Favorite thing: Came back from my 5th Cuba trip since 2011. My Spanish is pretty bad and very few Cubans can speak any English, so I used a local guide/facilitator on all of these trips. Very few cars compared to the other places but traffic is bad because of pedestrians and potholes so used the same guy as my driver.
trying to get decent info when in Cuba and trying to plan dynamically as you go along is a nightmare. Web access is very limited, very slow and for various reasons, some website don't work 100%. Transport across the island is limited with for example only 3 buses per day between the 2 biggest cities in Cuba, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The buses are so limited that there is no chance of considering Cuba as having an integrated transport policy. At peak season (Jan - Mar) hotels are booked up in advance by people on package trips and so finding decent accommodation can be very hard. There's always the options of casa particulares but I stayed in 5 of these in 7 days and didn't get an undisturbed night sleep once.
The best way I found of trying to get around was doing it the old way, using the tourist info offices. The infotur office on Obispo in Havana has helpful staff there. Similarly in Trinidad there's a girl there named Maggie who was excellent. This is defo the way to do it and they can give you info on buses and sell tickets from where you are to your next town (note they can't sell you tickets for journey's starting at other towns). They can also ring ahead and try to get you hotel accommodation (at least some of them aren't allowed to ring casas for you).
If you are going to Cuba (and I would question the wisdom of doing so), its best if you can plan ahead and book as much if you can.
Note also that the food isn't good in Cuba nor is catering for speciality diets.
Web access in Cuba is very limited and also a candidate for the world slow record. In each town there will be one or two etecsa offices that have internet access. Charge is 4 cuc per hour at time of writing but as I said speed is slow and in some, newer websites may not work 100% on PCs with older browsers
If you do go to an etecsa, as usual for Cuba it will be wait in a queue for outside. The queues will be quite long for internet access but that needn't be a deterent. I found that by going up to the people in the queue and asking if they were queueing for internet, usually they weren't (they seem to queue for other services in the office like the phone booths) and I would be pointed to the front of the queue and in I would go pretty quickly.
When in go up to the counted and by a card that gives 60 mins access within 30 days.
I don't think the heading fits the comment but anyway.
Havana felt to me like just a festival of deceit and dishonesty. The prolificy of people trying to scam some money in 1 way or another across Cuba amd not just Havana is remarkable. Over charging restaurant and bar staff, cab drivers doing the same, people trying to short change you, its everywhere. Anyone who approaches you at 'random' I would view with distrust. There's also constant hassle and intrusion from people in the street always trying to hussle a buck one way or another. The level of determination and persistence from the pack awaiting tourists at Santiago bus station is pretty intense to say the least. Some of the other scams are more inventive (someone approached me in the street just after I walked out of the Hotel Parque Central saying to me he worked in there and we had been speaking with each other. An interesting comment since I wasn't staying there and had only popped in there for a few minutes and certainly didn't speak with this guy). (typo correction just made to the last sentence from the previous submission).
The only place I can think of where I have seen this level of persistent deceit and dishonesty is Colombo in Sri Lanka. Of course its easy for me to say that with the economic disparity compared with where I am from, hence why I will say to anyone that principles are a privelege for people who can afford them. That though doesn't mean I need to enjoy people trying to rip me off at every opportunity. I'm still in Cuba and fed up with the relentless hassle that comes with everytime I set foot out of where I am staying.
It is expensive regardless of what they are providing. They are taking advantage of the fact that Americans would want to go and they will pay whatever they are asked for at this juncture in time.
Just think of it , would you pay 1700 usd pp double occupancy for one week in Santo Domingo, where the hotels, food and servies are much better?
If you are a person who is unable to travel without a guide or pre arranged tours and hotels perhaps this is good .
There are ways to travel directly to Cuba on legal licences.
Once you are there, stay at private homes called casa particulares 25-35 euros per night
add 20 euros for meals per day . if you are going to stay in La Habana about 10 euros for transportation. so 100 euros per day is a generous allowance and where as this tour is about twice as much.
so, as Odinthor suggested it is not about the reputation of the company, but are you going just because it is a novelty NOW and it wont be in one years time or you wont be comfortable traveling by yourself and that you prefer everything arranged for you?
