Cuba 2015

 The stops of my 30 days Cuba travel were;
  • Havana, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Playa Larga, Trinidad, Cayo Guilermo (Jardenes del Rey) [Playa Pilar, Cayo Coco], Camaguey, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Havana, Viñales, Santa Clara and Havana.

 

CUBA

CUBA

 

Cuba is an island in Caribbean and just 90 miles south of Miami. This lovely place has a different story than other Latin countries after 1959 revolution. Revolution is accomplished basically by leaders like Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, Juan Almeida Bosque, Raul Castro and Che Guevara. They took this nice country to another fate other than the rest of the world for a period which is also known as "Independents". In my opinion Cuba together with Turkey and Yugoslavia were the leading independent countries till the imperialist and capitalist setups handcuffed them in a way. Anyway...

"The Open Veins of Latin America" by Eduardo Galeano...

To understand Cuba it is important to know the history of South America. Surely history necessitates some reading. I think the book of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano; "The Open Veins of Latin America" is the best start. If you feel sorry about the happenings in the last era in our planet, be ready to feel more and more sorry in your reading this book.

There are some questions to answer before every travel spot. For Cuba, you should ask yourself;

  • What are you looking for in Cuba travel?
    • Traces of Revolution and Che Guevara?
    • Cigar or Tobacco? Rom?
    • Salsa?
    • Traces of Ernest Hemingway?
    • Beaches?
    • Culture?
    • Relaxation?
    • ?

Every subtitle gives you another itinerary and schedule. But if you buy a touristic package your stops more or less will be; Havana, Varadero, Pinar del Rio, Santa Clara, Trinidad and Cienfuegos.

Cuba is a beautiful and a unique country that requires more information than other destinations. If you are a tourist, I advice you to participate in an organised a tour with a travel agency. If you are a traveler or backpacker, things change a little bit.

 

Hints for Travelers (not Tourists)...

Firstly it is good to know or understand some Spanish for travelers. In Cuba travel having some "more" money than other South or Central American countries will be good. Cuba is not a destination to be visited in a very low budget. Of course there are other ways or options such as volunteer working options or low profile-low budget adventures. In this lovely country staying in a local house ("Casa Particular") ranges from 15 to 25 CUC at minimum. (1 CUC was equal to 1 Euro in my travel period in 2015 May)

Anyway let's go on with some of my hints...

 

TIPS and HINTS for CUBA travellers

Some "Basic Remainders"

  • NOT CHEAP!Cuba is "not a cheap destination" to visit. Maybe it is one of the first things to keep in mind as a traveler. It is a beautiful country but you will not be so comfortable with money in Cuba (as of 2015).Casa Particular (Private Houses) is the type of basic and cheap accommodation if you are traveling in-country (I mean apart from touristic hubs such as Havana, Varadero, Vinales, Trinidad). I personally use that type houses. My hotel experience is so limited. Casa Particulars are the best way to be in contact with people but you better to speak Spanish.

 

  • BARGAIN or DEAL before buying goods and services...You have to bargain before buying or hiring something in general such as taking a cab or bicy-taxi. After a deal all is fine but if you do not specify the price before getting similar kind of services probably you may have problems.

 

  • Money System in Cuba...

There are two types of money in Cuba. One is for foreigners which is called "CUC - Convertible Cuban Peso" the other is currency which is used by Cubans. in 2015 rate was "1 CUC=25 Peso". If you believe yourself that you may use Cuban Peso in your bank withdrawals you may have them as well. I had some and used equivqlent to 5-10 . You may have times when you wanted to buy a bunch of banana or peanut from a street vendor that he has no currency that he can pay the change.

Keep in mind that credit card is not usable in most places.

Keep cash money anytime with you.

ATMs are not that much user friendly. I remember that some cards with "Maestro" logo wasn't working.

If you want to keep other currency than local better to keep Euro, instead of US dollar. You may have much better rates and minimum tax.

  • GO IN CASH (Problems with Credit Cards)...

