I am visiting Cuba for 2 weeks in May-June with 2 friends (all girls), planning to start and end in Havana and somehow fit in Vinales, Trinidad and Santiago via bus if this is possible. We have a tent but would like to spend at least some time in hostel or homestay accommodation, and having trouble finding this on the internet. My guide is a couple of years old, so not sure what is available nowdays. Also, what is out there as far as bike hire? And how hard is it to travel vegetarian? Are campsites 100% safe for female travellers?
So many questions - sorry!
Me and my boyfriend visited Cuba for two weeks in 2005 and made something like the trip you describe. We found a hostel in Havana via lonelyplanet but I'm sure you can find something similar on hostelworld.com or anywhere. There are usually people waiting at the busstop when the bus arrives to offer accomodation. So it isn't neccesary to book in advance, but in Havana it felt good to have a booking when we arrived. We lived in something called Casa particular. It's a quite wide pricerange, but we payed about 25 convertible pesos a night in Havana and 20 in Viñales. If you find a desent Casa particular they have a network and in all the places we visited they were more than willing to help us book a room when we were going to the next place.
There are nice airconditioned buses, Viazul, that go from Havana both to Viñales and Trinidad, we weren't as far as Santiago, but I'm sure they go there too. They aren't that pricey so I think they are the best alternative if you are new to the country and language. We shared a taxi from Viñales to Trinidad, but legal taxis can't push the price that much, so I don't think we saved that much and if you're in bad luck and/or speak poor spanish you can get ripped off.
I don't know anything about tenting but there are very little criminality and as long as you don't act foolish you are safer in Cuba than in many other places in the world. The advices we got from the people we stayed with was not to wear visible jewelery such as gold chains and expensive cameras and so on. And also not to trust people who comes to you and want to offer you things, but to ask anyone on the street and you will be friendly greeted.
In most casa particulars you can order breakfast and dinner and as they eat much fruit and vegetables, such as beans and some sort of sweet potato (or something like it ) I don't see any problems with being vegetarian.
There are people who wan't to get to your money, as in all parts of the world, but the cubans are friendly and as long as you treat them respectfully and not like tourist attractions (like some tourists, preferrably rich western tourists unfortunately do) you will be treated the same way.
Sorry about the very long reply, I guess I got a bit over enthusiastic , but I hope you find it helpful and I wish you a wonderful trip!
I think I have some adresses left somewhere, let me know if you wan't me too check it out and I'll send them over.
You can find most of the answers to your questions on http://www.cubacasas.net
It lists over 350 casas on the island and its help pages tell you all about travel in Cuba.
About bike hire, most casa owners either have a bike they can lend or rent you (1 or 2 cuc per day) or they can ask a neighbour to rent you theirs.
It's not hard to travel as a vegetarian. All Cubans have access to vegetable markets and casa owners always prepare salads of raw vegetables, usually made with "cole" which is cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, sometimes beets and much more. Best is to ply some markets and ask Cubans the names of vegetables and then ask the owners to prepare these the way you like. Cubans also like viandas, a variety of root vegetables cooked like potatoes with herbs and oil. There are a couple of vegetarian restaurants in the capital, best-known is the Bici near the Universidad.
Campsites per se do not exist in Cuba. No sense in bringing a tent, although you could put one up in what is called a Campismo, a national chain of of 80 sites located in 60 municipalities with 20,000 beds mostly reserved for Cubans for their vacations. Only 10 campismos are open to tourists. Check the Touring Cuba menu item on cubacasas.net.
Whether they are campismos or casas or just touring Cuba, travelling single women are very safe in Cuba. Remember that 65% of health and education professionals on the island are women. No other country in Latin America comes close to Cuba as far as respect for women and children.
Thanks guys - that is a kick-arse website I feel much less lost now!! Anyone been on the Havana-Santiago train? And if you were spending 2 weeks in Cuba now, where would you go? Sofie - addresses and over-enthusiasm both appreciated!
You can find reservation in Viñales in Yoan Reyes Llanes house
Or visit https://www.visacuba.co.uk
Hola, CesarB, none of the three sites mention anything about Yoan Reyes Llanes, not even www.villalosreyes.com which is not a valid URL. Duh ?
If I were to spend 2 weeks in Cuba (even if I just came back before Xmas), at this very moment, I would go off the beaten path to places I do not wish to reveal as I have had the luck to travel to about 40 cities and towns all over the island in the past 5 years, travelling by bus, rental car, train, plane, hydrofoil, horseback, barefoot and more.
When you started this thread, you mentioned Havana, Viñales, Trinidad and Santiago. If this is your first visit you could do like the three Belgian girls I met and partly travelled with last March. Havana, Viñales, Playa Larga, Trinidad.
It depends on a major choice : do you want to move and discover or discover and relax ? Cuba is a big island, 1,100 km long and the best transportation is the Viazul bus : comfortable, safe and affordable. Going all the way to Santiago is an overnight trip from Trinidad which is OK cause you save what you would spend for a night in a casa. But once in Santiago (big town, lots of traffic but great for salsa lessons), you'll be tempted to ride all the way to Baracoa, see the Sierra Maestra, Bayamo and Holguin and Gibara and then you'll realise you've spent 5 days of your trip in air-conditioned busses : not very romantic.
Should you decide to stay in casas particulares, remember that owners are not allowed to let 3 adults in one bedroom, even if it has two double beds. So you're looking at renting two bedrooms for every night of your trip.
I would suggest Havana-Viñales (side trip to Cayo Jutias for a day at the beach), then Playa Larga (Fidel Silvestre's casa is right ON the beach : memorable even with the tiny biting mosquitoes which come on to you every 2nd night), then Cienfuegos (stay on lovely Punta Gorda at Miriam and Julia's casa, great live shows at Artex, side trip by ferry to Castillo de Jagua a must, rent Villa Serena in tiny Milpas on the bay) and then Trinidad because it has everything : a world heritage colonial town, stupendous old casas to stay in, the best night life outside Havana, beaches a few k's away, rental casas overlooking the sea in nearby La Boca and the waterfalls, horseback rides and freshwater streams in the mountains of the Escambray in Topes de Collantes. Rent a bike or a motor scooter and Carpe Diem, chicas, you're there !
When did you say you were leaving ?
We are there from 26 May to 9 June, so 14 nights total, starting and finishing in Havana. We are highly suggestible so if anyone wants to weigh in...
Marcos great suggestions but might be nice to spend some time in Havana also? Are all these places accessible by bus? And how long since you were last at Cayo Jutias - can you still camp there? If we go to Cienfuegos we might pass thru Australia, which would be good for a giggle
I did not mention Havana as I assumed you would land and leave from there. All places are accessible by bus see the Viazul web site www.viazul.com Yes, you can still camp in Cayo Jutias, I was there in March 2006. Australia's sugar mill has been dismantled and the office building is now a museum, barely a km off the main highway. In Playa Larga or elsewhere, you will have a chance to put lots of other shrimps (camarones) on the barby.
So can anyone recommend casas that they know are veg-friendly? I am still seeing disturbing rumours floating around the net that to Cubans, vegetarian means "with not much pork" ...?
Marcos - if the mosquitos at Playa Larga only come out every second night, could we avoid them by only staying one night?