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A brief photo guide to Cuba 🇨🇺

You may have seen that the younger half of Film Bros visited Cuba in November 2019 (if you follow our excellent socials!). I decided to provide a bit more narrative and background around the photos I took, with some tips thrown in for good measure. 

Across my two week trip in late 2019, I visited Havana, Vinales, Playa Larga and Trinidad. With me was a Canon A-E1 Program camera with the standard 50mm f1.8 lens and a triple pack expired of Fujicolor C200 film.

Havana

Havana is where my trip started and landing down at José Martí International, I landed into the greenest of surroundings. The abundantly green landscape of Cuba would be a running theme throughout my trip and was a welcome change to the dreary grey cityscapes I was used to in London. 

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Above: A view of Havana, across from the district of Casablanca. The domed Capitolio building can be seen in the centre.

As it so happened, the 500th anniversary of Havana coincided with my time in the country, and this was most evident in the capital. There were numerous street parties, food and celebrations and a neat logo to commemorate the occasion, and it made walking through the city a joy as it was full of surprises and photo opportunities in equal measure.

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Above: Beautiful classic American cars, mostly from the 1950s are numerous, and make for great photo ops.

I got the impression, however, that no matter when I'd visited, Cubans would've found some excuse to set up food & cocktail stalls and salsa into the night, being the social bunch they are. This was reflected in the hospitality provided by our hosts, taxi drivers, waiters and the Cuban people in general, which was second to none. 

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Above: Arched facades are a mainstay of Havana's historic buildings and provide a convenient place to get shade when walking in the midday sun.   

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Above: A rickshaw heads toward Havana's Chinatown district, passing by trees which have grown upon the grounds of a derelict building.

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Above: La Floridita bar, made famous by Ernest Hemingway who spoke of his love of their daiquiri, where he would regularly drink. This beautiful, busy bar now pays homage to its famous patron with a statue at the end of the bar where he would sit. It celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2017.

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Above: Young baseball players pose on Cuba's national day of sport. This event was organised with the support of the government and involved many local sports groups and schools, with each providing a presentation of their chosen activity.

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Above: Elders practice tai-chi ahead of their presentation on Cuba's national day of sport.

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Above: Food stalls serving a variety of grilled meats. This was organised by the adjacent hotel, but you'll often find more ramshackle offerings as well, which happen to be equally tasty!

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Above: The statue of Jesus looks across Havana from Casablanca, which is situated across the Havana harbour and can be reached by car or boat.

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Above: Havana's iconic Capitolio building. Built in 1929, and currently being restored to be used as Cuba's national assembly. It houses the world's third largest indoor statue.

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Above: A car waits in Havana traffic. 

The quintessential image of Cuba is the colourful classic American car with palm trees and aged buildings in the background. There's a good reason for that. This stereotypical image is almost everywhere you look in the capital. It sometimes feels like your part of an elaborate movie set. The cars work, the buildings are lived in, the trees sway lazily and the city is very much alive. Walking through Havana was something I never got bored of and something I knew I'd miss not long after touching down. It is a town with an abundance of character.

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Above: A row of classic cars patiently waits for tourists.

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Above: Paseo del Prado is a wide promenade lined with marble benches and trees, where artists often sell their paintings. The perfect place for a lazy stroll in the afternoon. 

Vinales

Marking a distinct change of pace from the hustle and bustle on Havana, Vinales is a small sleepy town around 180km west of Havana. Agriculture is the predominant driving force of the economy here, with tobacco and coffee especially popular in addition to fruit and vegetables. Increasingly tourism offers a viable livelihood for locals with many casa particulares available for accommodation, and numerous excursions available for guides to take tourists on.

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Above: Mogotes are a regular feature of the Vinales landscape.

The most striking thing about Vinales is the landscape, which is green with vegetation and punctuated with the striking mogotes. These are large, steep rock formations that emerge from the ground and are often themselves covered in vegetation.

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Above: A photo of mogotes taken during a short lived torrential downpour.

On our first full day in Vinales, my girlfriend and I took a horseback tour of the area, this included visiting a tobacco and coffee grower, seeing a large mural created in 1961 on the side of a mogote depicting dinosaurs(!) and enjoying the landscape while on our leisurely ride. The total ride time was over 3 hours and having never ridden a horse before, we didn't anticipate the pain in the backside we'd feel after getting off.

