Welltravbrit's Cuba Trip Report - Finally!

Dec 8th, 2016, 06:18 AM
  #21  
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Thanks IBobi - Nice to see you commenting on the travel side and not just the technical stuff .

Cuban cigars for all! N, not really because smoking is bad for your health!
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Dec 8th, 2016, 11:44 AM
  #22  
 
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"it's probably best for people who've can navigate the multiple small hassles."

The first thing my casa host in Havana taught me was "Es Cuba.", that fatalistic, and well-used-by-Cubans, phrase that covers just about anything.
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Dec 8th, 2016, 12:01 PM
  #23  
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@welltraveledbrit I'm heading to Havana and Vinales myself in a couple of months!
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Dec 8th, 2016, 05:51 PM
  #24  
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"Es Cuba!" great phrase SambaChula and it works for me!

IBobi - I'm sure you'll have a good time, and hopefully it will be cooler than when we were there
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Dec 8th, 2016, 10:13 PM
  #25  
 
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IBobi - we were there last January and whilst it was hot, it wasn't unbearable. One of the casa owners we met was herself bemoaning what it's like in August when she said that it's unbearably humid. Once we got used to it, January was fine.
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Dec 9th, 2016, 09:12 AM
  #26  
 
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Mid-September was very hot and humid. Since I was there for so short a time, I didn't have time to acclimate to the heat/humidity. It was slightly more bearable near the ocean in Veradero, where you can go in periodically for a dip, although one Argentine woman I met spent the afternoons reading in her air conditioned room. In Havana the only recourse during the day is to carry a washcloth to mop your face periodically. Doesn't pay to change clothes or even to shower and change; you just start dripping sweat again immediately. (Not just me, but the Cubans too) The other alternative is to spend the afternoon in the air-conditioned La Floridita drinking daiquiri after daiquiri with H and the live band. LOL
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Dec 11th, 2016, 04:25 AM
  #27  
 
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For WTB...thank you very much for this post and the blog access. It is so appreciated by future travelers. I came to this forum so hoping that the constant critical posters seen on the other forums nonstop would not be here but guess they work every circuit. I 100% hear what you say about Air BNB and think it is good advice for many travelers. The reviews are so helpful and level of communication seems good as well. You also, probably because of your travel experience , are one of the few that seem to get it as far as this is "just another travel experience" and so much of the extensive discussion on OFAC etc. is frankly nonsense and frankly could be answered in one sentence. Your restaurants are pretty much where we are going. One question...we are staying in a new boutique hotel in Vedado for our last two nights after staying in Vieja and Vinales. I believe the owners also have the place you stayed in. Was one of the owners Andrea? If so they we have same owners. Did they make the dinner bookings for you etc.? Thanks again.
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Dec 11th, 2016, 09:51 AM
  #28  
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Lois2 - Thank you so much for your kind and generous reply. I really appreciate it because I haven't been spending as much time on Fodors as I used to do and I had left the trip report so long I almost didn't bother. Glad you checked out the blog too

This is the place we stayed -
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5707141

I don't know if they have a place in Verdado? The woman we dealt with by email was Diana and when we got there Annalisa and a very helpful Italian woman helped us, I honestly don't remember her name, sorry! They made all the dinner reservations when we arrived, which worked for us because it was low season, we had 5 nights and could be flexible. I'm sure they could do them ahead of time too.


It is expensive by the standards of a regular casa but cheaper than many of the hotels we looked at...For anyone else who is interested you can also book with them directly.

In Trinidad and Cienfuegos we booked directly with the case owners and paid them in cash on arrival, they asked us to confirm by email or phone a couple of days head of arrival.

You'll see very quickly that in Havana there are certain areas in which most of the tourists congregate including the area around La Floridita and the Parque Central as well as the area around the Plaza de Armas. These are pretty, and the book stalls at the Plaza des Armas are fun but for me these are the least compelling parts of Havana and they give you a sense for what mass tourism will do to this city, creating a kind of tropical Havana Disneyland. Interestingly we found the historic sites and museums in these areas were empty despite the tourists on the street.

If you start walking in any direction further out, including through residential areas of Vedado and Havana Centro or through the neighborhoods around the nearby Cristo Square in Havana Vieja you'll see far fewer, and often no tourists. Things may look dilapidated but this doesn't mean these areas are unsafe, and we enjoyed walking all over the city even late at night.

