I hadn’t been to Havana for a number of years, but little appeared to have changed with regard to the state of its historic colonial buildings. Markedly different, however, was the number and the quality of the paradors (private guest houses) and paladares (private restaurants), where the food was absolutely delicious. If you’ve ever eaten at one of Havana’s state run establishments, then you’ll know how bad it can be! There are also some very trendy and contemporary new bars and clubs opening up.
From Havana, I headed off to Trinidad for the obligatory tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a great little colonial city to explore on foot, with the added bonus of a Caribbean beach at Playa Ancon just 10 minutes away.
Because I was short on time, I then flew east from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city, where Fidel Castro proclaimed victory for the Cuban Revolution. The Revolution actually started here with the ill-fated attack on the Moncada Barracks on 26th July 1953, and Castro then adopted ‘M 26-7’ as the name for his movement which eventually toppled the dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. I also visited El Castillo del Morro, which was built in 1638 as a fortress to keep out any unwanted visitors.
A further 3-4 hours by road along the coast from Santiago is Baracoa and my favorite place on the entire island. I’ve always found the locals here to be particularly friendly, perhaps because they are direct descendants from the Taino tribe who, unlike the Incas and Aztecs, were very peaceful people. Here I was able to see the local chocolate making process, swim in the local rivers and grab a couple of hours on the isolated beach of Playa Maguana.
The last leg of my journey took me west across the Gulf Mexico to Cancun where I picked up a hire car and headed south down the sparkling Caribbean coast to check out the Mexican Riviera resorts of Belmond Maroma near Playa del Carmen and Las Ranitas in Tulum.