Five places to visit when in Cuba

(Carolyn Tomlin)

This large cemetery is the resting place for many famous Cubans. (Carolyn Tomlin)

With U.S. relations with Cuba being renewed, I share my favorite spots I visited there during my travels for the Chester County Independent:

It is not your typical Caribbean vacation. Following along the coast, the land is devoid of skyscrapers and high-rise hotels. Traffic jams are non-existent. In fact, when traveling down the main west-to-east highway connecting the sparsely populated countryside, travelers see few automobiles.

However, occasional horses pulling carts with a single or double occupant are the norm. On Saturday, in the rural area, lines of freshly-washed clothes dry outside in this tropical climate. Horses serve as lawnmowers as they are tied to small sections of the road where they eat lush green grass.

This is Cuba, a land of friendly people, interesting food and music that lingers way into the night as bands gather in the marketplace. It is a unique vacation spot. But there is more. For those who plan to visit this island paradise, these five places should top your bucket list.

1.  Ernest Miller Hemingway’s home in Finca Vigia, is located a few miles out of Havana. The author wintered in Cuba from 1939 to 1960 and wrote The Old Man and the Sea and other books. Royalties from this book bought Finca Vigin (“Lookout Farm”). Sharing lunch with some of his old friends, those who once fished with Hemingway, was a special treat. His house contains his extensive library, his yacht Pilar, his typewriter and other personal effects. Descendants of his favorite dogs live on the estate and are cared for by employees.

2. Valle de Vinales – Huge mogotes (hills) rise to create unique cone-shaped limestone formations, among the oldest geological entities in the country dating back to the Jurassic era. This is tobacco country – the place where the famous Cuban cigars are rolled by hand and renowned as among the best in the world.

A farmer explains how the leaves of the tobacco plant are dried to produce the famous Cuban cigars. (Carolyn Tomlin)

A farmer explains how the leaves of the tobacco plant are dried to produce the famous Cuban cigars. (Carolyn Tomlin)

3. The Orchid Gardens of Soroa were created in 1942 by Tomas Felipe Camacho, a lawyer who lost his wife and daughter in death. Tomas devoted himself to honor his loved ones by developing an orchid garden. Today the gardens have more than 950 varieties with about 25,000 plants.

4. Colón Cemetery is the resting place of noted Cubans for centuries.
The large area features hundreds of elaborately sculpted memorials and mausoleums. Families continue to place fresh flowers on ancestor’s graves that died years ago.

5. Old Havana was declared a Heritage Site for Humanity, UNESCO, and is made up of numerous buildings, plazas, churches, parks and streets. The old city recounts the story of a culture that was formed by a unique mix of Spanish, African and American. Due to lack of funds, many beautiful old mansions are in a state of disrepair. Some buildings in the old section are completely in ruins.

Relations between the United States and Cuba now make tourism a reality. Plan to visit Cuba before it changes – before the simple life that is present now – is gone forever.

Carolyn Tomlin is a Jackson, Tennessee-based author that has been writing and publishing since 1988. She has authored 19 books and more than 4,000 articles in magazines such as Entrepreneur, Kansas City Star, American Profile, Tennessee Home & Farm, Home Life, Mature Living, ParentLife and many others.  You can purchase her full-length works here.

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