From Havana to Topes de Collantes
Alice – from our London team – spent a week exploring Cuba as part of some in-depth field research. Below are some highlights and photographs from her travels through the vibrant streets of Havana and the luscious mountains of Trinidad.
An essential bit of research, and an incredible trip. This was another chance for us to ensure that each of our luxury travel experiences in Cuba will be loved by you as much as they’re loved by us. Seeking out the very best hotels and experiences, we couldn’t wait to hear how she got on.
Over to you, Alice.
My journey begins at night – amid flickering shadows and glowing streetlamps. On the drive to Havana’s old town, I pass intricate colonial structures rich in architectural detail and watch as locals dance the night away in crowded cobbled squares. I roll down the window. The rhythm of Rumba floats in the air, along with the scent of rum and tobacco. Guitars and voices. Laughter and moonlight. What a welcome.
Pulling up at a small, whitewashed building in the heart of Habana Vieja, I step over the historic threshold of Loma del Angel. More like a beautiful home than a hotel, I instantly feel at ease. Natural wooden furnishings, vibrant artwork, vintage mirrors, and vases of freshly picked flowers. Inside, there’s a real sense of authenticity. And intimacy, as if you have it all to yourself. A comforting thought, I think, as I drift off to sleep in my suite.
Waking up to a room bathed in sunlight, I take note of the little things – the personal touches. Towels intricately embroidered with golden floral motifs lie neatly folded in a simple woven basket. A vase filled with fragrant white mariposa sits atop my bedside table. Art deco influences and golden ornaments decorate the space. And then there’s the view. A sprawling panorama of rainbow-hued rooftops and historic architectural masterpieces. Beautiful.
And now, breakfast served on my private terrace. Warm bread, sweet mango marmalade, freshly squeezed juice, and a traditional Cuban selection of star fruit, creamy avocado, and guava. As I sip my peppermint tea, I look out over Old Havana – the perfect way to start the day.
Where Cadillacs roam
In the city’s historic centre, my ride awaits. I meet Henry – our guide and driver – on the vibrant, cobbled street outside our hotel, and take a seat in our very own antique Cadillac. Exploring in style, we stop off at laidback eateries, bustling plazas, and picturesque monuments. Catedral de San Cristobal, the Alicia Alonso Grand Theatre, Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales. Old, tucked-away bookshops and crowded bars. Local artist studios and colourful, vintage automobiles everywhere. Havana is a fascinating blend of past and present. Of style and tradition. A place of charismatic charm and vivid colour – and you won’t want to miss it.
If you’d like to discover Cuba, our luxury Travel Experts will show you those special, hidden spots, those unforgettable experiences, and the most luxurious hotels. Just say the word.
Out on the town
It feels like no time at all before day turns to night and I’m heading back out into the city. My destination – for now – is the city’s most renowned paladar. Specifically, La Guarida – a once grand private home, now a rooftop bar. I’ve come here to learn the secrets of crafting the perfect Cuban cocktail – and to dine on some of the best cuisine in Havana.
We draw up outside the somewhat crumbling exterior of the building – but one that frequently plays host to celebrity guests. Madonna and Jack Nicholson, to name but a few. Stepping inside, I climb a spiral marble staircase, passing ornately decorated walls lined with brass cherubim, black and white photographs, and 1920s covers of Vogue. As live jazz drifts from the rooftop down into the city below, candlelight flickers over faded stone walls and catches on sparkling Edwardian chandeliers. A stylish ambience emanates here – somewhere between aged elegance and rustic charm. And it’s enchanting.
Now begins the first part of my evening – a cocktail making class. Nutmeg garnishes, coconut water, fresh lime, rum, rich sugar syrup. Combining traditional ingredients, we spend time learning how to craft an array of Cuban-inspired cocktails – from the popular-among-pirates Bumbo to the classic Mojito. My favourite? Piña del plata – a refreshing blend of rum, pineapple, and white wine. Hungry, we head to our table – cocktail in hand. Silver cutlery and linen tablecloths, candles and city lights – this is alfresco dining at its finest. Between marvelling at the views extending out over Havana from our rooftop table, we’re served papaya lasagne, coconut-glazed tuna in sugarcane with roasted vegetables, and sweet apple pastries. Don’t mind if I do.
Equal parts glamorous and unassuming, La Guarida melds old and new in intriguing harmony. But I can’t stay all night (a shame). By 10pm, we’ve arrived at our second live music venue – an al fresco salsa bar. Here, a local dancer takes me through the steps, the spins and turns, the movements and gestures – even how to improvise. Beats and rhythm. Drums and guitars. The city truly comes alive after dark; bars pulse with energy and the sounds of salsa and rumba travel across rum-scented squares. It’s lively and chaotic. And so much fun.
