Swooped Up in a Cuban Adventure

There I was, checking email and minding my own business when the opportunity to FlySwoop (Swoop) to Cuba came to me.

The most I had heard about Cuba was that the food was bland but they had the most beautiful beaches and that everyone there was so nice. After having not been on a vacation in over 16 years, I jumped at the chance. This was my very first trip to Cuba and I fell completely in love. 

I felt so blessed to be chosen to join Swoop’s maiden voyage to Cuba, making me the first (and only) Black, female editor from Canada (born in Montreal😉) to be on Swoop’s inaugural flight to Cuba #MakingBlackHistory #AWinIsAWin.

The whole trip was an experience from the very beginning. From the boarding gate reception to the short, 3-hour flight (branded in pink, my favourite colour) to the hotel and beyond. This story is an account of my Cuban adventure including the food (which was delicious), the activities, the history and more.

Getting to Cuba: Fly Swoop and Enjoy!

You will likely be eager to take a trip to Cuba after reading this post and I highly recommend it! 

It used to be that you could only visit Cuba as part of a bundled package that would include flight and hotel. The good news is that Swoop is the first ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) to fly direct to Cuba from Toronto and you don’t have to bundle your flight with anything else. The better news is that flights are only $159 one-way plus taxes and fees. This means you can book your own private accommodations or resort separately and keep your travel within budget.

Places to Stay & Eat in Cuba

We were based at Melia Internacionale for 6 days. The resort had both an adult-only and a family area. I enjoyed breakfast on both sides but missed a whole lot more that the resort had to offer like the spa, jacuzzi, fitness center and beauty salon.

During our exploration of Havana, we stopped for lunch at La Divina Pastora restaurant, a quaint little spot tucked away across the water with spectacular views of Havana.

Source: Ghina Alexandra Castrillon Tores

We enjoyed a brief tour of Mystique Casa Perla before enjoying a delicious lunch on the breezy veranda. It was a beautiful scene complete with wild, yet calming winds.

Another cool spot that we visited was the Xanadu Mansion, which is the hotel and clubhouse of the Varadero Golf Club. If you’re looking for a spot with lots of character, charm and history then this is the place for you.

On our second-to-last night, we enjoyed dinner at The Royalton Hicacos Resort. A chic and gorgeous adults-only, all-inclusive hotel. We spent the first part of the evening dining outdoors and then we were escorted inside for dessert at their massive buffet with more food selections than you could handle. On the way to the buffet, we passed a main stage with entertaining performances, a private piano lounge and luxury all around. This is definitely a hotel for those who enjoy the finer things in life.

Lastly, our dinner at Kiki Kcho restaurant was one of the more memorable experiences. The space had such a unique design and the meal was exceptional. I especially enjoyed the ceviche.

Things To Do in Cuba

We were booked pretty tight over the 6 days and I’m almost certain it was only the tip of the iceberg. 

On our first night after our garden dinner at Melia Internacionale, we were entertained American style at The Beatles Bar & Restaurant and enjoyed some good old-fashioned rock music.

The next day, our friends at Marlin Marina Varadero taught us how to drive a speedboat and took us out on the sea. This was one of the most exhilarating experiences for me. It was so unlike anything else I had ever done that I burst out into hysterical laughter after hitting a wave and becoming completely soaked. I highly recommend this activity if you’re looking to do something completely outside of the norm.

Another one of my favourite experiences was the cabaret show at Cabaret Continental. I’m talking about lights, colours, singing, dancing, salsa and lively energy demonstrating a part of Cuban culture. This one is a must on your Cuba trip.

Ecotur took over for our regular tour guide on the third day. We went on a jeep safari and made a few stops including another speed boat ride down a river. We visited a farm where we were served another delicious lunch and some of us enjoyed a short horseback ride. We stopped to drive through and also capture some photos of a canyon on the way to Cueva de Saturno, which is a nice little swim spot hidden in a cave. The rule of thumb is to arrive early to avoid the larger tour groups.

One more stop on our jeep safari was La Botica Francesa de Matanzas. This historic landmark tells the story of a community gem that has been frozen in time with all its historic tools, machines, books and bottles.

The only thing we missed out on due to the weather was the catamaran tour and snorkelling but we made up for that by visiting Laguna del Tesoro at Guama. The lake and resort are accessible only by boat. On the far (east) side of the 92-sq-km body of water is the Villa Guama tourist resort, built to resemble a Taino village scattered across about a dozen small islands. We did a quick walk through the villa and then it was off to see the crocodiles.

