Unwind at Eastern Havana Beaches
Located just 30 minutes from the hustle and grit of Havana’s city center is the palm-fringed coast known as Playas del Este (Eastern Beaches). There are half a dozen beaches out this way, but Santa María – with appreciable shade and the softest, cleanest sand – is the best. Head to the beach town of Guanabo to hang with locals. The stretch near Boca Ciega is a traditional LGBT hangout. Most Cubans will not go near the beach in the ‘cold’ winter months between January and April, but during the peak summer season these beaches get incredibly crowded.
Embrace the green at Las Terrazas and Soroa
A drive into the heart of the undulating and verdant Sierra del Rosario range (Cuba’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve), is a sure tonic for fatigue and worry. Las Terrazas, 45 minutes west of Havana, is a former artist colony now eco-tourism experiment with open studios, canopy, hiking, birdwatching and swimming in river cascades.
Roll a world-class cigar in Viñales
The Viñales Valley, peppered with rare pin-cushion hills, is spectacular enough to warrant longer than a day trip, if you have the time. The town is quaint in that ceramic-roof, cane-rocker-on-the-porch kind of way and the hospitality of Cuban guajiros (countryfolk) is unsurpassed. Accept any invite to go horseback riding or hiking amid the oddly bulbous limestone mogotes (hills); Viñales becomes a rock climbing mecca from December through April. The A-frame structures covered in shaggy fronds you will see are drying houses for the world’s finest cigar tobacco, grown throughout this part of Pinar del Río province.
Swim in crystal-clear waters of Varadero
Cuba’s finest beach destination, a 12-mile (20km) long peninsula with powdery sand, bathtub-temperature sea and all-inclusive resorts, Varadero has all the amenities required to enjoy a fun-filled day trip. Take an early ride 87 miles (140 km) east of Havana center and you’ll be sitting under a palm leaf umbrella before 10 am. Take a dip in one of the Caribbean’s most pristine beaches or sip cocktails in the shade before heading out for a late lunch at any of Varadero’s notable restaurants. With impeccable service and seafood, Varadero 60 comes highly recommended, but for an after-lunch spirit opt for the mahogany-wooden bar Casa Blanca atop Mansión Xanadú – the view over the sunbathed peninsula is simply unparalleled.
Explore Hemingway’s favorite fishing village
Less than 20 minutes east from Havana’s oldest quarter is the charming fishing village of Cojímar, famous for hosting Ernest Hemingway’s maritime adventures back in the 1940’s and 50’s. Tourist busloads usually stop at Restaurante La Terraza for a daiquiri on the terrace, but more hearty meals and fantastic mojitos are offered at Ajiaco Café . This little town is a slow-paced community, where it’s possible to meet locals in a 100% Cuban environment – walk around the malecón (a smaller version of Havana’s iconic promenade) for a glimpse of the natural allure that enchanted Papa 70 years ago.
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