Credit cards are accepted in some hotels or big touristic places, but due to poor internet connection you may have troubles. ATMs were fine in 2015. I withdrew money with minor problems but sometimes it was also hard to find working ones. Some credit and debit cards do not work such as Maestro (better to check before travel).

There are 2 different currencies in Cuba. CUC and National Peso. CUC is for foreigners, Cuban Peso for citizens. For detailed info about these you may read the link; https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Travel-g147270-c109329/Cuba:Caribbean:Money.Exchange.html

 

  • Prepare yourself nearly for "No internet"...

As of 2015, you might accept that there is no internet that has a very limited access to syber world over Venezuela node.

5 star hotels and post offices are selling internet cards around 5 euro. You may use these cards for 45-50 minute usage but do not depend on this service for critical issues. Besides this to find card may be difficult at times. Whatsapp, Viber and similar mobile phone apps are useful for messaging.

NO INTERNET (or very rare and poor connection)!

Another thing to keep in mind; it is better not to expect internet connection everywhere. You may forget about efficiency or speed. Be grateful if you find a cards for 30 minutes or for an hour connection in post-offices and shops. Be ready to hardly communicate via applications on internet or e-mail. Cell phone is much better if you are in need to communicate better.

 

  • SMS is suitable for communication with overseas...

Mobile phone SMS (Short Message Service) is working well and reliable. If you have some special SMS deals or arrange those deals before your travel it will be beneficial.

Another option is to buy a SIM card. But SIM cards are for locals. Somebody may buy for you. When you are leaving Cuba it would be a nice attitude to leave the same card to that person further use.

PLACES to see

"Quick Reference Card"

  • Havana,
  • Varadero,
  • Cienfuegos,
  • Playa Larga,
  • Trinidad,
  • Cayo Guilermo (Jardenes del Rey) [Playa Pilar, Cayo Coco],
  • Camaguey,
  • Holguin,
  • Playa Guardalavaca,
  • Santiago de Cuba,
  • Baracoa,
  • Viñales,
  • Santa Clara

Havana Quick Reference "to do" list...

  • Revolution Museum
  • Obispo Street (Bar Floridita)
  • Malecon (boardwalk),
  • Hotel Continental
  • Hotel Havana Libre
  • ...
  • .....

Havana...

After approximately 12 hours flight from Moscow we landed in Havana Airport. I was expecting a lady from Couchsurfing will welcome me. There ws someone but she wasn't the one who I am communicating on Couchsurfing for days. She saidshe was a friend. The cab driver was a friend as well. Actually I understood that Couchsurfing in Cuba sucks in 2015. They were organizing airport transfer, accommodation guidance and some other things, just for money. For the first day expenses I changed 100 Euro for my first CUC type tourist money. CUC is used for "Convertible Cuban Peso" which are used by tourists or travelers.   Two Types of Currencies... There are two types of Cuban money. One is normal Cuban Peso used by the residents and CUC (Convertyible Peso) for others. Keep in mind that when you change money you can buy normal peso in the bank as well. It is hard but if you can use it you may have some portion CUban Peso with you. For small purchases you may use this money such as banana and others.    First Observations... From the first moments hot and humid Caribbean weather was welcoming us. With an old LADA type eastern europe origin car we were coming to the city together with a very loud voice. They took me a casa particular that I don't like, then they took another one... It was giving bad smells of these guys trying to make deals and money for themselves. This was the business oriented Couchsurfing in Cuba. After they left me in a casa particular in Havana Vieja (Old Havana), they disappeared. When I leaned on my bed, I was saying "Welcome Cuba!".  

HAVANA (cont)...

After my arrival in Havana, I woke up very early. It was a great but different world to me. It was very early in the morning. People, old, young, some tourists, drunks, vendor, some children... The scenery was blur but colorful. Since I've red Havana and Cuba is one of the safest places in the world I wasn't wondering about any danger but as a traveler I was in a mood of curious and alert as it should must be all the time. I enjoyed a ot from my morning walk.

