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A few thoughts about Havana, Cuba...

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean A few thoughts about Havana, Cuba...

1. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1498 posts) 30 Nov '11 14:59

Some random thoughts, in no particular order...

Caught a super cheap deal direct from Calgary to Havana, staying in the dump Terrazas Atlantico Islazul on the eastern beaches. $486 for 8 days, all taxes in. Incredible price. I posted the deal on Debbies Forum and offered to split it with someone as a double occupancy. I had no interest in the resort so whoever wanted to come along could have the whole place to themselves. A couple of hours later the lovely and vivacious "Janet" dropped me a line and a week later we were flying to Havana together. She had a great time at the resort/beach and I had a riot in Havana, we met again on the flight going home. Thanks Janet!

The new regulations allowing private enterprise are turning the economy upside-down, but as predicted the new businesses are failing as fast as they're starting. With no support from the government in terms of start-up loans or even more importantly independent suppliers plus a general lack of business knowledge many of the new vendors are doomed before they even begin. Too bad because many of these businesses would be a boom for the tourist industry.

Super, super cheap meals available more easily than ever - you can get stuffed with semi-decent food for 2 CUC including a beer. (1 CUC = $1 USD)

Super, super cheap transport too. The old American classics held together with spit and a prayer are everywhere, running on fixed routes and foreigners are no longer an issue. Prices are in Cuban Pesos (CUP) not Convertible Pesos (CUC). 10 CUP (we're talking less than 50 cents Canadian) will get you anywhere in the city. Even running from downtown all the way out to the eastern beaches is only 20 CUP - less than a dollar. (1 CUC = $1 USD = 25 CUP. Yes, 24 of them!)

It's easy to rent a taxi for less then 40 CUC/day, including fuel. If you go outside the city limits then of course you need to buy some fuel every now and then.

One of the raunchiest late night (adult, of course) discos in Vedado - at the end of La Rampa, right by the Malecon - is a kid's disco on Sundays. The place was packed! Too frigging funny.

Decent 4 bedroom/3 bathroom private house in an upscale neighbourhood with swimming pool and full-time cook/maid/security can be had for less than 250 CUC/day. Great option for three couples or a family with a bunch of kids - way better bang-for-the-buck than any hotel.

Loads of independent American travellers visiting illegally, more than I've noticed before. As always they're fabulous people - informed, common sense, hipster travellers ignoring the silly blockade and blowing every dumb American stereotype out of the water. Met two groups of Americans travelling legally though, staying at the Park Central Hotel... the propaganda they're being fed (and believing) is mind boggling...

Weird dichotomy of upbeat, positive vibes everywhere, tempered by some real desperation, more than I've seen in a few years. The usual crimes of opportunity like purse snatching, pick pocketing and simple thievery are worse than ever. Maybe it's just that Christmas is around the corner but there are lots of places where a normal single traveller has no business being at night, and for that matter not during the day either unless they're using common sense and the usual street smarts. That said, Havana is still one of the safest cities its size (located in a developing nation) anywhere on the planet.

The new real estate laws have caused insane speculation that's completely out to lunch. The laws don't actually change anything - they simply legalize what existed under the table before - but the value that some people are putting on dumps is endlessly amusing.

There's some great deals to be had with some of the local tour operators. Excursions from Havana to Cayo Levisa and Cayo Largo were very inexpensive.

In 6 rum purchases 3 of them were counterfeit, and this was in 5 different establishments. (The seals were broken and the bottles filled with who-knows-what.) Maybe I was just unlucky or perhaps I'm looking like a dumb yuma even more than usual... I suspect the latter.

You can get two full kegs of beer delivered, iced and a guy from the distributor to stay and operate/serve for less than $100 CUC. That's a pretty good deal considering it's almost 1,000 cups of beer. Of course it's the CUP swill so it's good to warm-up with a few of the usual Cristal and Bucanero.

I can't begin to keep up with all the new paladars (private restaurants.) No time to check-out any of the newer high-end ones this time, but I'll make it my mission in the New Year. We hit one in Centro (Concordia and San Francisco) that is hands-down the best bang-for-the-buck I've ever found in Cuba. Great dinners x 4 was 11 CUC in total + booze.

The water in Havana was oddly clear and clean looking. On the eastern beaches it was a mess.

My Spanish is steadily deteriorating or the locals are using even more slang, colloquialisms and generally horrible pronunciation than ever before. What a joy it is to travel elsewhere in Latin America where they speak real Spanish - or perhaps I simply need to start hanging out with a classier crowd. That said, learned many new dirty phrases, some of them gut-busting hilarious.

