Come me with me, let’s time travel through the 50s! Cuba
Cuba has always been on top of my list of countries to visit for many years. It’s a fascinating country after it was politically abandoned by the rest of the world, although it is a popular destination for most holiday makers. Finally in 2nd quarter of 2014 we sorted out our flight tickets and then we were set to go.Oh, wait! Why I can’t find any hotel accommodation anywhere? I’ve only used booking.com to book my accommodation in all places but this time Cuba as a destination doesn’t even exist. Nor could I find it in any other big hotel booking websites, as they are all run by the American based companies. After reading Trip Advisor, I managed to find couple of good websites to book the casas (guest house) in Cuba.
To stay in a Casa Particular is a great way of knowing how a normal Cuban family lives. Although in Havana, most Casa Paticulars are very commercialised but in comparison to a large hotel or hostel, a Casa Particular is much smaller as usually they can only receive 2 – 3 couples. Almost all casas would provide their guest breakfast and dinner at extra cost. A big but, to book your casa can be a little pain as all the accommodation websites can’t take online booking, you will have to email the agencies or directly to each casa to book your stay. If the owner of the casa isn’t very organised, they can easily double book their place and you will end up staying at their “friend’s” place. Not really a big deal, but I believe most people would prefer to stay where they have done enough research about the region. Right?
Well, here is our overall itinerary:
4 people, 12 days / 12 nights in Cuba
3 days / 3 nights La Havana – Casa Don Malecon
2 days / 2 nights Cienfuego – Casa Azul
3 days / 3 nights Trinidad – Hostal Noel y Nury
1 days / 1 nights Santa Clara – Hostal Vista Park (the best casa)
2 days / 2 nights Varadero – Casa Roberto y Martha / Casa Rompe Olas
1 days / 1 night La Havana – Casa Amanecer
Transportation between the cities:
In Cuba, there is really good bus links between cities. However if you are travelling as a group of 4, you should be able to negotiate a private taxi at a price that your single journey bus fare would easily cover. As we were 4 travellers, we moved place to place in a taxi to give us flexibility to stop wherever and whenever we wanted.
My highlights in Cuba:
No internet access for 12 days – you are completely cut off from the rest of the world and you don’t realise how much the internet is needed when you want to google something and… ahhhh… I can’t, there is no internet.
Cocktails only cost as low as 2 dollars! Endless Mojitos and Daiquiris throughout the 12 days holiday.
You get to have a ride in a 1950s Pink Ford Fairlane car – gosh! I loved the colour on the car!
Full day horse ride into the mountains for only 10 dollars, seriously where else on earth can you find this price for renting a horse unless you own your own horses.
A cave full of bats – thank god, they don’t suck my blood, the whole cave just reminds me of the animation “Duckula”.
A white sandy beach in middle of the caribbean without being strewn with much seaweed, sunbeds and Americans.
I have learnt more about Che Guevara – and in my opinion he’s the coolest leader. I know it can be very controversial but I liked his stories, especially after reading his《Diario de Motocicleta》 in Chinese edition.
Arrival in La Havana
Havana used to be one of the vacation hot-spots in the Caribbean before the communist revolution, and the government reopened to tourism in the 90s. In here you don’t meet many Americans, due to the US government ban on travel to Cuba. It’s actually quiet weird not seeing so many American chain restaurants and hotels. Obviously no Starbucks, McDonalds, KFCs etc that you see almost every corner in other cities.
After travelling approximately 10 hours from London, we arrived José Martí International Airport. The first thing we had to do was to change our pounds to Cuban CUC. In Cuba, there are 2 currencies used: CUC and CUP. For foreign travellers, you will have to use CUC and it’s equivalent to USD (1:1). You can only exchange the currency within Cuba as it’s not traded outside the country. There are ATMs in Cuba but do not rely on it as it would never work and if you don’t want your bank card to be swallowed by the machine.
That’s it, got ourselves enough CUC and we are on our way to the center of La Havana in a very modern car (the only modern car we had through the entire journey). We checked into Casa Don Malecon. The casa owner was very nice with a very strong American accent although I made him talk to me only in Spanish.
The next day we just strolled around the city, from Casa Don Malecon we can pretty much walk to everywhere in the tourist areas. Paid our 5 dollars to get on the hop-on hop-off open roof double deck bus to explore the city. In the old town of Havana every building is more than 150 years old. As the bus went through the town, we suddenly felt that we had time travelled into the 50s, perhaps even earlier than that. I am amazed how well most buildings and cars were maintained.
I am also amazed about the relationship between Cuba and China in history as until now China is the 2nd largest trading partner after Venezuela. Cuba and China had a very interesting history together, to make it short of what I’ve learnt, Chinese migrants were imported into Cuba as slaves during the Spanish colonial period. The unendurable slaving life in Cuba provoked the people to an uprising against the Spanish empire until it was they were able to claim their emancipation. Grateful for help from the Chinese slaves, the Cubans built a memorial in the middle of Havana’s centre to appreciate the Chinese contribution in the final years of colonial rule. You can check out the Chinese cemetery either on the bus tour or on your own whilst touring the city.
We spent a day in Viñales, I would wholeheartedly suggest that you to stay a night there as our friends did at the end of their trip as there is so much to see if you are not in the day tour from Havana. Regrettably we joined the one day tour departed from Havana, Viñales is located approximately 2 hours away from La Havana and the day tour usually costs you 60 CUC. Our casa host was very kind, they suggested not to book the tour but to stand at the tour departure place 20 minutes prior to the departure time and to negotiate with the tour guide to hop on the bus for only 20 CUC. We then paid for the entrance fees and other expenses separately. This way was so much cheaper! The next morning our host even accompanied us to where the tour started and negotiated with the guide for us. Of course if you could just use the bus from Havana to Viñales the bus fare should cost 20 CUC.