If you can go to the Havana Jazz Festival it would be fantastic, Cuba is just photogenic so you really dont need any guide for that. Tourist services are limited and the food quality is not what you travel to cuba for.
so 1700 dollars for one week not including air fare is a little steep but you may be willing to pay that.
Either way welcome to Cuba, look at cuba-junky.com for tips about cuba.. excellent site, possibly the best on cuba
I can answer personal questions as a person with lived in experience, I have never been a tourist in havana so may miss some points the tourists are looking for..
1. budget 50 cuc per day. beer 1-2 cuc. mixed drinks 2-4 cuc. cafe prices are similar to europe.
meals 10 cuc per meal. your casa may sell you a breakfast.
of course you can get coffee in the street for 1 cup. you can take out rice and chicken at the market for 25 cup, but not recommended. change a few cuc into cup in case you find something to spend it on. you can be there for three days not needing cup at all. 2. january tends to be good, sunny. cant predict cold fronts but even with that not as cold or rainy as a Melbourne winter. 3. there are no large supermarkets (within shorter reach) but stores selling most products are to be found everywhere and they deal in cuc. Cuba lamentably produces very little so all products even things such as cooking oil, biscuits etc are imported. Rum of course is Cuban. 4. Havana is the safest place in all of the Americas. you can go out with your camera. but be discreet, all cubans would already know you are a tourist. 5. home made artesanal goods like dolls and chains and boxes etc. also not so good quality paintings are available in the streets and extremely good quality art is available in galleries 7. the centre of havana is : old town and centro habana.. you can walk to Vedado which is a nice area but the taxi would only be 3-4 cuc. Taxis are cheaper compared to europe or usa. but there is a local taxi for 10 cup a drop, you may have difficulty getting into it, with your appearance and camera.. I travel by those taxis. Apart from a visit to Vedado, for its jazz club, hotel nacional for a drink, and some night spots, you can easily spend your time in the old/central habana. Taxis are all metered, for foreign use, but there are cuban taxis( not usually air conditioned and a bit battered) with whom you can bargain, once again i have found them to be the same price as the metered taxis.
As you may have surmised Havana and Cuba are not cheap destinations. especially food variety, but three days are not long enough for you to get tired of the local rice and chicken and fish! I just came back from KL where an extremely delicious meal for four cost only 15 cuc total.. You can only dream of that in Havana.. If you ever get invited to some cuban home (not casa particulares but every day professionals who dont depend upon tourists for a living), you can have a good meal and great times.
to me, Havana, is a moveable feast...(I have lived in Melbourne, Brisbane, London, Paris and Miami among others)
Fondest memory: Just being there, day after day and the wonderful friends who surround you
Favorite thing: This building was erected by the Jesuits in the mid 18th century to house a seminary first founded in 1689. After the Jesuits were expelled in 1767, it was known as the St. Ambrose Seminary and in 1774 it was opened under the name St. Carlos and St. Ambrosio Royal School Seminary. It is also called St. Carlos Seminary in honor of King Charles III of Spain, who declared it Conciliate in 1777, equaling it to the Spanish seminaries.
Favorite thing: Me and a couple of college buddies went down to Cuba in 2008 for a quick in and outer just to experience Havana, and what an experience. I am glad I had the opportunity to get down there before the place opens up, and becomes like any other place!
Here are things to SEE & DO in Havana:
1.) Walk around quaint La Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
2.) Shop around old Havana
3.) Stop by the trendy perfume store "Perfumeria Habana 1791" in old Havana
4.) Take pictures of the plazas in Habana Vieja
5.) Visit Hemingway's famous hang-out "La Bodeguita"
6.) See Havana's small Chinatown and eat there if you want. I will warn you in advance that the food is not that good.
