The trip: crossing the island
We arrived in Havana and rented a car from there. We drove toward the west side of the island (called el Oriente) and we spent 10 days visiting a few places on the way: Santa Clara, Camaguey, Bayamo, Santiago.
Near Bayamo, we stopped in a small village in the mountains (la Sierra Maestra) and this was my favourite part of the trip, the landscapes were just amazing, so green and well preserved.
In Bayamo, we visited a museum inside a beautiful colonial house where Carlos Manuel de Cespedes was born in 1819, such a beautiful house!
The food in Cuba is not exceptional, you usually find the same menu from one restaurant to the next, I was a bit tired of the food after 2 weeks. But there are exceptions! The seafood is usually your best choice and the best lobster you can have is in Santa Clara, in a hostel called Florida Centre. They are excellent and worth a stop (and even another one on your way back).
One of my favourite things in Cuba is the architecture. You see beautiful buildings, streets and patios. On the island, Havana is the best place to wander around in the old city, do not hesitate to stop when something catches your eye, tourists are very welcome to have a look and take pictures. I felt very safe there.
The destination: Baracoa
1000 km later, at the very end of the road, we reached our destination, Baracoa.
It is said that Baracoa was visited by Admiral Christopher Columbus on November 27, 1492 and that he was struck by the beauty of this side of the island. (Source: Wikipedia)
Baracoa is quite isolated from the rest of the island and hard to reach since a single mountain road goes there. This makes it even more interesting. We stayed in a beautiful hotel called El Castillo, with an open view of the bay.
In October of 2016, hurricane Matthew hit Cuba and reduced much of Baracoa to rubble, whipping up giant waves that demolished cement buildings and winds that tore off roofs, but there’s one thing it didn’t do: take lives, thanks to a rigorous evacuation scheme. (Source: Reuters)
“If we had stayed here, this would have killed us,” said Aristides Hernandez, 76, who abandoned his first-story apartment overlooking the sea for a friend’s house inland. (Source: Reuters)
The consequences of the hurricane are still visible today as people are still rebuilding their homes. One night, we were looking for a place to eat and had heard of a vegetarian restaurant by the ocean, and we were surprised to enter the home of an incredible man, Aristides Smith Rodriguez.
What makes Aristides incredible? Firstly, his grit. He’s rebuilding this house on his own since it was destroyed by the hurricane last year. Secondly, his cuisine is one of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever had! This felt amazing since I was used to eating the same food all the time in the other parts of the island and it is very hard to find a vegetarian option apart from some sides.
He has a small garden but he makes the most of every inch by growing plants he uses in his cooking. When you eat there, you feel good, surrounded by the uplifting spirit of the host. Aristides is also a photographer and he shows in his house a few pictures of Baracoa back in the day. We ate very well, the food was very diverse and we could feel the ingredients were fresh and natural. This is absolutely a must-do if you go to Baracoa! Here is a page with all the info about this place.