Pabel Perez was the Peruvian winner of our Regional Tour Leader Awards. His prize was a visit to Cuba as an Explore customer! Read on to find out more about his experiences on the other side of an Explore adventure.
"In Cuba there was a revolution under the leadership of Fidel Castro. In 1959 they established a new socialist administration, since that time Cuba remain the same.
The first day we visit the Capitol, built in 1929 and inspired in the American Capitol. The Cuban government since 1990 started the rescue of "La Habana vieja" or "the Old Havana" which is the historical part of havana where you can see impressive neoclassic arquitecture with an influence of French, British, and American. Some people in the group say it looks like European city in the way we can see a group of people - it looks like they are arguing or fighting but they are actually talking about sports!
Cubans are very expressive, it is common to see people on the plazas and on the streets, they are very friendly and if you speak Spanish they will try to talk to you most of the time trying to sell you an habano or something else! The economy of the people is probably not the best, but everybody has health care, a house or place to live and free education. Salary is really basic and everybody earns almost the same - sometimes you see a doctor working as a bell boy in a hotel where they can make more money.
Something very nice are the old American cars and bikes from 40s, 50s, 60s, and sometimes even older, is like time was stopped. It's possible to take a ride in one open convertible and this is probably the best way to see Havana. Then we went to "Jose Marti memorial" monument dedicated to the most important poet and national hero of the revolution. He inspired and organised people for the revolution - if you ever hear the song "Guantamera" this guy write it, but not as a song, its a poem. This monument is on the "plaza of the revolution " where the longest speech of Fidel Castro was given, lasting about eight hours.
Then we went to El Malecon a nice place to enjoy the ocean and the sunset in the afternoon good for pictures with a fantastic view of "el Castillo de Los Reyes Magos del Morro", built in 1585 during the colonial times in order to protect the bay of La Habana from pirate attacks. Then we visits la cathedral near by Obispo street, the most touristic area but with the local flavor. You can find book shops, museums, souvenirs in small markets and restaurants call the "Paladares" where you find traditional dishes basis on rice, pork, beans and plantains. In the afternoon you can walk the "Paseo del Prado" one of the best streets of la habana where there are many artist working.
We drive to Viñales which is a farming area. On the way the countryside is very different, a contrast of Havana. Here life is so quiet, paceful and very relaxing. We stop in some "paradores" - small places where is posible to enjoy a really good coffee and snack. Then we stop at lookout point to have the best view of tobacco plantations - really flat farming areas with a red soil, in contrast of the geological natural formations call "Mogotes". These are amazing mountains of limestone, inside there are caves where you see stalactites. We also took a boat ride on the rivers inside the mountain in the afternoon. But before that we have a walking in the farming areas so is possible to appreciate better the tobacco plants. We stop in a house of a farmer where he shows to us how they store the tobacco leaves and how to roll an habano cigarette and we try a wonderful piña colada - the local drink.
The next day we head to Trinidad but on the way we stop to see the old steamer train that is still working. It was the way how products been taken from the country to Havana in the past. Then another stop to visit a museum in the Bay of Pigs where is posible to learn about the failed military invasion of Cuba by the CIA-sponsored paramilitary group in 1961. Here there are some weapons, old tanks, and an airplane. Then our next stop was a place for snorkeling, the water is so clear, and warm you have a great time for swimming and if you snorkel you can enjoy the corals and very colorful fishes. That afternoon we arrive to Trinidad.
Trinidad is a beautiful town placed near the ocean. It was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 because its colonial architecture was a large sugar cane plantation area. We visit the house of Francisco Iznaga, a powerful landlord on this region. From the tower of this house you have the best view of this town, also there are beautiful plazas, houses which are very colorful and the streets are stone-paved. But something unique in this town is music. Cuban music is very rich and the most commonly known expression of culture. The most important is "el Son " which is the basis of salsa,rumba, mambo and cha-cha-cha.
And here in Trinidad is possible to visit "the house of the trova", colonial houses where there is live music and every night is party in the town. Some streets are closed, there is a live music shows and you can dance with the locals and have some drinks. Also in Trinidad you can do hiking to some of the small mountains and there is plenty of time to go to the beach of Playa Ancon, one of the resort areas, with white sand, blue sky, and warm water.
On the way back to Havana we visit the mausoleum of "El Che Guevara" an iconic place for the Cuban people. Security is amazing - you have to leave your cameras and even mobile phones - and after 45 minutes wait finally is possible to visit. Here is "el Che" and his companions a group of 18 people all of then capture and kill in Bolivia Including four Peruvian. There Is a big and impressive statue of "el Che ".
Cuba is a unique country because the history is still taking place, now is possible to see some changes and probably in some years is will be a different place. I had a really good time and the most important good memories."