7.) Visit El Capitolio
8.) Visit El Castillo del Morro
9.) Take a stroll along the Malecon
10.) Visit the University of Havana
11.) Visit the famous upscale neighborhood of Vedado (home of Cuban elites and preferred area for embassies)
12.) Eat at the many wonderful restaurants serving local cuisine
13.) Have fun at the Tropicana Club
14.) Visit the following plazas: Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Revolucion and Plaza de San Francisco
15.) Visit the Catedral de San Cristobal
16.) Definitely take pictures of the fabulous old cars found all over Havana
17.) Have an ice cream at La Copelia
18.) Visit the colorful block "Callejón de Hamel," where artists & musicians showcase their talents. It also showcases vivid murals and honors the religion of Santeria. This wonderful area of Havana provides a seamless blend of art, religion and culture.
19.) Visit the fine rum factories and cigar manufacturers of Cuba
20.) Visit social service organizations and hospitals/clinics
Fondest memory: The sights and sounds of Havana were memorable!
Favorite thing: Havana, like much of Cuba, enjoys a pleasant year-round tropical climate that is tempered by the island's position in the belt of the trade winds and by the warm offshore currents. Average temperatures range from 72 °F (22 °C) in January and February to 82 °F (28 °C) in August. The temperature seldom drops below 50 °F (10 °C). The lowest temperature was 33 °F(2.0 °C) in Santiago de las Vegas, Boyeros. The lowest recorded temperatures in Cuba are 32 °F(0,6 °C)in Bainoa, Havana province. Rainfall is heaviest in October and lightest from February through April, averaging 46 inches (1,167 millimetres) annually. Hurricanes occasionally strike the island, but they ordinarily hit the south coast, and damage in Havana is normally less than elsewhere in the country.
Favorite thing: While having lunch at El Patio, we heard wonderful sounds coming from the square outside. We went to the balcony of the restaurant and could see and hear colourfully dressed locals walking on stilts and accompanied by a drummer and trumpet player. Creating a CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE they paraded through the streets of Habana Vieja while children gleefully followed them. What a fun thing to see and experience.
Central Park or PARQUE CENTRAL is a popular and safe place for the locals and tourists to walk and sit. Beautiful Royal Palms and exotic trees make the surroundings so enjoyable.
In the middle of the Park is a statue of Jose' Marti, made in 1905 of carrara Marble.
Hans and I and a few of our tour group friends took in the ambiance that this wonderful park had to offer. It reminded me of the beautiful parks in Spain where people gathered together to enjoy the surroundings and talk to their friends, while listening to the music that could be heard in the neighbourhood.
This mural, by artist Andres Carrillo, is a beautiful legacy to Cuban culture. This MURAL ARTISTICO HISTORICO named "Mural Merchants" took nearly 6 years to complete and the artist used special dyes for his masterpiece. 67 Prominent members of Havana are depicted here. The artwork was finally completed on December 27, 2000.
Located on Calle Mercaderes
Favorite thing: At many places you go, be it tourist info, museums, supermarket, you may surprisingly hear from the attendants if you need any USD in exchange of your Cuban Pesos. There's no reason for you to change unless you know that you may not need USDs and also there's no way for you to verify if those banknotes are valid in case. you like to help out her / him. But there's a good reason for them to ask you since they may have found or received these notes from some tourists and if they want to change them legally they would lose 10% of the value as a charge. But if they get your convertibel pesos in exchange of USDs they can easily transfer them into local Cuban pesos.
Favorite thing: After my trip from Cuba I surprisingly came to know bout my ignorance on currency in Cuba. Covertible Peso which you get from change / ATM is intended to be used only by tourists. You simply may not be aware of the fact that you are paying a way higher price by paying in Convertibel Peso (CP) which is pegged against USD than the locals who pay in local Cuban peso. Everywhere you go and ask the price in English they tell you the price (right!) and everywhere you see the price (right!) you pay for it but you never know that you are paying them in CP and getting the change in CP but the locals paying in local currency and getting their change in local currency! You could be totally ignorant being fluent in Spanish but paying them in CP and paying them much more than locals! My friend was traveling with his Cuban friend and found out this trick by Cuban authorities. I had a little surprise when at a local shop I accientlly perhaps received my changes in local currencies what I could not use on the way out of the country at the airport. You have very little to do about it tho.
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