Contrary to popular belief, travelling to Cuba checks all the boxes of an Excellent Adventure. Cuba, the largest and most northern Carribean island, is an oasis in every way imaginable. The country and its inhabitants have created a travel destination filled with rich history, culture, beautiful beaches, fun activities, and more. Whether you’re on a resort or exploring Havana, a Cuban vacation is the vacation for everyone. Our friend, Anthony Menecola, a digital product designer and photographer, recently travelled to Varadero, Cuba.
Bather: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Anthony: I’m a Toronto based digital Product Designer and Photographer. I bought my first camera in 2014. Instagram had been around for a few years and I suddenly found myself being exposed to so many amazing photographers. It made me curious about starting to capture my perspective of the world. In many ways, the timing was perfect. I was working as an Art Director at a local Toronto agency while also playing in what some would call a serious band. After disbanding, I took a break from music and was looking for something to fill the creative void. Enter photography.
Where did you go?
We flew into Varadero, Cuba where we stayed for the majority of the week. We stayed at the Melia International hotel which is a fairly new hotel in the area. It is a 15 minute walk from downtown Veradero, and is situated on some of the most pristine beachfront in Cuba.
On the 3rd day, we scheduled a full day trip to Havana with a local guide. Since it was my first time in the Country, we saw this as a great way to see and learn the most within a short period of time.
How did you get there? How easy/difficult was the trip?
This was a pretty last-minute trip that we booked in order to get in a winter vacation before my wife began a new job. The intention of the trip was focused on being a relaxing vacation, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Havana. As someone who dislikes the logistics of travel planning, we booked the trip through Sunwing vacations so everything from the flight to transportation was taken care of and the resort we stayed at was all-inclusive.
What about this place made you choose it as a destination?
Cuba is a mere 3 hour flight from Toronto, and has some of the best beaches in the world. We wanted a relaxing vacation where we could take advantage of the sea without breaking the bank.
Are there any specific attractions you recommend?
Visiting Ernest Hemingway’s house was really interesting. I had no prior knowledge about his history with Cuba or that we’d even be visiting it during the tour, but it was a beautifully preserved home. Looking into the house and seeing his possessions really transported you back in time.
When’s the best time to go?
All year round. Even their winters are mild, for Canadians at least.
What are your travel tips, especially for people interested in this place?
If you’re looking for a good balance of relaxation and exploring a country rich in history, I highly recommend staying in Veradero. The people of Cuba are extremely happy, kind, and welcoming. At no point did we ever feel unsafe, even when walking around unknown streets.
If I were to do it all over again, I probably would have liked to explore Havana on foot for a longer period of time.
Where do you take the best Instagram photo?
Forget about Instagram and focus on how light interacts with your surroundings.
What’s next on your travel bucket list?
We are planning more of an elaborate adventure to Serbia and Croatia later this year which I’m incredibly excited about.
Anthony’s Top Recommendations
Ernest Hemingway’s House and Museum
Finca Vigia was Ernest Hemingway’s home from 1939 to 1960. This is where he wrote For Whom The Bells Toll and The Old Man and the Sea. Even when US-Cuban relations took a turn in 1959, Hemingway had a good relationship with the Cuban government and was allowed to stay. After Hemmingway died in 1961, his wife deeded the house to the Cuban government, which made it into a museum dedicated to him. Most of his books and furniture in the house have been preserved and kept the way he had left it.
Old Square, Plaza Vieja
Old Square, which used to be known as New Square or Market Square, has been Havana’s commercial hub for the past 150 years, housing a food market, park and ampitheatre. Many of the buildings are now restored for residential purposes, but builders have tried to maintain the overall aesthetic of the square.
El Capitolio is the National Capitol Building of Cuba. It’s one of the most popular sites in Havana, located in the exact centre, and is almost 100 years old. It is inspired by and modeled after the United States’ own Capitol Building and the Pantheon in Paris. El Capitolio was originally the house of Congress in Cuba but since 1959, it is now the home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences and has a planetarium and three museums.