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Cuba Pictures Guide

 

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Grand American Adventures offers two good value tours of Cuba visiting the highlights and experiencing the out-of-time delights of this changing world: A Taste of Cuba (8 days) & Discover Cuba (15 days)

 

A Che Guevara billboard in the countryside, cuba

Ché: 'your example lives on, your ideas endure'. Not for much longer

Ernesto Ché Guevara, doctor, intellectual, Marxist revolutionary, guerilla and diplomat was a key figure in the Cuban Revolution that won control of the country in 1959. Ché's photographic image by Korda has been reproduced more than any other photo in history according to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Vacations in Cuba

Cuba is without doubt the Caribbean's most interesting island. It embraces great beaches, water sports and sun, just like the rest of those famously sunny islands, but also offers the discerning tourist gorgeous decaying towns and cars, a wild music scene, a fascinating history, friendly people, cheap living and a bizarre, collapsing Socialist system.

Matthew Parris at The London Times

"I cannot but be moved here in Havana: moved by the death of an idea. Slowly but inexorably now Castro is gone, economic liberalisation is coming; a slow-rising tide as little gullies and pools begin to fill and the water swells between stones and through myriad small channels. The signs are everywhere: little kiosks here and there; some paintings for sale, shyly pegged outside a small flat; the furtive undermining of state monopolies; restaurants with proper wine lists and real menus; an itinerant cartoonist who'll sketch you for a few pesos."

Downsides

• Good, tasty food is not found on every street corner.

• You'll know where every casual conversation - and there'll be plenty of it - is going.... Cigars! Paladares! Ladies!

• There's an edgy undercurrent of potential violence around, which occasionally results in robbery, so care is required outside posh hotels and beach resorts. See Travel Safety Driving for a reality check.

• Standards are low, so beware the rental car with only 3 nuts per wheel (e.g.Transauto), or the salmonella salad. See Health.

• Driving should be a pleasure but the almost total absence of signposts makes things difficult, even if you speak Spanish.

Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: 1 week for city culture and some beach life.
Better: 2 weeks visiting key towns such as Trinidad and Santiago and having a beach ball on Varadero.

If you plan to visit Cuba, the old, charming, dilapidated, communist Cuba, get moving!

 

Cuba Travel Guide | Caribbean Map | Cuba Weather

 

Cuba beaches | Trinidad | Transport | Cuba Map

 

el centro rooftop view, old Havana, Habana Vieja, Cuba

Havana Centro, La Habana Vieja, Paseo de Marti. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 1515 by a Spanish conquistador.

 

Havana

Once the gambling vacation of choice for wealthy Americans, Cuba island and its capital Havana has been on the US State Department's no travel list since the revolution in 1959, ('Tourist travel to Cuba is prohibited under U.S. law for U.S. citizens and others under U.S. jurisdiction') though determined US citizens can get there via fairly easily Canada, Mexico or Caribbean countries so long as they book flights separately.

About 40,000 of last year's 2.5 million visitors were from the USA. Cuba welcomes U.S. tourists despite the chance of fines or surrender of passports if caught when re-entering the USA.

Cuba is a popular tourist target for holidaymakers from countries other than the USA as its combination of climate, beaches, architecture, low cost holidays and a fascinating local culture make it a unique destination, not only in the Caribbean but in the world.
A few days checking out Havana's attractions followed by two or three days relaxing on the beaches of Varadero makes for a brilliant combination of culture and sunshine.

 

 

an old car and old buildings in old Havana, Habana Vieja, Cuba

A cheap shared taxi, uno collectivo Yank Tank, from pre-revolution days in the '50s.

 

Getting around Cuba

Buses

Cheap, reasonably comfortable and efficient, the best long distance line for foreigners is Viazul which runs air-conditioned buses all over the island, but preferably book 3 days in advance. Locals use the Astro bus network that is more extensive but crowded, unreliable and not comfortable.
In Havana buses are regular and extremely cheap compared to taxis. They are especially good value on the airport run but there may be long lines so get there early.

