Havana hotel questions, and assorted others

Old Sep 25th, 2017, 08:28 AM
  #1  
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Havana hotel questions, and assorted others

Two of us are hoping to fly to Havana from South Florida, probably in January. We would like to stay in a hotel, not a family home. I see that the Ibero-Star gets good reports on TA, and I recall that several posters here have stayed there. If you have, would you stay there again? Anything you did and did not like about the hotel?

Other hotels you would investigate? Location and pool suitable for swimming laps are important to me.

Our visit will likely be only to Havana and only for a few days. I am thinking 4 nights..how does that sound? Mainly interested in just wandering around, listening to music, taking tour by taxi/private guide to various areas of the city. Or should I keep it to 3 nights, which would include an extra half day on day of arrival??

Food is also an important factor although I have lowered my expectations a great deal. Seems like Italian food can be good in Havana, but I eat everything and anything and will travel for great food. I am not, however, a big fan of Cuban cuisine in general, so open to any and all options. I've looked at the very helpful Havana blog (name escapes me but it has been linked here several times), but would like to get an idea of where those who have been there have dined, and where you all have liked and disliked.

Budget is generous and my Spanish is very good.

It's my understanding that I can buy my ticket on a US airline and that all I need to know about entering the country will be revealed on the airline website after the purchase of the tickets (???)
I do not need to contact any consulates or other venues to get paperwork to enter (??)


What about gifts to take home. I will look for handcrafts. Rum will be a given. Would love to visit some art galleries. But what about cigars as gifts? Where to buy in Havana for non-extortionary price but be assured of good quality, as I myself know next-to-nothing about Cuban cigars. (Used to being them home for Dad from my European trips but he told me the ones for sale at the various duty-frees were often not fresh).


So, so far this trip will not be different in preparation than any other as far as buying tickets, getting relevant visas, and booking hotels which can be paid for with US credit cards online (???)
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Old Sep 25th, 2017, 02:13 PM
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As far as food goes, you will want to eat in paladars. They are privatly owned restaurants in parts of the owners's homes or former homes. . We ate in several of them, mostly in Havana. However, they always served black beans and rice, but often lobster, beef. Pork appeared often.
Our favorite was a seafood restaurant on the waterfront in the Miramar neighborhood , Paladar Vistamar. We sat outside on their deck, a wonderful experience. This was separate from the tour group although we were taken to other excellent paladars too. The "required govt restaurants" the tour had to take us to were terrible as would be expected.
We were on a tour in 2014, and stayed at the Melia Cohiba, a high rise hotel on the malarcon in the Vedado district, walking distance to many excellent paladars.
A side trip for a night or two to Trinidad and/or Cienfuegos would be very worthwhile.
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Old Sep 25th, 2017, 03:14 PM
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Thanks very much! I will put Paladar Vistamar on my list. The idea of this trip just came to me so have yet to do much reading on food, or hotels.

Did you wait until you were in the city to book the paladars? Just phone them, or have the hotel phone?
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Old Sep 25th, 2017, 03:56 PM
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" The idea of this trip just came to me" and already you are missing the best and unique part of a Cuba trip, staying in a casa and getting to know a Cuban family....and where the food is likely better than any paladar in town.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 05:19 AM
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SambaChula:

Why are you constantly dissing others for their travel style? Just about anything you have been writing could apply to Togo or Thailand, or Benin and Burma, or Sri Lanka and Sumatra, to mention a few of the places I've traveled both as a backpacker and as a more mature and more well heeled traveler. (Yes, I am very well traveled and have been puttering around the globe for many decades)

I am not sure that it is a requirement to stay in a private house in order to meet Cubans. I met plenty of Indians during my many trips to that country and had some fabulous food, and I stayed in hotels at every stop and ate solely at restaurants. I've met some fabulous Malians, some of whom I remain in touch with, and apart from a week camping along the Niger River, I stayed only in hotels and guest houses.