Afternoon I learned and visited some places such as; Revolution Museum, Bar "Floridita", famous as Ernest Hemingway accommodation Hotel "Ambos Mundos" and the "Obispo" street that embraces lots of things.

Later I stretched my walks to "Malecon" the long boardwalk of Havana. On the way I wandered in "Hotel Continental" and "Havana Libre" where the world famous Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet.

There are districts of Havana; Havana Vieja (Old Havana), Centro Havana, Vedado and La Playa. Most probably you will be around in Old Havana and Vedado in your touristic route. The other places has the vivid and different aspects of local life.

 

Expensive Cuba...

Interestingly Cuba is expensive to me. For a backpacker who hangs out in cheap Asia and South America , Cuba is expensive.

I don't want to forsee the future of Cuba and what will happen in time but definitely capitalism is here as of 2015 May (even Fidel Castro is living).

OK!. Now starting from Havana I did a big tour in Cuba. Let's go! Vamos!

VARADERO...

Varadero...

Varadero...

Varadero is a touristic spot. Not recommended more than one day for a traveler. Varadero has nice beaches and all inclusive hotels that I don't prefer. Most probably you will first encounter with Canadians and Germans here in Varadero. 

We came Varadero together with my Turkish traveler Sinan who works in Cuba and his guest İbrahim from Turkey by Sinan's car. Actually I joined them. We spent the first day in Varadero Golf Club and beach. We ate our dinner in an open air restaurant.

I left for Cienfuegos next day. There is not a proper transportation between Varadero and Cienfuegos, I looked for a proper taxi but I couln't find. Then the bus has been my last option.

CIENFUEGOS… 

To use taxi in between cities in Cuba is another common practice for visitors. My aim was to go Playa Larga. Since I could not find a ticket for Playa Larga, I decided to go Cienfuegos first then try to find a way to come Playa Larga from there. The bus service for traveler or tourists is VIAAZUL.

ViaAzul...

I took my ViaAzul bus from Varadero. In the bus stops in Cuba there are so many people waiting with advertisement papers at hands. They are trying to convince you to choose their Casa Particulars or accommodations. In Cienfuegos I am convinced by a man who has a room in his mother in law house. While we are walking home we were talking. I don't like to spend so much time with my bag at hand, I chose one of the closest house nearby the bus station. Then I went: PLaza Central, Cemeteries, Terry Theatre.

Then I met a cart driver Eddy. He took me other places like Custom House etc. We became close friends while we are drinking Rom and talking about life. But basically I was so happy to be his friend. He took me his house. He introduced me his wife and his 2 years old chubby (gordita) daughter.

When I came back home (cas particular) my delicious seafood dinner I requested in the morning was ready for me.

The next day I move on Playa Larga. My place in Playa Large is already organised by the owner of casa particular in Cienfuegos.

PLAYA LARGA... 

Red Crabs… (Cangrejos)

There is a place called Zapata Bay between Cienfuegos and Playa Larga. Every day red crabs are passing through the road here. Unfortunately there are so many causalities every day. But this is their way to live. They have to go from river to sea or vice versa. Human just built a road passing their path.

My Casa Particular in Playa Larga...

It was a nice room just nearby the small estuary. House was very clean and the family was so friendly. I was happy with these nice people.

Scuba Diving...

I could make one of my best dives here. I could, because after 5 years of not diving and with my age 49 I exprienced a sort of aniety for the first time in my life. Most probably it was because of not doing a regular dive so many years but in a way it was a different surprise for me. Thanks to my diving instructor Julio Cesar spending time with me to overcome the fear.

While I was waiting for ViaAzul in front of Playa Larga bus stop I met a nice French couple. We went Trinidad together with them.

 

Red Crabs are on the way everyday. It is unavoidable from them. This place is just 10 km away from the "Pigs Bay" (Plaja Giron)...Red Crabs are on the way everyday. It is unavoidable from them. This place is just 10 km away from the "Pigs Bay" (Plaja Giron)...

 

 

TRİNİDAD...

