As though stepping off the plane and stepping back in time, Cuba is an island seemingly paused in the past.The diversity and intermingling of different styles and expressions, with the lack of modern American influence, are demonstrated in the city’s bones and is what makes the unique culture of Cuba so captivating.
Roaming through the timeworn streets of Havana, the city center demonstrates its Spanish influence in the colorful and eclectic architecture. Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the late 1800s and early 1900s’ French decorative arts movements, are epitomized within the buildings’ interior and exterior designs. A passion for art remains abundant in the Cuban culture as art museums and shops are routed along the main streets, in contrast to the franchises and big name stores that dominate other major cities around the world. The U.S. embargo is evident in the old-time vehicles that line the narrow thoroughfares, the lack of large food chains flooding every corner, and the decrepit and forgotten buildings too derelict to be remembered and rebuilt – yet all this adds together to create this unique and wonderful country happily stuck in the 50s.
It’s a melancholy and bittersweet feeling knowing that soon enough Cuba will start to garner more and more American influence and lose some of its old school authenticity– a win for the economy but a loss for the untouched, almost innocent beauty that is Cuba.
The Riu Varadero was less lavish than other resorts I have vacationed at but provided all the luxuries we could have needed for our 5 night stay. The grounds are nice and well landscaped with everything kept exquisitely clean. Along the beach there is water sport equipment and a beach volleyball court ready to be put to use.
There are two pools with swim up bars, one in the main area and one in the adults only section. The staff is consistently joyful and ready to cater to any needs that might arise. Within each room a self-serve bar is stocked and ready to be rocked, comfy beds adorned with fine linens, and towels folded into neat decorations. Although Cuba has a bad rep for bad food, the cuisine at our resort was always well prepared, and the Cuban meals we enjoyed off resort, consisting of flavorful rice and seasoned chicken, were absolutely delicious. The entertainment staff were definitely the highlight of the trip, teaching us dance routines to popular hits like “Ai Se Tu Pego” and how to salsa and merengue. We tried Cuban cigars and our friend Noel taught us how to cut them with our teeth. On the Saturday, a giant pool and beach games tournament commenced and got everyone up and having a great time either participating in the competition or cheering on their friends – OH and might I add, I won the championship!!!
We also ventured out on a Sunwing excursion called Jeep Safari Yumuri. Via Jeeps, we explored the beautiful lands of Varadero and the town of Matanzas making pit stops along the way; we stopped at a beautiful bay called Coral Beach, snorkeled and explored the Santurno Cave, drove motorboats along the Canimar river, and off roaded to a ranch where after riding horses and a (calm) bull through the countryside, we ate a traditional Cuban meal.
From learning to salsa, to tanning on the white sandy miles long beach, to swimming in the warm and wavy ocean, to exploring the dark and mysterious caves, to drinking and dancing the nights (and the days) away, to making new friends, and to everything in-between…Cuba exceeded my expectations.