And why would the food in Havana be better at a private home than at a paladar? I thought there were so many restrictions on what private people could buy? Or are you just throwing that out to be persnickety?

You constantly berate people here because they do not travel as you do. Instead of offering help with questions, you swing back to the same old subjects.

You present yourself as an expert on Cuba. Are you Cuban yourself? How many trips have to taken to the island and for how long? Where do you live?
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 08:02 AM
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Have you yourself been to Cuba, ekscrunchy? If you had, you wouldn't be posting the questions you did; the answers would be self evident!

US travelers, particularly given the unique history of the two countries, currently have an unprecedented opportunity to show their support and solidarity with the Cuban people, which can peacefully bridge the gap that politics has created over the past decades.
I am not alone (as you would know if you did some reading before mouthing off) in feeling that US travelers maximize the opportunity to show our best and most intimate face to our Cuban brothers and sisters by staying with Cubans, making time in the comfort and privacy of home to have discussions, participating in their daily life, and supporting the budding entrepreneurs on the island in all sectors.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 08:04 AM
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As you know, I returned recently from an 11-day trip to Cuba. Here's our basic itinerary, and then some answers to your questions.

2 nights - Iberostar Havana
8 nights - tour where we stayed in casas particulares (2 nights Havana, 2 nights Vinales, 2 nights Trinidad, 1 night Cienfuegos, 1 night Havana)
1 night - Iberostar Havana (other family members stayed on at the Saratoga)

We ate at paladars and non-paladar restaurants throughout our trip. The very best restaurant we ate at (and the most expensive, but still not expensive by American standards - main courses were around $20) was La Guarida in Central Havana. Excellent, creative, and very different from all the other restaurants we ate at. FWIW, even at this beautiful and upscale restaurant, people were wearing shorts and t-shirts. Someone I know (but don't really know her taste in food) likes San Cristobal best. Several people in Cuba told me Don Diego in Vedado is very good, but we couldn't find it. Honestly, we didn't see much Italian food. The biggest problem wasn't the quality of the food, it was the sameness - every local restaurant served variations on a theme (ropa vieja, shrimp in tomato sauce, pork chunks, you get the idea).

I just asked my DH and he says the pool at the Iberostar is big enough to swim laps. It's a nice pool with a view from the pool deck. Towels sometimes hard to come by. I have no complaints about the Iberostar. If you look too closely, it isn't up to American 5-star standards (wobbly faucet, chipped grout, that kind of thing), but it's very nice -- comfortable bed, nice size room, great shower, beautiful lobby with live music regularly, good service. The Saratoga, which is a few blocks away, has a different feel - a small but beautiful lobby (whereas the lobby at the Iberostar is expansive), very nice rooms, and beautiful pool.

We flew from Fort Lauderdale on Southwest Airlines. Everything was "included". You can get your visa on line is advance, or buy it at the airport near the Southwest International ticketing area. Then you get in line at Southwest, they hand you back your passport, together with boarding pass, visa and medical card (which is included in the price of your ticket on Southwest). We carried them all together while we were in Cuba.

Skip the handcrafts - there are no "indigenous" Cuban handcrafts, what there is are souvenirs for tourists. There is fine art however. The fine rum (7-year) tastes like good Scotch.

Internet - we didn't know this at first. Normally, when you buy a a WiFi card, it's good for an hour for about $1. As an Iberostar guest, you could get 2 5-hour cards per day, free. The internet is not great, there or anywhere. Sometimes we'd be standing in a group at a community park hotspot, or sitting together in the lobby of the hotel, and 2 or 3 people could get on, and the rest could not. Once connected, it works fine.