 

I stayed in a casa particular in colonial city Trinidad. "Casa de la Trova" is the place for dancing in Trinidad city square. It is the tourist hub. This is a typical place to eat, to sit in a restaurant or stairs and dancing Salsa. If you have enough Rom you will probably find yourself in the stage dancing. There are really very good dancers.

 

Trinidad, Cuba... C&C Cars and Catedrals...

Trinidad, Cuba... C&C Cars and Catedrals...

You may join the Salsa lessons in the small streets of Trinidad. It is a small city. The things you may do here include; hiking to a waterfall in Sierra Maestra mountains where the Cuban revolution army based during 1958-59, colonial sugar cane fields tour or going to the Ancon beach.

Trinidad Post Office was offering an internet service (very slow as usual) in 2015. My internet card which costs around 5 CUC was enough for a slow connection for 45 minutes. But I believe that Cuba will have a better internet very soon because wild capitalism has been targeted this country lately. Cuba dream is over for me, but it will take some time to realize it for some others. If you don't expect no more than an ordinary vacation, it is already over. The front part of Post Office is the main square of the city. It will give you a good opportunity observe people hanging around or passing by. You will enjoy the silent moments of observation.

Trying to go Cayo Guillermo...

My next stop was Cayo Guillermo but it did not happen to be an easy voyage. I came Ciego de Avilla first with ViaAzul bus. But there was no bus or public transportation for Cayo Guillermo. Additional I wasn't aware of I shouldn't find a room in the hotel without prior reservation. But before seeing it I had to wait 3 hours in the bus station of Ciego de Avilla. After so many bargaining I was on the way to Cayo Guillermo. In the first hours they were saying 80 CUC but we ended down to 45 CUC after 3 hours waiting.

 

  • Taxi Usage in Cuba...

Firstly finalise the price before get in the taxi. Fix the price, make your deal and at the end pay that money. If you can not fix the price by saying the destination, you will be charged more and more. This procedure must be valid for bicy-taxis as well.

Taxi use is one of the major transportation beside ViaAzul bus system in Cuba. Between cities or in cities so many tourist is using taxis. After Soviet Union is collapsed, a great number of aid coming from them to Cuba was cancelled in 1991. This was a big changed that made the things economically worse. From then on tourism has become a major industry to survive. Old cars are common due to close economic system. They are maintaining cars and using old ones. Some touristic old American cars, some former Soviet or east block cars. The other interesting thin the real professions of drivers. You my encounter a doctor, retired university professor or highly educated other professions. Having a taxi and being a taxi driver is bringing very good income.

 

CAYO GUILLERMO (Jardenes del Rey)

"Jardenes del Rey" means "The King's Gardens". This place is in the mid -north Cuba. In some parts of the way, there is just a road and your sides are the ocean. All along 30 km or more you are going in this view, just a road and water on two sides as if driving on the sea. It took approximately 2 hours from Ciego de Avila to go my hotel in Cayo Guillermo. This location is generally used by Canadians. I met so many friends from Canada here. They are flying from Canada to here and spending all their times here. They have no other Cuban experience. This is another type of holiday. Keep in mind! Advanced hotel reservation is so beneficial... Advance reservation gives you discount around 50% or more sometimes. But if you show up in the hotel reception you will be fully charged. Tourism is managed by state-owned companies in Cuba like CubaTUR, Cubanacan or Havanatur. You better to make reservation from these companies in advance. There is a check point on the Jardebey del Rey entrance. In this small facility you may make your reservation or pay your hotel fare. You should pay in cash here, no credit cards. I paid here 50 CUC for one day instead of paying 133 CUC in the hotel.

CAMAGUEY...

Sol Cayo Guillermo tatil köyünde tanıştığım 4 Rus mühendis ile güle oynaya geldik Camaguey'e. Onlar Santiago de Cuba'ya doğru yollarına devam ederken beni orada yolda bir yerde bırakacaklardı. Hemen yanıma yaklaşan bir genç beni bir casa particulara bırakabileceğini söyleyip yeni evime doğru yönlendirdi.....

DEVAM EDECEK...

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