Of course, we did a bit of shopping at Plaza America, the Boulevard and a few artisan markets and last but not least . . . the beach.

Cuba: A Rich History

Did you know that Cuba has four (4) founders? Christopher Columbus, Alexander Von Humboldt, Fernando Ortiz and Antonio Núñes Jiménez

Columbus’s expeditions were the first known European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. He arrived in Cuba on October 27, 1492 

On November 24, 1800, Alexander Von Humboldt and  Aimé Bonpland, (a botanist and physician) set sail for Cuba, landing on December 19. Humboldt is considered to be the “second discoverer of Cuba” due to the scientific and social research he conducted on this Spanish colony. 

Fernando Ortiz was a Cuban ethnologist, born in Havana (1881-1969) and the first person to seriously analyze the social condition of the blacks in Cuba, emphasizing the cultural bonds with African traditions. Ortiz was known as a Cuban essayist, anthropologist, ethnomusicologist and scholar of Afro-Cuban culture. Ortiz coined the term “transculturation,” the notion of converging cultures. Throughout his life, Ortiz was involved in the foundation of institutions and journals dedicated to the study of Cuban culture. Ortiz also developed a theory of activism within Cuba’s political system. He said that Afro-Cubans had been characterized negatively based on their African descent, and traits said to be “primitive.” He wanted to show the true nature of their culture: its language, music and other arts. 

Antonio Núñez Jiménez was a Cuban geographer, speleologist, archaeologist, scientist and revolutionary. Núñez was born in Alquízar, Havana Province (current Artemisa Province) on April 20, 1923. In 1995, the Speleological Society of Cuba and the Cuban Society of Geography awarded him the title of “fourth discoverer of Cuba”, placing him at the height of men such as Christopher Columbus, Alexander von Humboldt and Fernando Ortiz, for his contribution in the field of underground Cuba (caves). Considered the father of Cuban Speleology.  In the 1950s he discovered the largest cave in the country: the Great Cavern of Santo Tomás. Internationally known for his scientific work in the field of Geographical Sciences, especially in Speleology, one of his greatest passions, and in geohistorical issues of the most dissimilar regions of the planet.

Cuba’s First Female Governor

This part of Cuba’s history stood out for me the most because of course, it’s a story about a woman not only in a leadership role but also being the first to do so in her country.

Isabel de Bobadilla, or Inés de Bobadilla (c. 1505–1554) was the first female governor of Cuba from 1539–1543. Isabel was born to a family closely associated with the exploration and conquest of the Americas. 

Isabel de Bobadilla married the prominent explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto in 1537, who was in charge of one of the first European expeditions into what is now the United States. Hernando de Soto was named governor of Cuba and Adelantado de Florida, and both arrived in Cuba in 1538. 

Isabel de Bobadilla was given power of attorney on May 17, 1539, when Hernando de Soto left Havana for the exploration and conquest of Florida [la Florida]. In 16th century Spain, it was rare that a woman would be appointed to a high office position. Isabel became the first female governor of Cuba and the first woman governor of a territory in the Western Hemisphere. 

Rodrigo Ranjel, de Soto’s private secretary in Cuba and la Florida, described Isabel as having inherited her mother’s fortitude, intelligence, and strength of character, and, like her mother, she was “a woman of great essence and goodness, and of very noble judgement and character.” De Soto also confirmed Isabel’s abilities by giving her the power of attorney, naming her governor of the island of Cuba. 

In December 1543, Rodrigo Arangel brought the news to Doña Isabel in Havana of de Soto’s death. After his death, Isabel auctioned off thousands of items belonging to her and her husband before she left Cuba for Spain. 

La Giraldilla is a bronze wind statue of a woman who is surveying the horizon to her north and is located on top of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza in old Havana, Cuba. The local Cuban people claim that this bronze statue is a depiction of Doña Isabel de Bobadilla and it is suggested that it was placed there to honour Inès de Bobadilla, who is said to have watched every day for the return of her husband.

If you’re thinking that La Giraldilla looks familiar, take a close look at the Havana Club rum label.

Learning about the founders and Doña Isabel was one of my first historical insights and then walking around Havana we were completely surrounded by all things Cuban history. We could barely walk a few feet without there being a story about a nearby building, statue, artwork and even the ground we walked on outside one of the old government buildings.

If you are craving a sun destination with a little bit of everything, including history, food, adventure, nightlife and the most beautiful beaches you will ever see, then Cuba is the place for you. 

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