Seeing Cuba – Cuba’s best views
Christopher Columbus called it “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen” back in 1492, and Cuba has beguiled its visitors ever since. There’s no end to great views in Cuba – here are just a few.
With its unique mix of Spanish, French, American and Soviet architecture, its tropical climate and Caribbean vegetation, Cuba is a real visual feast. The eclectic constructions that make up its cities betray the many influences the island has come under during its 500-year history of western civilisation.
First the Spanish arrived and built their plazas, cathedrals and mansions. Then French settlers fleeing the slave rebellion in Haiti at the end of the 18th century came to the east of the island and brought with them French baroque architecture. American investment in the first half of the twentieth century saw the construction of big, American-style cinemas and homes. The Soviet Union in its turn built large stadiums, bus stops and apartment blocks. Throw into the mix the country’s strong African heritage and you’ve got yourself a truly original, eye-catching combination.
The Cuban countryside, varied and sprawling, has a charm all of its own. When you look out from a hilltop in Pinar del Rio in western Cuba, it’s not hard to imagine the valley below full of the hustle and bustle of pre-columbian life. The presence of the island’s indigenous ancestors is felt more acutely in the country’s green rolling hills covered in royal palms. Then there’s the coast: the white sand beaches and turquoise waters we all long for on a hot day. Cuba also has mountain ranges, from the Sierra Rosario in the west to the Sierra del Escambray in central Cuba and the magnificent Sierra Maestra in eastern Cuba.
Whether you’re in a city or the countryside, in Cuba an amazing view is never far away.
Ten views to get lost in
We’ve put together a list of our ten favourite views in Cuba. It’s hard to choose when there are great views around every corner, and everyone has their personal favourite, but here are a few that really take your breath away.
El Morro Fortress, Havana
Built in the 16th century to defend the city from pirates and invaders, El Morro stands like a stone guard to Havana’s bay. Built along the banks of the inlet that leads into the city’s bay, El Morro dominates the skyline of Old Havana. Like any fortress, El Morro was built for optimum visibility and this means that visitors to the fortress get an unrivalled view back across the bay to Havana.
Ambos Mundos rooftop bar, Old Havana
The Ambos Mundos Hotel was home to Ernest Hemingway when he wasn’t at his country estate, Finca Vigia, on the outskirts of the city. His simple room can still be visited today, but that’s not all Ambos Mundos has to offer. Its rooftop terrace has sweeping views across Havana’s old town, from the Capitolio in the west to El Morro fortress and lighthouse in the east.
Plaza de la Revolución Tower, Havana
Many visit Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) but few, aside from the many vultures who use it as a look-out, actually go up the square’s 142 metre high tower. If you head for the massive statue of Jose Martí at the foot of the tower you’ll see a door leading to the building’s lobby where, for a small fee, you can head up to the umpteenth floor and enjoy panoramic views of Havana. This is a far-reaching view that can only be beaten by aircraft. Not for those who suffer from vertigo!
Finca Paradiso, Viñales
This organic farm in the valley of Viñales doesn’t only produce amazing food, it has also got possibly the best view in Viñales. Sit back with their signature anti-stress cocktail (preferably after a long day’s ride) and enjoy the sunset over Viñales’ breath-taking jurassic landscape.
Convento de Francisco de Asis Bell Tower, Trinidad
Trinidad in Cuba’s Sancti Spiritus province is ideally situated between the mountains of the Sierra del Escambray and the Caribbean coast. This perfectly-preserved colonial town is a living museum to Cuba’s 19th century sugar rush and all the wealth it brought with it. The best place to take in the town’s picturesque setting and beautiful architecture is from the bell tower of the Convento de Francisco de Asis.
Bay of Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is Cuba’s “Pearl of the South” and it’s not hard to see why, especially when contemplating its gorgeous bay. Cienfuegos was chiefly built by French settlers from Haiti in the early 19th century and this is very much reflected in its stunning architecture. We think the city is best appreciated from the seat of a kayak: paddle through the bay and look back at the Cienfuegos’ imposing coastline.
Playa Larga and surrounds were the landing site of the failed US invasion of Cuba in 1961 – the Bay of Pigs. Playa Larga also happens to be a picture-perfect white sand beach on the Caribbean sea. Though some would argue the best view at Playa Larga is underwater with the abundance of coral and tropical fish, we think the palm-tree studded white sand beach lapped by crystalline water is the real show-stopper.
Home to the highest peak in Cuba, Pico Turquino, the Sierra Maestra mountain range is also famous for being the hiding place of Fidel Castro and his guerrilla troops during the lead up to the Cuban revolution. The thick vegetation that covers the mountains is perfect for avoiding detection, so it’s no wonder the revolutionary troops chose it for their hide-out. The Sierra Maestra is also astoundingly beautiful and it rewards hikers with jaw-dropping views over the mountains to the Caribbean Sea.
El Yunque, Baracoa
The first Spanish settlement on the island, Baracoa was only connected to the rest of Cuba by road in the 1960s. It’s the region with the most Taino (indigenous) heritage and the spot most vulnerable to extreme weather, it’s also an area of exceptional natural beauty. Baracoa’s wild, luscious landscape is overlooked by the flat-topped “El Yunque” (Anvil) mountain. Birdwatchers and hikers alike can’t miss a day trip to climb El Yunque to bask in the pure, virgin greenness of the surrounding vegetation and enjoy the incredible view out towards the sea.
El Morro, Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and Havana’s eastern rival. Situated in a bay on the island’s eastern coast, Santiago was historically vulnerable to pirates and invaders. As with Havana, the Spanish built a huge fortress on the northern side of the entrance to the bay of Santiago: Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, locally known as Castillo del Morro. Santiago’s El Morro is a fitting rival to its western counterpart and offers sweeping views back across the bay of Santiago and out towards Jamaica.
Taking in the view
Unlike photos that can be snapped in a second, a view requires contemplation. Whether you’re staring out to see from Santiago de Cuba’s Morro or spying on Havana from the top of the Plaza de la Revolución, a good view is something you can bask in, and Cuba has plenty of them.
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