Taxis

Havana taxis are a bit pricey but convenient, though tourists staying in Habana Vieja will hardly need them as main sights are within easy walking distance. The little orange Coco taxis are the cheapest individual kind but whatever the vehicle make sure you negotiate the price before setting off. Yank Tank collectivos, shared taxis with a sign in the window or on the roof are also good value transport.
Taxis are inevitably expensive on long runs unless shared by several people.

Hire cars

This is a terrific way to get around the country as roads are delightfully empty and scenery pleasant. The downsides are that signposting is rare, car maintenance shoddy and if involved in a serious accident resulting in injuries or death to Cubans you could be detained by the authorities until the legal situation becomes clear that could mean months. More on car rentals in Cuba.

Trains

Generally uncomfortable and disastrously unreliable with the exception of the Tren Francés travelling between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, which is at the far eastern end of the island. Tren Francés runs every two days if it's still in service. Most travelers prefer to use Viazul bus, or fly if budget is not a problem.

Flights

Domestic flights are efficient and normally fine. Aero Caribbean is the biggest and has a fair number of routes.

Cycling

Bicycling around Cuba is an interesting option though distances can be substantial. Don't think about renting a bike unless it's just for a couple of days in Havana, they're cheapo Chinese makes which are neither easy to ride nor reliable over lengthy periods. If you bring your own bike with you bring all spares too. It is possible to put bikes on some buses (Viazul, for a tip!), trains and even private trucks.

Hitching

If you've got all the time in the world and some Spanish then using the official Cuban 'Amarillo' system is an adventurous option.
Basically at key intersections all over the island (puntos amarillos) men in yellow/beige outfits organise lines of commuters and get them aboard any empty government vehicles passing by, frequently open-top trucks. Photo.
Finding the puntos is not easy, the wait may be long and you'll have to pay a tiny amount to El Amarillo but you'll certainly meet a lot of regular Cubans!

 

 

kids leaning to dance  in old Havana, Habana Vieja, Cuba

Dancing in the Street in Habana Vieja. Cubans, give them a chance and they dance!

 

Best things to do and see

***Havana, a large and endlessly interesting, dilapidated old city, full of bizarre vehicles, beautiful buildings, chatty people and a wild nightlife. Somewhere between Barcelona and Yangon in the style charts.

***Trinidad, a charming and well preserved small town with a centre of cobbled streets and cute pastel houses with tall, barred windows. Lots of live music.

***Santiago de Cuba has almost all Havana's assets, plus a lovely valley setting, some of the country's oldest palaces and museums, some fine, frilly architecture and less street hassle than the capital. But it's a long way, a flight from Havana.

**Viñales (near Pinar del Rio), this quiet region is one of the country's prettiest, with flat agricultural land disturbed only by the sudden sprouting of hills (karsts - like SW China, but less so). Great for hiking and horse riding, there are a couple of ranch/hotels around the tiny town. Beware mosquito overload.

*Sancti Spiritus, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara et alia. Classic Mexican-style towns with colonnaded central plaza and scattered pleasant colonial buildings. No big deal.

 

A Paladar private restaurant in Havana, Cuba

A Paladar in Havana.

Paladar Dining

A Paladar is a small, cheap restaurant run as a family operation, often in the family house or apartment. They range from semi-professional operations to mama cooking for one in her kitchen, but serve better and cheaper food than in most state-owned places. However, quality varies so get recommendations beforehand if possible.
The paladar above had expanded from a low-profile operation to become the best in Havana, though still only with less than 10 tables.
See also Casa particular for accommodation.

Local cuisine has come a long way recently and good food and ice-cream is frequently available - mostly from 'Paladares'. They are sometimes a hassle to find (use a pedal taxi) - and won't exist in beach resorts - but serve great homecooking at half the price of the generally poor state establishments.
Officially Paladares are not allowed to serve seafood (to protect the State places), but often discreetly provide superb lobster.
Black beans 'n' rice can get tiresome, and even expensive hotel breakfast buffets are a disaster.

