With so many reviews and comments referring to the food in Cuba, it’s no wonder people are sometimes hesitant about visiting this unique country. We’ve all heard it before: “The food in Cuba is bland”. That is one statement I can’t argue with, that’s IF it refers to resort food. BUT, Cuba has so much more to offer.
As much as I’ve travelled to different destinations over the years, until recently, Cuba still remained one of my bucket list destination. If you’ve already visited Cuba, you’ll know that Canadians hold a special place in Cubans’ hearts. After my very first visit a few weeks ago, I can now say that Cubans hold a very special place in my heart.
When arriving at Varadero airport, you feel it right away, the simplicity and sterile feeling of the surroundings. Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s just that things here are very simple and there are no “fralalas” in Cuba. I, for one, found it very charming; it was like being transported to another era. Old cars passing by, horses and carriage passing by, locals walking to work, you could feel that this was a tourism town, but that the culture was different here, a good kind of different.
Resort Review: Royalton Hicacos Resort & Spa, Varadero
As soon as we entered the resort grounds, the staff was very welcoming and attentive. A glass of champagne and a cold towel welcomed us to our week ‘stay at this beautiful adult’s only resort. We were immediately treated like family and felt part of it for the whole week. The staff at this resort shines in all areas, from concierge to servers to gardeners, a smile and a Hola were always greeting us. Although not a new resort, everything was kept very clean and manicured. Our room was clean, spacious, and the furniture and décor were more traditional. Every room has a spacious balcony with two chairs, which we used in the morning and before dinner to take in the sounds of nature of our surroundings. The in-room amenities are very simple. You have what you need and not more. A mini-bar with soda and a few Crystal beers, two big bottles of water, and ice bucket (but we never found the ice machines). There were no coffee makers, IPod docking stations or other “modern” accessories in the room. Although room service was offered, we never took advantage of it.
As I set to explore the resort grounds, everything was very well manicured and tropical. Most of the resorts in Varadero have some sort of shrubs separating the ocean from the resort grounds, and this is joined by a bridge/walkway. Upon walking across this walkway, my eyes spotted that gorgeous turquoise water, splashing on the white powdery sand. That beach!!! The color was mesmerizing to say the least. The wind had picked up making the surf rough, but oh so breathtaking. During the week, I was able to have a few days of relaxation on the beach where I played in the waves and I even took time to snorkel from the hobby cat in the middle of the sea where fishes of vibrant colors swam around and in between the snorkelers.
Connectivity in Cuba is still very scarce. There are certain hot spots where you can connect by purchasing an internet card which costs 2CUC for two hours. Fortunately, (or not) the Royalton had a hot spot which we could connect to the internet with the purchase of this card. I only used it once as I was really looking forward to a week of disconnecting from the outside world. Imagine; this is just like how Cuban people live, most of them are not aware of what’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even on television. They simply live through tourists ‘stories, hearing news and updates through their conversations. How intriguing is that?
Although every one has different taste food wise, I was always skeptical about other people’s opinion of Cuban resort food. I was going in with an open mind, but soon realized that the resort food really is bland and simple. We had a few great meals at the A la Cartes for dinner, but that buffet…eesh…we are spoiled here in Canada! On our second night, we ventured into Varadero town, enjoying the old soul feeling of this small tourism town, taxiing in a horse carriage through the streets. We ventured to experience a very delicious meal at one of the restaurants. It was very tasty, well priced and worth every penny to eat that delicious chocolate truffle cake. We then spent the evening at the most happening spot in Varadero; the Beattles Bar! The rock band playing was rocking the audience and everyone was enjoying the show. It’s a venue not to be missed if you’re are staying in the area.
We were blessed with the opportunity to visit Old and New Havana. Blexie, our tour guide was a young, smart English professor with a passion in history. He explained the Cuban history and culture as we drove through Manzatas town, up to Havana. It was a day full of new discoveries. We walked the cobblestone streets of Old Havana, discovering the history behind the famous tourist attractions and exploring the back streets of old buildings housing locals, where tourists are sparse and the streets are alive with Cuban people working, walking and socializing. There was so much to take in, that there is no way to really experience the vibrant beauty of Havana in just a short day. As we finished our short exploration of Old Havana, Blexie then took us to a local restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch. This was another meal that I thoroughly enjoyed. We then ventured to explore New Havana, exploring the Revolution square where I stood on the day of November 25th, 2016. A day where Cuba made history, as Fidel Castro passed away on that night. As we had learned so much about the history, it was a peculiar feeling being in Cuba to experience the atmosphere and feelings that the Cuban people felt towards the passing away of Fidel. His mourning would last nine days, where people would gather to pay their respect and abstain from any music and parties. Our resort, The Royalton Hicacos, even organized a small memorial in a private location with pictures of Fidel where guests could pay their respect and sign a farewell message in a book of memories.
And this is where Cuba shines! The people; they are the friendliest and most welcoming of any country I have visited so far. Safety here is not an issue, they have learned to respect others and it shows in their conversations and manners. We always felt like we were part of their family. I’m not sure if it’s a “Canadian” thing, but many became friends, even during our short stay.
I still can’t believe it took me all these years to visit this special country. As much as every destination goes through growth, whether it be tourism growth, government change or complex culture, Cuba still remains that old soul country. But all this might change soon, following the passing away of the “father of the revolution”. To sum this up, I am still in awe with this complex, vibrant country and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this unique Gem before the changes take place, as some of them have already started to appear. And I hope one day to return and explore more of what Cuba has to offer.