Sounds like you have the right attitude for Cuba and I hope you have a great time!
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Dec 11th, 2016, 12:29 PM
  #29  
 
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At the end of our trip we stayed in an apartment on the southern edge of Habana Vieja and I can second what WTB says about even the less salubrious streets of the capitol [and other places come to that] being perfectly safe to walk down. I've rarely felt so safe anywhere.

Ideally I think it's a good idea to book directly with the casa so all the money goes direct to the owner but for US citizens who haven't got access to non U$ currency or who don't want to carry round large amounts of cash, airBnB is a good idea.

I hope you have a great trip - do come back and tell us how you got on.
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Dec 11th, 2016, 01:22 PM
  #30  
 
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thanks wtb...yes that is the same owner...Diana is married to Andrea and he runs the hotel in Vedado...I will contact them for reservations...she tried to find English speaking driver for Vinales but that is not so easy in high season but she really tried. I love the look of your apt. and considered it for our stay in Vieja but it was fully booked.

I think your point is well taken...Cuba seems to be one of those places where the experience may well depend on proper expectations and doing some planning especially for the restaurants....not like a place like Italy or France where you just pop into a place that looks busy and they are all good...and even choice of casa...I have heard some pretty bad stories...some are up to a good standard and some are not...everyone after the $$.

thanks again.
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Dec 11th, 2016, 05:23 PM
  #31  
 
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So happy to discover this. We're off to Havana and Viñales very soon with our two young adult sons. Booked everything ourselves independently (included La Guarida). I was there on an extended cultural exchange trip in the 80s, but this is the first time for the family. Will check out your blog and get back to you with Qs shortly.
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Dec 12th, 2016, 08:21 AM
  #32  
 
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hi crosscheck - i hope you have a great trip.

My TR from last Jan got as far as Havana and then Vinales so you might find something useful there too if you click on my screen name!
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Dec 12th, 2016, 12:43 PM
  #33  
 
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Thanks for the great read, WTB. We are headed down soon. Happy we won't have heat issues, in fact it could be chilly at night. Unhappy to read in the NYT that there is not enough food for the residents because of the tourist explosion. Also concerned that Havana will be overrun with Americans wanting to see the 'real Cuba before it's too late.'

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/wo...rism.html?_r=0

annhig, As always, happy to find you here. I did read your report when we started planning - Will go back and check it out before we leave.
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Dec 12th, 2016, 01:02 PM
  #34  
 
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crosscheck - I'd forgotten that!

Happy to answer any last minute queries too.
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Dec 12th, 2016, 08:36 PM
  #35  
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Hey Crosscheck -
Nice to hear from you and very glad to hear the babble may have been useful .

Thanks for the link, the tourist explosion is upsetting and transforming the economy on many levels. We went in the low season and thought it was pretty busy but it was far from "overrun" with Americans. We saw Americans when we stopped by the Nacional, and in groups, but we didn't encounter a lot of Americans traveling independently, though I'm sure they were around.We met lots of Europeans, Canadians and Australians Having been to Cuba I don't think the country will be transformed as quickly as people imagine, though the high season may be very different.

Even when mass tourism descends (including cruise ship crowds) many people won't go much beyond a certain zone. We saw this particularly clearly in Burma when you only had to go a short distance away from the tourist crowds to see a very different picture.

Hope you have a great time!
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Dec 13th, 2016, 04:33 AM
  #36  
 
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FWIW we met loads of independent travellers but none of them were from the US; the only americans we saw were travelling in groups and were not interested [or so it seemed to us] in communicating with their fellow travellers.

There were a few groups in coaches at Vinales doing the sights there but whether they were american or not I'm not sure as quite a lot of Brits and other nationalities are on tours too, as well as those who travel independently.

It is true that it doesn't take much effort to get off the tourist trail but it may be harder to do that in Havana than in Vinales.
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Dec 13th, 2016, 07:07 AM
  #37  
 
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Actually all it seems to take in Havana is walking back a couple of blocks from the main tourist drags into the local residential neighborhoods. I saw very few non-Cubans in the area of the casa where I stayed.
I met one solo young woman from New York in the bus station in Varadero, saw a busload of tourists who could have been US or Canadian or???at one of the big hotels, sat next to obvious foreign tourists at the bar at La Floridita and walked down Obispo which is shopping central for souvenirs, and met a couple from Texas on the flight back. That's it. Mostly young German couples in Havana and Varadero town. Don't think "Havana will be overrun with Americans wanting to see the 'real Cuba before it's too late.'" anytime soon, at least until those who wouldn't drive over the speed limit can travel without an OFAC declaration.

