In Havana, vegetarian food was difficult to come by. As a result, we found ourselves eating a lot of pizza, a very popular fast-food in Cuba. The pizza was a little bit different than what we were used to- the crust was more like a piece of soft, white bread and the cheese was very strong. It wasn’t our favourite, and after dinner on our last night in Havana, our stomachs didn’t like it either. We were excited to travel the next day to Las Terrazas, a small ecologically-minded village and nature reserve nestled in a mountain range a couple of hours outside of Havana. But after a near-sleepless night and still feeling nauseated, we weren’t sure if we would survive the bus ride. We decided to hope for the best and head out anyway, and we were so glad we did because Las Terrazas was the perfect place to recuperate. It was our favourite region in Cuba, and we highly recommend it to anyone planning a trip to the country.
We had planned to stay only one night in the small town and splurge on a very nice, eco-friendly hotel that we had read about. When we arrived, we learned that there was an off-season discount in effect and we decided to spend two nights there, leaving us plenty of time to rest and feel better on the first day.
Hotel Moka is one of the most beautiful hotels we have ever stayed at. The common areas are open-air, with trees growing through them. It all resembles a very fancy treehouse with breathtaking views of the jungle hillsides surrounding the town. This was the view from the hotel lobby:
Our room was lovely, too. Our balcony put us right underneath the jungle canopy, and we had a picture window over the tub overlooking the same landscape. For most of the first day, we napped, did laundry, watched CNN, and started to feel much better.
The next day we were feeling more adventurous, and, after a breakfast of pancakes with more delicious fruity syrup, we set out to try the zip-line that runs above the village. We were a little nervous to zip down the three very elevated lines, but after the first one, any hesitation we had suffered was gone. It was so delightful to fly above the gorgeous scenery that we were tempted to go right up again when we were finished. Our instructors were so impressed with our performance that we even got official certificates testifying to our new zip-line expertise. Here, James proudly displays his certificate of achievement. We’re sure they don’t give these to just anyone.
Afterward we stopped for what our guidebook described as the best coffee in Cuba at the Cafe de Maria, and sat overlooking the coffee plants that had supplied the very brew we were drinking.
The great day was capped off by eating dinner at El Ramero, the best vegetarian restaurant in Cuba. We can confirm rumours of a general lack of culinary culture in Cuba, or at least one that we could appreciate. We read that this is due to the more prominent culture of rum-drinking and cigar-smoking – who needs a big dinner when you’ve been doing that all afternoon? And with all of the wonderful things about Cuba, the lack of delicious food is easily worth overlooking. However, El Ramero broke that reputation. We enjoyed delicious tempura, seitan steak, bean pancakes, stuffed peppers, homemade ice cream and juice infusions.
Before we left Las Terrazas the next day, we set off to find the Baños de San Juan, which should have been an hour’s trek away. But, of course, we got turned around a few times before finding the right path. Once we did, though, we had a grand adventure walking on a hilly paved road in the palm-treed jungle, encountering lots of geckos, cows, goats and oxen. Charming farm houses dotted the road, sometimes with apiaries.
Finally, we reached the idyllic natural pools of the Baños. They were like a paradise of cool water surrounded by trees and flowers, with bamboo huts scattered throughout serving as restaurants, bars, and shelters for family picnics. It was a great example of the government’s long-standing commitment to providing accessible leisure time to families in natural settings. However, we did not join the frolicking families in the water – it was just a little too stagnant and fish-filled for us wimpy tourists. Also, it had begun to rain, and we ran for one of the bamboo shelters as the skies opened up and we were caught in an intense thunderstorm. After trying to wait it out, there was no sign of reprieve, and we made a break for the park entrance where some very kind employees welcomed us and a few others trying to wait for a break in the rain. The staff called a taxi for us, and offered us mangoes while we waited. We watched a little boy play with his pet gecko; he had fashioned a leash for it from a long blade of grass. When the taxi arrived, we had it take us to El Romero for a repeat of our favourite meal from the day before, and we savoured it as the best food we knew we would have for the next couple of weeks.