Let me know what else I can help you with.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 08:29 AM
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Conditions after Irma are not what they were before, when others here traveled. Although repairs have been made a priority in touristed areas, it would be wise to check each individual venue (hotels, restaurants, sights on tours, etc) to see what damage still exists. Electricity is still spotty in parts of Havana and potable water is harder to find. The Malecon is not passable, so those passages down it by classic car are not currently possible. That area was badly flooded, including buildings that host restaurants.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 08:57 AM
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Maybe this will be fixed before January.
Photo of damage along the Malecon:
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=127375
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 09:38 AM
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And this type of post will likely become a moot point as soon as the new guidelines come into effect, prohibiting patronizing most hotels and many restaurants, and requiring that US travelers actually do some research to make sure they are in compliance in case of any future audit.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 09:40 AM
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We stayed at the Parque Central which I believe is now the Iberostar Parque Central. If we were to go back, we would stay there again. Breakfast was great, cocktails too but dinner was disappointing. Location is perfect, loved the rooftop pool with the view across the city. We also enjoyed our meal at the Vistamar in Miramar but the other paladars we wanted to eat in were fully booked (La Guarida especially) so I would advise to book in advance.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 02:04 PM
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Yes, it is the Iberostar Parque Central. Lunch at the lobby bar was good, agreed, cocktails were good, we didn't eat dinner there.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 02:27 PM
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Yeah, that's the important thing to obsess about, the cocktails are good, not that the people serving them probably only have intermittent electricity at home and no potable water.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 02:49 PM
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Y'know what, SC, people have different reasons for traveling and different travel styles. Not everyone wants to live like the locals live when they travel. Sorry if that offends you.
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Old Sep 26th, 2017, 03:42 PM
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Right, ever traveled in India? Or Sub Saharan Africa? Might as well stay home if we have to obsess about how little the cocktail waitperson is making.

I've never been to Cuba and never hinted that I had been there. I asked SC how may times he or she had been there and got no answer.
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Old Sep 27th, 2017, 03:04 AM
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SF and Odin: I was so annoyed last night that I forgot to thank you both for your most helpful responses. Thank you!!

Is the location of the Saratoga as good or almost as good as the IberoStar, incase the IberoStar is booked??
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Old Sep 27th, 2017, 06:14 AM
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Why don't you simply watch an IMAX film of Cuba? You'll likely get the same impression from that as the trip you seem to be planning.


"Right, ever traveled in India? Or Sub Saharan Africa? Might as well stay home if we have to obsess about how little the cocktail waitperson is making."

What an appallingly hard-hearted statement. Sad.
Have you ever traveled in India or Sub Saharan Africa right after a major disaster? And deliberately chosen to ignore the effects on the local people? Not bothered to ask or take an interest in what you could do, just how good the drinks are and how comfy the rooms?
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Old Sep 27th, 2017, 11:45 AM
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eks, they're only a few blocks apart, and both are in a great location, on the edge of Old Havana.
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Old Sep 27th, 2017, 12:43 PM
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Thanks, SF!!
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Old Oct 1st, 2017, 09:49 AM
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The biggest problem wasn't the quality of the food, it was the sameness - every local restaurant served variations on a theme (ropa vieja, shrimp in tomato sauce, pork chunks, you get the idea).>>

sadly true, IME. We did have some good experiences in Paladars though, and the microbrewery in the corner of the plaza vieja in Havana was good as was a nearby italian which I can't name - sorry.

And for meeting actual Cubans and finding out a bit about their lives, again IME casa owners are the best source of info, though they of course have access to the tourist dollar so are clearly better off than most.

As for handicrafts, there is an excellent handicrafts market along Obispo [or possibly O'Reilly] on the right starting from at the Parque Centrale end - we found some very interesting things there including jewellery made from cutlery. We also brought back musical instruments, some art works, chocolate from the chocolate "museum" [get there early if you want to avoid the queues] and coffee from the cafe in the other corner of the plaza vieja, And rum. [which I discovered is called Ron in Cuba - who knew?]

for general information, I found this very up to date, and pretty reliable:

https://www.havanainsider.com
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