My casa owners, with whom I went marketing and ate, and other Cubans I hung out with seemed to be eating fairly well and with reasonable variety (so far), although items of any kind (food or household or car or whatever) are not constantly available. Newspapers are always looking for sensational stories to sell papers.
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Dec 13th, 2016, 07:42 AM
  #38  
 
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Interesting article on a Cuban fashion business (thanks to one of the regulars on the Cuba forum on TA for the link):
http://www.racked.com/2016/12/13/139...opping-clothes
You can visit the store in Havana.
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Dec 13th, 2016, 02:12 PM
  #39  
 
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Thanks, Samba - Fascinating piece! I would love to meet these people and am going to try and stop in their shop in Havana.

WTB - I'm loving your blog. Excellent photos, and I've been distracted a bit by your Ireland and Colombia reports. The place you stayed in Havana looks incredibly charming.

We have everything booked, but our Havana place is changeable - We're now deciding whether to stay as planned in the Sevilla hotel on the Parque Central (with old world charm but very mixed reviews)...or in a pricey airbnb that was just listed. The hotel has a pool, wifi and musicians, with lots of charm and history, but gets poor reviews for maintenance and service.

The airbnb seems like a good location in 'La Loma del Angel' part of Habana Vieja, but no musicians, bar with mojitos, sitting near the pool, etc. Sorry to hijack your trip report, but do you have an opinion about which would be better? Virtually everything in town is booked for the holidays with serious price gouging going on.
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Dec 13th, 2016, 07:48 PM
  #40  
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I've been a bit distracted as we're leaving on our next jaunt this weekend!

SambaChula - Thanks for forwarding that article on Cuban clothing.

For anyone interested in modern Cuban design I recommend going out to the converted warehouse/club/popup shop/gallery/concert space (as you can see it's hard to define - Fábrica de Arte Cubano. It's open in the evenings Thursday till Sunday and in addition to the art/music/film you'll see jewelry and some clothing too. It's a very interesting space.

Crosscheck - I'm delighted you're being distracted by Colombia and other such places on the blog!

Your accommodation dilemma is a familiar one. I have to say the price gouging is indeed real - we were astonished at the hotel prices in Cuba. The difficulty with the Airbnb option is that as it's new there may be no reviews which are something I reply on. However, all I can tell you is when I had this choice I went with the non- hotel option. Here was my reasoning though it may be different as you have kids and therefore the pool could be a lifesaver.

Ok here was our thinking...we knew as you do too, that the hotel service was going to be poor and I hate paying for bad service. These government run establishments have the same reviews, they could be great and no doubt in a few years - after a massive influx of foreign cash and training (or at least proper salaries) the staff will be happier and the vintage charm will shine. But for right now, for the most part, they're run down.

I was looking at the Saratoga which has a rooftop pool and decent reviews (excellent by Cuban standards) but it was astronomically priced and only available for certain dates. To us the question became - what are we going to Cuba for? I really wanted to meet Cubans and talk to them about their situation and I think you get more of this in either a casa or apartment depending on the owner and/or staff. I made sure we were staying in places where the owners spoke English and where we could learn the most. I planned our trip around the availability of certain places and I'm glad we did. In Cienfuegos and in Trinidad we stayed in homes owned by doctors so we got a sense for what was going on in their fields. Because we weren't going on an organized "people to people" tour with a guide I felt we had to make a greater effort to meet people, and that started by staying in casas and apartments and reaching out to Pavel and Sondra at barrio Havana to make a donation.

On the question of music in the hotel I have to say I was worried I hadn't done enough research about where to go to hear music in Havana. I shouldn't have worried, you will hear music everywhere regardless of where you stay. You don't need to search it out - I promise you'll be tripping over musicians.

I'd probably go for the apartment as if I'm right about where it is I'd prefer that to the Parque Central but some people like to be in the thick of things. However, if there are no reviews and I had no sense of how supportive, or service oriented ,the apartment owners were I'd be concerned and it's hard to say how important having the pool, a bar, a restaurant or music right there might be to you...particularly as kids which often redefine our priorities dramatically .

Not sure this is any help at all!
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