Tipping
Officially not done but most people working in the service sector expect something from foreigners these days and their wages are pathetic - $15 pm if they're lucky. So don't be mean.
However, DON'T give money (or goods) away for nothing unless you wish to create or perpetuate a begging culture. (e.g. $ 'for milk for my children' is a commonly aimed plea at female tourists).
Cubans usually expect a tip in return for a photo now - due to overgenerous previous snappers.

 

Money

US dollars are accepted in Cuba but incur a 10% penalty on exchange, so bring another currency such as Canadian dollars, euros, Sterling pounds, Swiss francs or HK dollars, preferably in cash. These currencies in cash can be exchanged without fees for CUC (Convertible Pesos). The best rates will be from banks or official change kiosks (CADECA) and NOT from resort hotels.
Cuba also uses the Cuban Peso which is much less valuable and tourists may receive some in change.
Take care not to be ripped off when changing money; avoid doing business in the street!
Put most of the cash in a sealed/taped envelope or small locked bag and leave it in the hotel safe if your room does not have a safe.

ATMs are a rare sight, don't accept many cards and don't hold much cash anyway. US cards are not acceptable. Non-US Visa and Mastercards may work, but may not, in spite of protestations of the issuing bank, so ensure you bring back up in the form of non-US$ Travellers Checks.

Some hotels and tourist-oriented companies accept non-US$ credit cards for payment but it's not common and the charges are high.

 

El Malecon and swimmers, old Havana, Habana Vieja, Cuba

El Malecon, a promenade running beside Havana's sea wall that buzzes with people strolling, chatting and drinking after sunset.

 

Activities

Cycling on some lovely, little used roads, tho' smoky trucks can get up your nose. It's especially pretty around Trinidad, Pinar del Rio, Santiago.

Hikers can find lots of excellent routes, but most are ill-marked and mapless. The most challenging is 3 days over the Sierra Maestra mountain range. Attractive walks around Trinidad, Pinar del Rio, Santiago.

Horseback riding is widely available; around the pointy-hill karsts of Viñales is Cuba's number one riding spot.

Golf offers only two courses, at Havana and Varadero.

Watersports. Scuba is everywhere with many superb dives; south coasts are calmer in winter, north in summer.
Rental equipment may be in poor state. Snorkelling is often good too, tho' Varadero has nothing to offer in this area.
Surfing is OK from November-April on the NE coast, but bring your own board.
Windsurf boards are available for rent at all big beaches, at a hefty price.

Fishing. Big game fishing was made famous by Hemingway and is excellent along the NW coast, including around Havana.

 

Safety

- Beware short-changing/cheating in bars, shops, restaurants and taxis, it's endemic. Try to get an idea of how much you should pay before the time comes.
- Do not let your credit card out of your sight unless you'd like it to be used to pay someone a hefty bonus. If in doubt, do not sign anything
- Do not use a friendly person to help you change your money at a very good rate.
- Do not go with locals to a bar unless you're happy to buy everyone over-priced drinks.
- Don't drink the water.

 

Festivals

End of February, Havana Carnival, the city goes extra wild during the weekends.
April, Varadero Electro-acoustic Music Festival.
End of June, Trinidad, Fiestas Sanjuaneras.
End of July/beginning August, Santiago Carnival.
October, Havana Festival of Contemporary Music.

 

Cuba Weather

Cuba has a comfortable tropical climate with best weather from November-April. The average low temperature in this season is 18C (64F) and average high of 28C (82F) with low rainfall.
Worst: June to October (frequent thunder storms, high rainfall and humidity). Average highs of about 30C (86F) and lows of 23C (73F).

 

More Havana Attractions >>>

 

Cuba Beaches >>>

 

 

Cuba GuideTrinidad (Cuba)Cuba Map

 

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