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I am starting to plan a trip to Cuba in March, 2000. Can anyone advise me on where to go, where to stay, and what the attractions are. I am interested in seeing the 'real' Cuba, not sitting around a pool in a resort (althought I do enjoy good accommodations at night). I cannot speak Spanish so will this be a hinderence to my enjoyment of this unique country? I will appreciate any advice you can offer.

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    Jeffrey - for our trip to Cuba (an AI, what can I say but that's what we like), I picked up the Lonely Planet book on Cuba and it was an excellent source of information so that we could choose an AI in Cuba that would provide both scuba diving for my hubby along with some good site seeing (Holguin). Try that and also contact the Cuba Board of Tourism and they will quickly mail you info on anything you want.

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    Jeffrey
    Last year I did much the same as you and headed out to Cuba with two old College friends, a backpack and Spanish phrase book (none of us spoke the language!) with a view to seeing the real Cuba.
    We arrived in Havanna with a night booked at the Habanna Libre hotel for the first night. Bear in mind that Cuba is not geared up for independent travellers and it is essential that you can prove to customs that you are staying in a state-recognised hotel (they don't need to know how long for) - you will be asked and if you don't have somewhere to stay you will be 'invited' to stay in a state hotel at exorbitant rates. If you're on a budget try the Hotel St.John which is modern, clean, good bar and awesome roof top pool - about $25-30 a night.
    I personally think 3 days will allow you enough time in Havanna to do the basic sights. We then took the overnight train to Santiago de Cuba (it only runs every 3 days!). That is an experience in itself - 1000 miles to Cuba's second largest city on the southern tip of the island. Take food, drinks and a jumper - the air conditioning is freezing! You will need to pay a different fare as a westerner and from a tourist office - don't worry - all speak English. Santiago is a good base to explore Guantanamo province, something best done in a hire-car. v cheap, low deposit, cheap gas, v.safe. Book through a larger hotel in Santiago such as the Villa San Juan (use credit card for additional personal insurance). From Santiago we travelled to Baraccoa - earliest Spanish settlement in Cuba and stayed in a casa particulare (private house). Locals are allowed to rent out rooms to westerners in this manner and you will pay $5-10 a night which will include a meal with the family. Great way to see real Cuban life and learn some basic language. When you approach a large city by public transport you will be approached by kids inviting you to stay at casas in their town - learn to trust them, they won't screw you over. Eat in private restaurants - palladares - again listen to the locals and find out where to go. Again, locals are allowed to cater for up to 12 tourists in their own homes and this is the best and cheapest way to eat and meet local people. Mail me for more info - I've got plenty of stories. It is a beautiful and hospitable country where locals are keen to talk to westerners and they are very proud of their nation. Bear in mind that you shouldn't speak about politics in public - it is seen by many as rude and anti-establisment.You won't have a problem with the language in places geared up for independent travellers, but you will need some basic Spanish to arrange public transport and accomodation. Please don't make the mistake I did when checking into a hotel and asked if I could put something in a safe only to realise I was asking the receptionist for safe sex!!

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    We had a short, but wonderful time in Cuba. Just a couple quick pieces of information for you:

    We stayed at great casa particular in Havana in an ideal location - 7th floor apartment overlooking the Malecon at the end of Prado, 10 minute walk from Havana Vieja, for $35 a night. Safe, clean, friendly. Senoras Margo and Amalia Urrutia are scrupulously honest, helpful, bright and charming. They speak English, French and some Italian. THEY were a highlight for us! Phone (537) 61-7824

    We used both Lonely Planet and The Cuba Handbook from Moon Publications. LP was easier to use for basic information, daily sightseeing, and hotel listings. The Cuba Handbook is a little more unweildy at about twice the size, but it had much more in-depth information about everything else and we found ourselves reading it every night. You can't go wrong with either one. However, both were very outdated in terms of costs - the nature of travel books and travel. We found prices to be 50-150% higher than we had read in either book.

    Have a great time!

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