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SEA AND SUN IN HAVANA

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Hello noble veteran cubanophiles....

She: Wants beach, sun, relaxation Me: The same but to enjoy Havana culture
WE: Need to get out of the frosty Northeast for a week!

After reseach (including the wisdom of this board) we've come across the Playas del Este, particularly the sea club arenal..I'm one phone call away from booking it all...

Tell me people

1) Is this joint ok? I've head mixed reviews....how about the Atlantico?
2) Is it easy enough to get to Havana (and back) at night so we can enjoy some decent restaurants/nightlife?

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    Playas del Este is a really nice beach. The food is not the greatest in Cuba, but the scenery and the people more than make up for that. I was younger when I went there, and we took a tour to Havana. The people do not have a lot there. They can't buy make-up, perfume, gum etc. and it is a communist country. A lot of people that go take old clothes for them. I have been to many islands, but the Cuban people are by far my favorite. The beaches are the most beautiful I have ever seen. You may want to consider a day trip to Varadero Beach. This beach you can walk out really far before it gets deep (I haven't seen this anywhere else except for a lake)and it is soft white powder. Of course you should buy some cigars, even if you don't smoke them you can sell them when you return for a lot more money.

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    Hola Chill:
    Well I'm on your side. Havana is my favourite city in the Caribbean. I always stay directly in Havana, but as you also need to please the other half, the Playa del Este might be a good compromise. One other alternative and slightly farther out is a place called Breezes Jibacoa. I have heard good reviews about this resort which is about 1 hour east of Havana max.

    In Havana, here is a little info to get you started.

    Here in no particular order are some of my favourites.

    1) Plaza Revolution and Jose Marti monument and museum. View from top is great. Postal Museum is right around the corner as well if you like stamps.
    2) Coppelia for Icecream at top of La Rampa. 30,000 a day are served. Cubans love icecream.
    3) Parisienne Cabaret (at Hotel Nacional) for show, or Tropicana for show.
    4) Muesum of the Revolution (Just down the street from Parque Central on Ave. Agramonte (Zulueta)
    5) Calle Obispo. Very bohemian with lots of galleries, shops, cafe's. Just around the corner from you.
    6) La Floridita Bar for Daquiri (just below Parque Central on Calle Obispo)
    7)Cathedral Square.
    8)La Bodeguita del Medio for a Mojito. Just around the corner from Cathedral Square.
    9)Plaza Armas for Sunday bookfair (if it fits your schedule)
    10)Free Market (hard currency) on Tacon in Parque Cespedes, at the waterfront just behind Castillo la Real Fuerza for hand made souvenirs.
    11) El Morro Castle. Canon firing at 9:00 p.m. ceremony. Also Divina Pastoria Restaurant for a romantic dinner overlooking the harbour is at the castle. Can combine with canon ceremony for a nice evening.
    12)Bocoy Rum factory (Can't remember exact address) or the Havana Club Outlet on San Pedro at the harbourfront.
    13) Restaruant El Aljibe for a nice dinner (Miramar suburb, near Canadian embassy)
    14)Parque Lenin and Las Ruinas for lunch. Very pretty.
    15) Hemmingway Marina
    16) The Capitolo. 3rd largest indoor statue in the world inside under the dome.
    17) All the rest of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) right in your neighbourhood.
    18) Chinatown. Just to the west of the Capitolo by a few blocks. Walkable distance on Dragones at the south end of the Capitolo.
    19)Castillo Real Fuerza. Right off Plaza Armas and very nice to walk through.
    20) The Malecon. Oceanfront drive that is very popular for strolling along the seawall.
    21) University of Havana (up near la Rampa and Coppelia)
    22) Cemetary Colon. Many mausoleums and artistic graves. Very historic. Near Plaza Revolution.

    For shopping and souvenirs, there are several places that are almost a must see/do.
    There are many small shops along Calle Obispo in Old Havana that have some nice stuff. Also in Parque Cespedes located between Av. del Puerto and Tacon (right behind Castillo de la Real Fuerza) is an Artisan Market where lots of handmade handicrafts and stuff is available. It's also a neat place to just wander about. Keep an eye out in this park for the guys that husk/slice and open fresh coconuts for the tourists. A fresh coconut and a straw is a nice refreshing drink, though not too many as fresh coconut milk can upset your GI system.
    There is also another craft market located on the Malecon (shoreline drive) somewhere between the Hotel Nacional and the Melia Cohiba Hotel. Sorry I don't know exactly where as I walked the full length of the Malecon so I just remember that it's along there somewhere. And for regular shopping in a Cuban version of a shopping mall, there is the Galeria Paseo located at Av Paseo and the Malecon (right across the street from the Melia Cohiba.

    Eats and Drinks in Havana that I have enjoyed.

    1) EL ALJIBE in Miramar offers a great house specialty, Lemon Chicken. Grand and not too pricey. Their wine selection isn't too bad either. Mostly from Torres, a Spanish company, but good none the less. El Aljibe is popular with the Cubans and I've always enjoyed eatingthere. It's one of my "Must Eat" places everytime I am in Havana.

    2) EL FLORIDITA in Habana Vieja (Old Havana) serves the absolute BEST frozen daquiri imaginable. But at $6.00 per drink it is a little pricey. But that is the bar and drink made famous by Hemmingway and for it's historic note, and lots of photos of Papa Hemingway on the walls (with Fidel no less) is neat. Food is pretty good as well, but I have only eaten in the bar section, not the dining room.

