlife.

Bailey 1 The beautiful streets of Havana © Bailey Freeman

Learning to unplug Since I was only there for a short trip, I didn’t bother waiting in the rather lengthy ETECSA lines to try and rent a Cuban phone; I was completely unplugged for the duration of the visit, and it was a rather refreshing change, though it would have been handy when I got lost a couple of times without a map. So, top tips: take pictures of maps or print maps before you go, and enjoy disconnecting for a while.

Defining moment… Sitting in Trinidad’s Plaza Mayor at sunset, watching the light turn everything golden. Plaza Mayor is a Unesco World Heritage site and the beating heart at the city’s center. Locals and tourists all congregate here to take in the great hill-top view, which stretches all the way to the sea.

You’d be a muppet to miss… In Cuba, music is life – salsa, rumba, Cuban son all echo through the streets on a nightly basis. Myriad bars feature live bands, and jazz and salsa clubs abound. In Havana, spend an evening listening to fun and inventive jazz at La Zorra y El Cuervo; in Trinidad, try out your salsa moves (or connect with an instructor) at the Rincon de la Salsa, a lively bar with an energetic dance floor.

Souvenirs… Even though I’m not a smoker, I had to snag a couple of quality Cuban cigars to see what all the fuss was about. I popped into a smoke shop and asked the man at the counter to point me in the direction of his favorites. I purchased a couple, but I’ve yet to crack them open – waiting for something big to celebrate!

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Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Check out where Destination Editor Alex Howard has just got back from.

Bailey Freeman travelled to Cuba with support from Homestay.com. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.