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Above: Beautiful horses that gave us a tour of Vinales.

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Above: Traditional tobacco house where picked tobacco leaves are dried prior to being rolled into cigars. The majority of this is sold to the government but growers keep some to sell directly to tourists and for personal use.

The main high street in Vinales has restaurants and bars aplenty, with plenty of alfresco dining. Our favourite restaurant in Vinales was the Sunset Restaurant. Located slightly off the beaten track, this restaurant sources their produce from their own farm and allotment, and offers beautiful Cuban dishes like ropa vieja, which is pulled beef served in a flavoursome tomato sauce, with vegetables and rice. We were recommended this restaurant by our host and would have not found it otherwise, so make sure you always ask your host for recommendations!

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Above: A car drives along Vinales' main street during sunset.

In terms of other activities in Vinales, we also visited a small but very interesting botanical garden which was started by two sisters 70 years ago and now offers free donation based tours to people in multiple languages. 

Playa Larga 

Our next stop was this small town located in the Bay of Pigs, and it is visited by tourists pretty much solely for its beautiful beaches. The beaches were clean, the sunsets were beautiful and local vendors were on hand to serve cocktails and food. Not much else to say, come here for relaxing beach days.

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Above: Playa Larga sunset.

Trinidad

Our final town to visit was to the historic colonial town of Trinidad. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, this is a beautiful town with old churches, historic squares, cobbled streets, colourful buildings and plenty to see. This town is a must see if visiting Cuba and my favourite town along with Havana of course. As with Havana, you'll walk to just stroll around, take in the surroundings and slip into a bar for multiple cocktails no matter the time of day.

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Above: Tree lined square in Trinidad. 

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Above: The bust of Jose Marti next to a tall palm tree.

Highlights included Plaza Mayor, which is a beautiful square with palm trees and steps nearby where locals play music and dance salsa late into the night. Another highlight was the impromptu personal tour we received from the director of the 'Museum of the Struggle Against Bandits', which tells the story of the counter revolutionaries who continued their defiance of Castro, Guevara and co, after Batista had fled the country and it had become apparent which side had won. It had cool artefacts such as vehicles, boats and weapons used in that struggle. Make sure to go upstairs into the tower in the same building for great views across Trinidad and toward the Caribbean Sea.

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Above: Car parked on Trinidad street.

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Above: Cobbled Trinidad street.

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Above: View from the tower in the 'Museum of the Struggle Against Bandits'. The Caribbean Sea is visible at the horizon.

One of the food highlights in Trinidad was La Redaccion, which is a restaurant set in the former offices of a local newspaper. The newspaper theme continues to run through the restaurant in the menus and in the newspapers posted on the wall. However, the best thing was the food which was modern, very tasty and included vegetarian dishes (which are not always easy to find in Cuba). 

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Above: A snapshot of the ambiance in La Redaccion.

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Above: Car parked on cobbled Trinidad street. 

And with that my time in Trinidad was complete and we headed back for another couple of days in Havana prior to heading home. We had a rum & cigar tasting booked through Airbnb which was a fitting way to end the two week trip. 

Afterword

One thing not mentioned above is the cocktails, which are strong, cheap and very delicious. It's hard to turn down a £3 cocktail (in the country where many of them were invented), when in London it can cost over £10. If you plan on bringing rum back, buy it from a legitimate store, as the prices are set by the government so you know you're not getting an up-marked tourist price. Having said that, a large bottle of Havana Club 7 year old rum is a fraction of the price in the UK so you should definitely consider packing some if you have the space.

The situation with the internet can be challenging. Internet is available in 'internet parks' or sometimes at your accommodation. Either way, you have to buy a card for time limited access so do not expect regular access everywhere you go. However, we did not find this a huge issue if you have downloaded maps (e.g. Maps.me or Google Maps) and a decent offline itinerary to refer to. It was actually nice to not feel as connected to the outside world and just enjoy Cuba for what it was. Speaking a little bit of Spanish will also make life easier, but not necessarily essential.

Chances are if you visit Cuba, you'll stay in a Casa Particular. This is essentially a homestay / B&B, where the owners live on the premises with separate areas for guests. By staying at a Casa, you'll be able to speak directly with regular Cubans and ask them for their tips & recommendations on things to do and places to visit, and get help with organising excursions. It will also put money into the pocket of a regular family.

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