We love guest blog posts! Today’s awesome article on Cuba the way you’ve never seen it before is by a Cuban shutterbug Jorge Coromina. Jorge loves traveling his country, capturing its landscapes both with his lens and his heart. Do you want to write a guest post for our blog? Get in touch!
Try Googling the words “Cuba travel” in your browser and then click on the “Images” tab. The results are pretty obvious: vintage cars from the 1950s, rundown buildings in the downtown area, graffiti slogans splayed on cracked walls, old ladies dressed in motley colors with huge cigars pressed between their lips, schoolchildren wearing their uniforms. There’s nothing wrong with those images. They truly paint quite an accurate picture of what Cuba is all about.
For someone like me, born and bred on the largest Caribbean island nation, those commonplace images don’t come short of mixed emotions. On the one hand, that’s really what Cuba is like; but on the other hand, it’s by no means everything the country has to show.
I humbly believe the primary beauty of every nation is no doubt its nature and scenery, and in that sense Cuba is a glittering gem. Cuba’s nature has a little bit of everything: gorgeous beaches, pristine offshore keys, mountains and valleys, untapped nature reserves, national parks, endemic wildlife and exotic flowers, small waterfalls, lush green foliage everywhere, and even round-top hills called mogotes. A similar opinion applies to the island nation’s culture and architecture, featuring colonial-style fortresses and forts, some of them built as far back as the 17th century.
I know what you might be thinking now. What else can he tell us if he’s Cuban after all?
Alright. Then try to do what nearly three million people from around the world do every year – they travel to Cuba as tourists - for a firsthand look at the island nation’s breathtaking landscapes. In the meantime, I can show you what it’s like and perhaps take you on a little tour around half a dozen regions and destinations you can’t ignore.
As a nonprofessional photographer – I call myself a shutterbug with a liking for photography since I was a kid - I have traveled to all those places with my gear in tow, ready to shoot at things in my own turf that look different through my lenses because I gaze at them through my heart.
Pinar del Rio
This is Cuba’s westernmost province, home to the above-mentioned mogotes at the Viñales Valley, a safe haven for wild orchids, migratory birds and endemic species. Viñales is a place not even pictures can describe well. You have to stand there and feast eyes on the valley before you. For someone who looks at that piece of scenery for the first time, the initial reaction is not to grab the camera immediately and start taking shots. You take your time to let the view get a full hold on you, and then you get to your photograph plan.
From there you can move either westbound to visit the Guanahacabibes National Park for a glimpse at unspoiled nature, making a stopover at Maria La Gorda, a fabulous scuba diving site where you can look at unpolluted sea bottoms teeming with coral reefs and gaudy marine species; or you can drive your way to Soroa, a piece of paradisiacal land full of wild orchids and a beautiful waterfall.
The island nation’s capital has one place worth a long walk: Old Havana, the historic core of the capital, boasts the amazing architecture of the colonial past. It’s block after block of restored buildings and plazas inside a beltway that covers a few square miles. Years of neglect and mismanagement took their toll on many of these buildings that needed far more than just a fresh coat of paint. Fortunately, that part of the city is now getting a new lease on life for the sake of both locals and travelers. And don’t miss out on the Christopher Columbus Cemetery if you really want to gaze at the largest outdoor museum of mortuary and funeral monuments in the Americas.
There’s a couple of destinations too hard to pass up in this province east of Havana. Varadero is one of them, a 16-mile-long strip of powder-thin sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters nestled on the north coast of a narrow peninsula. Though the views are stunning and the sunsets are out of this world, the addition of too many fancy resorts and marinas is making a dent on the foreshore’s natural beauty.
The other site is completely different in both location and manmade intervention. The Zapata Marshlands stand for the largest wetlands in the Caribbean region. It is home to countless species and it’s always been the natural corridor for migratory birds that flutter south, away from the chilly temperatures of the North American winter. The abundance of wildlife here is unfathomable.
Cuba is not exactly an island, but rather an archipelago of over 1,600 keys and islets scattered all around the main island. Many of them remain untapped, while others have been exploited by the growing local travel industry. Like Varadero –though not dotted with as many resorts and hotels everywhere- the keys on both the north and south coasts are quite an attraction. They can be reached by plane or by boat. You can also rent a car and drive down the long roads that bridge some of the keys with the main island.
And don’t forget to travel to the Isle of Youth, the second-largest island of the Cuban archipelago, a charming place with amazing sea bottoms for diving buffs and the world’s only beach of black sands (Bibijagua).
I can randomly pick the name Trinidad (Holy Trinity), a colonial city where time seems to be standing still since the 16th century, which is as a matter of fact one of the most sought-after allures among visiting tourists. But that entire enclave of central Cuba has a whole lot more to offer. There are beaches and keys, mountains and valleys, waterfalls and ancient ruins. Topes de Collantes, Cienfuegos, the Valley of Mills, the Hanabanilla Lake and El Nicho are a few good cases in point.
Last but not least, eastern Cuba can wrap up a good tour across the island nation. There are five provinces, each and every one of them with charms and beauties of their own. But if you want me to help you make a list of the must-sees over there, then here I go: The Turquino National Park, home to Cuba’s highest peaks; the Desembarco del Granma and Alejandro de Humboldt national parks, and the entire province of Holguin up in the north are my top picks. Baracoa, in the easternmost province of Guantanamo, was the first village founded by the Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century and the trip there is worth the effort.
Thanks for reading!