As part of my photography tour with Creative Escapes, we spent a few days outside of La Habana to experience the “real” Cuba. One place we had to see was Viñales (in Pinar del Rio), the heart of rural Cuba, a UNESCO world heritage site and home to many tobacco farms. What makes Viñales different to the rest of the country is the fact that it is a valley with rolling hills and mountains whereas the rest of Cuba, as you will notice when flying in, is pretty flat and underdeveloped. The rolling hills punctuate the landscape, making for a dramatic landscape photograph. Although Cuba is known for its tobacco, being the best in the world, we also saw plenty of livestock, bananas and even a coffee plantation. This was a great location to try out all sorts of photography genres ranging from landscape, to documentary to portrait. Rural life outside of many big cities around the world tends to be more simplistic but here, you really notice the absence of modern machinery or lots of cars and it seems that the basic traditional agricultural techniques including travelling by horse and cart are still the norm.
We also had a few days of beach time as we hit Coya Santa Maria. I thought this was an island but it is actually a key within Villa Clara, linked to the main island of Cuba via a very long road (which seemed to go on forever). I was really happy with this little extra as I had heard that Cuba has same amazing beaches but I really wasn’t up for visiting Varadero, the most developed resort in Cuba which I have often heard being referred to as like the Cancun of Cuba. Coya Santa Maria was the opposite – yes, we were staying in an all-inclusive hotel (never been to one, they just give you a wrist-band and then you are off to eat and drink your way round!) but the beach itself was really beautiful and tranquil – the warmest turquoise waters I have ever seen, a true Caribbean paradise. Also, I know it sounds ignorant, but I had no idea that Cuba had five star resorts such as this, given it is a communist country. I managed to overdo my relaxation time by cramming too many activities in! Pilates, massage and meditation, all in one day, left me more exhausted than when I got there! Here, we also took advantage of the unpolluted air and tried out a night shoot of the stars, on the beach.