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Backpacking Guide to Cuba

Cuba is alleged to be a country at a crossroads; and with the recent rate of change travelers would be wise to visit the nation before its romanticized past becomes the stuff of memories. With an abundance of things to see and do, the country is a popular destination for budget travelers led by a sense of adventure.

Sights

Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, the Caribbean island of Cuba enjoys an enchanting history now centered upon the life of famous revolutionary Che Guevera and the reign of Fidel Castro.

Both the museum at Santa Clara and Havana’s Museo de la Revolucion provide a background for those seeking to understand modern day Cuba. Situated nearby is the Granma cabin cruiser, in which Castro and Che nearly drowned in 1956.

Elsewhere in Cuba, attractions include the cultural city of Santiago and the spectacular beauty of stalactites and stalagmites in the caves of Pinar del Rio. Havana’s oldest fort is also a sight that should not be missed and simple pleasures such as a casual stroll along the El Malecon seawall and a guided tour of the Havana Club Rum Factory will illuminate any backpacking holiday.

Food and Drink

Cuban food is a cacophony of Caribbean, Spanish and African influences with black beans, rice, pork and plantains featuring heavily in the local diet. Criollo or creole food is served in a paladere, or private dwelling, and offers travelers an inexpensive and authentic dining experience. Restaurants owned by the government are significantly more expensive and the staff often depend on tips for wages.

Cuban bars are always lively and serve speciality rum cocktails such as the mojito and Cuba Libre. Venues often provide great live music with Cubans never needing an excuse to reach for the guitar and enter into spontaneous song. Those who make it to Santiago should not miss performances of son cubano, a unique style of music originating in Cuba and the inspiration for salsa, at the Casa de la Trova.

Where To Stay

For the complete Cuban experience, stay in Cuba hostels, or casas particulares, which are private hotels adapted for travelers and backpackers. Havana hostels usually consist of a room in a private home. This kind of accommodation is abundant and of good value with prices varying depending on facilities and location. As food and other services are likely to cost extra, so backpackers with a very tight budget should ensure they ask about these prices on arrival.

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