The rock/rap alternative scene is bursting at the seams. Much of it is still illegal but gigs are easy to find and police are turning a blind eye more than ever. Even the silly emo kids are out in full force although they don't quite understand any of the classic emo jokes yet...

The burgeoning middle class has embraced pure breed dogs, pimp-my-ride car accessories and real mattresses. The last one is a revelation.

All and all a nice (but very short) last-minute warm up to an extended escape starting in a few weeks.

Cheers,
Terry

2. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin, 5577 posts) 1 Dec '11 05:55

Pretty timely piece. Been thinking of heading to Cuba with the fam in Jan/Feb. Would you recommend it for a family getaway for a week or two? We're basically planning to do nothing but relax and swim and sightsee :)

3. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1498 posts) 1 Dec '11 08:14

Not sure about logistics coming all the way from Norway, but Cuba is a great vacation destination in many ways.

It's the "Walmart of the Caribbean" for Canadians looking to escape the winter cold and hang out on a beach. Sometimes the prices for a week or two all-inclusive vacation are outrageously inexpensive - honestly, I don't even know how the tour operator pays for jet fuel let alone the resort/food/booze too.

The Island has one of the most unique political/social situation in the world so it's easy to mix a little culture with the beach and umbrella drinks.

That said it's not a destination for picky travellers. The all-inclusive resorts are (almost) always at least a full star or star and a half below their other Mexican, Caribbean and Central American counterparts but if the price is right who cares... like I said, some the deals being offered now are insanely cheap.

Have fun.

Cheers,
Terry

4. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin, 5577 posts) 1 Dec '11 08:22

Certainly sounds like an interesting option :) Is it the kind of place you'd get bored after a few weeks? Everyone I ever know that's been there has done the resort thing, and I was actually thinking of going more the 'rent a house/stay in a guesthouse' route. You mentioned renting a house with pool and the works... any particular place you'd recommend checking out?

5. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1498 posts) 1 Dec '11 09:08

If you're an experienced traveller in developing countries and you've stayed in inexpensive hostels/hotels elsewhere and used local transport then Cuba will hold NO surprises. Travelling independently in Cuba is very easy.

Cuba is no longer an exotic destination... there are loads of excellent guide books like Moon, Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, etc... there are several Internet forums/blogs (Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, etc.) that make it an easy place to research... the whole country is very safe and non-threatening... it has a very defined Gringo Trail with decent transport and accommodation options... tourist scams are simple and no big deal, almost to the point of being naively innocent (compared to most other developing countries)... if you're still nervous it's easy to have a local guide/resolver/travel agent give you a really nice comfort zone by setting you up with a semi-arranged itinerary so you're not completely on your own... etc.

For a first time visitor a guide book is by FAR your most important (and cheapest/easiest) investment to start your research.

Have fun.

Cheers,
Terry

Here's a decent website to start your research: http://www.cuba-junky.com/ It explains quite well the accommodation options for "casa particulars" (Cuban version of a bed and breakfast) and a whole pile of other info about the Island in general. I've used their services before, they're very dependable - but remember the telecommunications infrastructure in Cuba is HORRIBLE so instant replies to emails will not happen. Use patience...

Post 6 was removed by a moderator
7. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin, 5577 posts) 2 Dec '11 02:18

I've done a little travelling :) But it's still different with the fam and especially will be with a 6 month old tagging along. We actually do a ton of bookings here on TP for guesthouses in Cuba, but like the idea of a private place with a pool :) I was looking at that cuba-junky site (owner actually is a TP member it seems :)), and notice they have the same listings we do for the casa particulars. I'm going to research this a little more, but it's looking like it might tick all the boxes for this particular trip!!

8. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1498 posts) 2 Dec '11 10:03

I'm in Cuba from early January to mid-February, with the last 2 weeks being in Havana. Feel free to drop me a line and you're welcome to drop by my casa for a few cocktails...

Cheers,
Terry

9. Posted by gopowerhiha (Budding Member, 2 posts) 5 Dec '11 18:18

Wow Terry you rock the boat !!
thanks for all the wonderful tips and details about your adventure!!

I'm Malika by the way , living in montreal and yes!
planning to travel a little south america
question ....where did you get your tickets flight ..was it expensive ....tips by any chance XD

have a wonderful day

always believe in yourself and never forget fiesta never ends !!!!!

10. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1498 posts) 5 Dec '11 18:34

There's a multitude of places in Canada to get super cheap flights heading south...

http://www.tripcentral.ca/
http://www.sunwing.ca/
http://www.redtag.ca/
http://www.selloffvacations.com/

Etc. etc. etc...

Have fun.

Cheers,
Terry