Brendan Sainsbury

Brendan Sainsbury

Brendan Sainsbury first visited Cuba in 1997. He has returned over 25 times in the years since, often for extended periods, to work as a travel guide and a writer. He is the author of the last seven editions of the Lonely Planet Cuba guidebook and has written numerous articles for the likes of the BBC and the Washington Post. Originally from the UK, he now lives in British Columbia, Canada.

Cuba's rural ruins

The ruins of rural Cuba: little known historical relics.

Havana’s monumental architecture is well known. Less famous are the rural ruins that dot the Cuban countryside. From the crumbling shell of a coffee farm near Artemisa to a sinister prison on the Isla de la Juventud, these haunting domains conceal myths, secrets, and fascinating chapters of Cuban history.  Antiguo Cafetal Angerona - Artemisa Named for the Roman goddess of silence and fertility, the overgrown coffee farm ruins of Angerona, 5km west of the town of Artemisa, hide an illicit love story set against the brutal backdrop of slavery.  Founded in 1813, by a German immigrant named Cornelio Souchay, the farm quickly grew to become the second largest coffee producer in Cuba. At its height in the 1820s and 30s, it used around 450 enslaved people to tend and harvest 750,000 coffee plants. But Angerona was a plantation with a difference. Testimonies suggest that Souchay was a humanist uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Spanish slave system. His farm was run more benignly than its competitors with workers allowed to live in huts rather than barracks and medical facilities available for pregnant women and children. Soon after his arrival in Cuba in 1807, Souchay is said to have fallen in...

Tourism Jardines del Rey, Cuba

Back to Jardines del Rey: travel notes in times of COVID-19

“On the inside, gentlemen, is Guillermo. See how green she is and full of promise.” So wrote Ernest Hemingway in his posthumously published novel, Islands in the Stream, a fictionalized account of the author’s hunt for German submarines off the north coast of Cuba during World War Two. Cayo Guillermo is a small island in Cuba’s Jardines del Rey (King’s Gardens), an archipelago straddling Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey provinces which is currently undergoing a period of hectic tourist development. Ten large hotels have been built in the last five years and, in July 2020, the islands became the first part of Cuba to reopen to foreign tourists post Covid-19. Arriving in the Jardines del Rey Keen to experience Cuba’s ‘project restart’ first-hand, I decided to brave the country’s strict new health protocols and pay a visit.  In October, I booked a ticket with Air Canada Vacations, the first airline to resume flights to Cuba after the July reopening. As a guidebook writer and regular visitor, I normally travel independently around Cuba staying in casas particulares and exploring the country’s quieter corners from Baracoa to the remote beaches of the Isla de la Juventud. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions,...

Photo: Prensa Latina

Canadians return to Cuba

Cuba’s premier beach resort, Varadero, disinfected its sun-loungers and reopened to international visitors in mid October as the country tried to lure lockdown-weary tourists to a new post-pandemic reality. It was not the first resort to relaunch. Cuba originally announced it was ready to receive foreign tourists in early July, but the start up didn’t properly get underway until September 4th when an Air Canada flight from Montreal touched down in Jardines del Rey airport in Cayo Coco with 104 Canadians on board.   The airplane’s arrival marked the beginning of phase two of Cuba’s gradual reopening in which international travelers - most of whom are Canadian - are able to fly directly to resort islands off the country’s north coast but are not permitted on the Cuban mainland.   Unlike other countries that insist on a 14-day quarantine or ask visitors to produce evidence of a negative Covid-19 test on arrival, Cuba screens all tourists at the airport free of charge. Visitors are then transported directly to a pre-booked hotel where they can take off their masks and savor a vacation with surprisingly few restrictions. The only real caveat: you are not allowed outside the designated tourist ‘bubble’.  Photo: Meliá Cuba...

Muñoz Tapas, in Trinidad. Courtesy of Julio Muñoz.

How a tourist restaurant in Cuba has adapted in a country with no tourists

I first visited Muñoz Tapas in Trinidad in July 2019 several weeks after its initial launch. As a long-time friend of the restaurant’s owner, Julio Muñoz, I had stopped by on my way between Cienfuegos and Santa Clara for a quick lunch.   Situated at a central crossroads in Cuba’s premier tourist town, the restaurant is blessed with a location to die for and sunset views to match. Sitting on an open-air terrace overlooking Trinidad’s red-tiled rooftops, I enjoyed ropa vieja tacos, tres leches cake and an ice-cold Cristal beer with the Escambray Mountains silhouetted in the background. It was a satisfying and very relaxing experience.  As I sipped a post-lunch cafecito and chatted with Julio about his future plans, I couldn’t help thinking that, despite the challenges of a tightening US embargo and fierce competition from around 100 other eating establishments in Trinidad, the prospects for his new restaurant looked good.  Privileged view from the terrace. Photo: Muñoz Tapas´ Facebook profile. Then came Covid-19. On March 20, 2020, threatened by the fast-spreading global pandemic, Cuba closed its borders to international travelers and battened down the hatches for three months of strict lockdown. In a country where tourism is second only...