I was in Varadero, Cuba last week and had the most interesting adventure I've ever had on a trip! We took a trip to Havana in these two taxis from the 1950s. I got in the back seat and immediately fumbled around for the seat belt... only to discover that there weren't any. Ok I told myself, just hold onto the seat if anything happens. The drivers seemed friendly enough... until they started driving! I've never seen such skilled cutting off in my life. My friends and I kept silent during the two hour drive due to the loud latin music that the driver was blasting. I can honestly say I feared my life a few times on the trip. We passed many signs with revolutionary mottos, and commemoratively named establishments. Despite the insanely stressing drive, I was mesmerized as soon as we entered Havana. The beautiful buildings captivated my attention, and my camera was poised for the next picture at all times. Such an interesting city, with its locals amassed there due to the presence of many tourists in Varadero. I felt quite petty being in my comfortable all-inclusive resort while some 2 million people were crammed into the city. I definitely felt culture shock as well as a mixture of appreciation for the historical beauty of the capital and sadness at the result of thriving tourism. Cuba is a must see for all.
What a cool time. I'd like to visit cuba one day. What is it like price wise. Also is it safe? Is it easy to trvel between cities? Or is it better to fly in to one and stay there?
any info much appreciated!
Cuba is a wonderful place for many types of travel. If you're looking for a relaxing getaway where you can laze about your days on the beach or next to the pool, the bigger resort cities fit the bill just perfectly. The main resort cities are Varadero, Cayo Coco/Cayo Guillermo, Holguin/Guardalavaca. If it's a combination of relaxing and partying you want, Varadero's the place to be. Cayo Coco/Cayo Guillermo is entirely touristic and more laid back, and Holguin/Guardalavaca is less touristic but laid back just the same.
If it's adventure you're seeking, Cuba is a good place to spend a few weeks. I personally wouldn't go into the really small towns, but cities like Matanzas (which isn't mainly touristic) offer a trully cuban experience.
I don't know much about transportation in between cities as far as buses are concerned, but I do know that it's possible with taxis. We went from Varadero to Havana in a taxi and it cost us about 30$ a piece, round trip. So taxis are pretty cheap. Also, you can have best of both worlds if you stay at a resort. Most resorts offer day trips to cities and have other excursions that take place in nearby cities. A friend of mine who went to Varadero rented scooters for the day and drove to Matanzas which is about 30-45 minutes away.
As a tourist, the experience of the cities can be overwhelming if you don't know the language. My Spanish is comprised of about 6 words and 4 sentences so I had a hard time. Although a lot of them thought I was latina (I'm not btw... thus the limited spanish), they were able to tell that I was a tourist by the way that I was dressed and that I was surrounded by a bunch of my multicultural friends.
This was in Havana which is a touristic city, so as soon as they recognize tourists, the offers abound. They offer rides in horse-drawn buggies, tours in their mini taxis, cuban cigars for cheap; they ask for money, soap, shampoo, etc. The offers are mostly innocent, but don't get into one of the schemes to sell (cigars and rum especially). I personally didn't go through any dangerous moments (except the taxi ride!) but keep your guard up and be aware that the locals aren't allowed to speak to tourists (in Havana that is). A man got arrested for speaking with us. It was very sad to see them take him away when he had done nothing wrong.
Finally, money talk: they accept US dollars everywhere, and Euros in some places. Prices for food... I can't say that they're astoundingly cheap or anything, more like regular prices for meals. Somewhere around 5-6$ for lunch, but we didn't really eat out much cause we were staying at an all-inclusive. Prices for souvenirs... they aren't really expensive if you ask me but you can bargain with them. Four of us bought seven shawls as souvenirs for us and for our families and we got the price down from 15$ each to 10$ each. I'm told that we could have gotten it for much less if we had bargained a bit more but I've never bargained and to my shopping-obssessed mind, 10$ for a shawl is a steal! Prices for going out... in Varadero, entry to clubs costs about 10$ and that's all you can drink. Prices to get to Cuba and stay there depend on where you're from. From Canada, they're pretty cheap for all-inclusives at around 1000$ Canadian. This is flight, accomodations, all meals, and 24hr drinks, plus a variety of other services. If you have your travel dates in mind but are flexible on the location, you can get really good last minute deals, that are a few hundred less than regular price (sometimes 50% off of regular!). So it's up to you which way you want to do it.
That was long-winded! If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask! It's my pleasure to talk about Cuba and what I know of it! Let me know if you do decide to go!
I can also relate to the hair raising taxi rides, we hired a taxi from the Bay of Pigs back to Havana (no public services running). The car was pure classic 50's Americana but it had a brand new Toyota engine in it, in a straight line it flew but put a bend in the road and it was heart in you mouth time. It was one of my best memories of the country -- firing through plantations, overtaking all cars, listening to french hiphop (on the guy's newly installed incar CD system - this was some car!) with 2 Austrian-Rastafarian trainee stone masons while swigging rum straight from the bottle. Ah, it is what travelling is all about.
I am glad to see that you went out of your all inclusive, I don't see the point of going to a place like Cuba and not seeing any of the country.
Pricewise, it is not the bargin that many people would assume, and hotels can be quite expensive. The cheapest way to get a room is with a private family, these are easy to find as people will come upto offering rooms everywhere you go.
If you are travelling, I would steer clear of the railways, we spent 2 hours stationary after we had been on the train just 5 mins. Plus it was pitch black as the lights did not work. We soon learnt that the coaches offered a better service.
Hasta la victoria siempre!