    3) EL PATIO in Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square in Habana Vieja) is also great. You can dine inside or outside in the square under unbrellas. I have always preferred the outside because the music isn't quite as loud, and also I simply love to soak up the atmosphere in the Plaza. Service can be a bit slow however. I often stop here for lunch (Sandwich Cubano) with a cold Crystal Beer. Very nice.

    4) LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO
    If you are in Havana and want a great Mojito at the legendary bar made famous by Ernest Hemmingway, then you have to have a drink at The Bodeguita Del Medio, Empedrado 207, Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Comida Criolla y Mojitos (Native food and Mojitos), what a great place to eat and drink. Located just around the corner from Cathedral Square. The walls are covered with signatures of its patrons from the day it opened. Famous signatures such as Hemmingway's and Salvadore Allende's are protected under glass. No visit to Havana is complete without a Mojito at la Bodeguita.

    5) LA DIVINA PASTORA. Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña. Tucked into the berth of the sailing ship El Galeón at the foot of El Morro Castle, it is a good spot for dinner after the cañonazo (cannon blast) at La Cabaña. I took my girlfriend here and the atmosphere is terrific. Soft breeze, soft music and soft lips. What a treat. Very romantic spot with the lights of the harbor glimmering. The food is good too. Not a place where you have paid for the view and get substandard fare. Worth every penny, though it does take quite a few of them. If you only have one night and want to make it special, then this is the place to go.
    Also, right alongside La Divina Pastoria is a small annex bar called BAR EL MIRADOR which also offers terrific city views and the same menu as the main restaurant next door. A breezy terrace makes it one of Havana's romantic getaways. Standard criollo dishes -- plátanos a puñetazos, frijoles negros, ropa vieja -- are available along with international specialties.

    6) AMELIA - Also in Miramar suburb in the Miramar Trade Center directly across the street from the Melia Habana Hotel. Classy dining but won't break the budget. I've eaten there three times and have always enjoyed it and felt I received value for the money.

    7) La TERRAZA - which is an outdoor patio/grill at the Melia Habana Hotel which I had a very nice steak dinner at. Also their fish was good the night I ate there.

    In addition, on Calle Obispo in Old Havana there are many outdoor cafes and other cafes as well. My favourite of these are just off the edge of Plaza de Armas at the corner of Obispo and Oficios. There are three cafes in a row. Cafe La Mina, Casa del Agua la Tinaja, and Dulceria Dona Teresa. All offer good food and great ambience on the outdoor patios.

    To the west of the Capitolo on Ave. Dragones is a small China Town. Not bad actually. I wandered around and ate at a place that looked nice. Sorry, didn't note the name.

    Also, in the Miramar suburb just about opposite the El Aljibe (and near the Canadian Embassy is a place called Sandwichteria (not sure of exact spelling) which is a very cheap place to eat. Sort of a cross between a sub-shop/burger stand/ice-cream parlor where you can eat cheap but good. Six of us ate there (3 adults, 3 kids) and got out for less than $30 US. It's very popular with the local Cubans so its also a fun place to eat. Very informal.

    You must think all I do is eat, but it is a great hobby. In six trips I have found some nice spots and plan to spend more time just relaxing and absorbing the atmosphere.

    Have fun and FORGET THE DIET...... ha, ha, ha.

    To help you orient yourself, here is a good map site for Cuba.
    http://www.cubaroutes.com
    Select the City of Havana map in the left column, then when that screen opens select List all Places in City of Havana on the right hand side of the page. You can check the boxes for Accommodation, attractions etc. Will give you a good map showing where stuff is located. Note that you can zoom the map in closer for a better look.

    And last but not least, here's the link to my Cuban Photo/text website with some photos and info from my many trips to Havana that should help you out.
    http://photopilot.tripod.com

    Enjoy the Cuban experience.
    Steve

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    Gracias, Steve for the inspiring information..its a lot more than my travel agent ever gave me..!

    I'd like to tackle all on that list and one thing more...Baseball. Do you or anyone else on the site have any info about Baseball in Havana? I'd love to see a game...! Thanks..Chill

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    Hola again Chill:
    Thanks for the kind words. Don't be so hard on travel agents (I'm NOT one) because I probably spend a lot more time wandering around Havana than most of them do. Also I have some great Cuban friends, both still living in Havana and also some ex-pats here in Toronto Canada. So I have really had the opportunity to be involved in the Cuban community. It has really enriched my life.

    As to Cuban Baseball, no problemo!!
    Start with this website which is the home of INDER the Cuban National Sports Federation.

    http://www.inder.co.cu/indernet/init/index.asp

    Now on the top right, click on the National Baseball Series.

    When that window opens, click on Calendario in the left hand frame.
    This will bring up the full schedule in the right hand frame. (It takes a few moments to load)
    The game dates are on the left hand side of the right hand frame (scroll down) and the location is the very right hand column of the right frame.
    There are games right up till March 14 which is the end of the regular season. No idea of schedule for the playoffs. Hope they post the sked on the website.

    You can also look at stats, scores, player info etc by selecting other parts of the left frame.

    The games in Habana are played at El Estadio LATINOAMERICANO which is in the Cerro suburb of Havana. It is on Ave. 20 de Mayo which runs off Paseo. Roughly 1/4 mile southeast of the Jose Marti monument and Plaza de la Revolution. Easy to find, and easy to get to from almost anywhere in Havana.

    Hope you make it down and get to see some baseball (Cuban's national sport) before the season ends.
    Steve

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