A UNESCO treasure
A few days later, from Havana we make our way east, to the pastel-hued houses of Trinidad. Our arrival at this UNESCO World Heritage Site is eye-popping. At every turn you see quaint cobbled streets lined with beautifully colourful terraces, and above every building you catch glimpses of the luscious green mountains that encircle the town. Palms dance in the breeze, more jazz fills the streets. It’s easy to see why it holds the title of the most beautiful town in Cuba. It’s a vibrant scene – and the perfect setting for some more field research.
My purpose is to explore Casa Casona, a hacienda-style hotel where their purebred horses graze on the grounds and breath-taking views of valleys and mountains extend before you. And like everything in Trinidad – it’s full of colour. The rustic-colonial style building itself boasts shades of deep oranges and reds, leafy mango groves and vegetable gardens reflect the verdant greens of the surrounding Santa Rosa Valley and Escambray Mountains. Glistening fountains and wells sit between cactuses and terracotta features. It’s peaceful and intimate. And very beautiful.
Departing from the onsite stables, you can head out on horseback to explore the surrounding scenery, making your way to the Hoyo del Pilon waterfall or simply exploring where your heart – and your horse – takes you. After a refreshing dip in the pool, relax on the terrace as you sample home-grown delicacies from the vegetable garden and dine on the freshest lobster. With plenty of outdoor space, extensive rooms, spectacular views, and the added element of having horses close by – it’s the perfect place for small families. Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay here on this particular trip. But it’s always nice to leave something for next time.
A natural paradise
The following day, I head further north. My destination is Topes de Collantes – a breath-taking national park in the Escambray Mountains. The drive takes us deeper inland, a short half an hour trip before we lace up our boots. Now, a nature-filled hike toward Caburni Falls. Weaving our way through jungle-carpeted slopes and clear natural pools, we pass mysterious caves and grottos tucked behind flourishing wild banana trees and clusters of creamy white magnolia blooms. The rich, earthy scent of coffee plants is in the air and blends with fragrant flowers of Butterfly Jasmine (so-called because the shape of its petals resembles that of butterfly wings).
A dash of colour flits across our path and settles on a nearby fern. The Cuban Tody, I’m told. Pausing to observe for a moment, I take note of its vibrant green, blue, and red feathers as it sings a soft birdsong – unphased by my presence. And it’s not the only bird we see – or hear. In a region known for being an important ecosystem for many of Cuba’s endemic birds, along the way we see everything from ivory-billed woodpeckers to bee hummingbirds. It’s a wonderful sight (and sound).
By 12pm, we’ve reached our destination – and bathing spot. Cascading down a glistening rock wall peppered with lush greenery, the waterfall descends into a series of natural swimming pools. I take a dip. Surrounded by pockets of wild orchids and floating beneath the shade of tall pine trees, it’s a heavenly place for a refreshing post-hike swim.
Leaving this natural oasis behind, we’re led along another trail, past traditional farmers’ houses and rolling coffee plantations. And here, overlooking the verdant forests of Topes de Collantes, lies the home and coffee farm of Mercedes and Ramon. Welcomed with open arms and wide smiles, this charming couple have prepared a special homemade lunch for us. We tuck in. Fried sweet plantains and fresh diced mango. Mojo-marinated chicken, smooth black beans, and fluffy rice – all delicious. Next, a tour of the land. As we walk between rows of trees laden with coffee beans, Ramon explains the secrets of Cuban coffee making while Mercedes talks animatedly about the farm’s many animals. Here, they have horses, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens – and a parrot. We conclude our tour with a cup of steaming coffee, freshly-brewed (and strong), made from the very beans they farm themselves. The perfect end to the perfect day.
Contradictory and charismatic, Cuba seems almost caught in another time – an era where colourful Cadillacs line the streets and coffee plantations flourish amidst mountains and waterfalls. You don’t forget somewhere like that. Not always the easiest country to navigate, Cuba is a place where access to expert knowledge and special relationships with local guides really is essential. That’s where we come in – and we’ll ensure you don’t miss a thing.
If (or when) you plan your luxury trip to Cuba, make sure you have plenty of space on your camera or phone. Everything was so beautiful and colourful – I think I took a picture of the same thing at least ten times. Or maybe that’s just me. In any case, it’s always good to be prepared.
Curious about Cuba?
Whether you’re seeking music-filled city streets or mesmerising mountain oases – we can’t wait to start curating your bespoke trip. Today, if you like.