Thursday, 9 February 2017

Cuba: Travel Guide

I have never ever done anything this crazy in my life. Not being home for Christmas is completely out of character for me but after 28 years of doing the same thing over and over again for Christmas, I had the opportunity to do something different – travel to Cuba!!!

Cuba is a country of indefinable magic. Trapped in a time warp and reeling from an economic embargo that has been in place for more than half a century, this is a country where you can wave goodbye to Western certainties and expect the unexpected. It is like no other and I love travelling to places like that.

And while I was posting on Instagram, it seemed that a lot of people were curious to see what Cuba was like, and were also asking for tips and recommendations for their future trips. So this blog post is for all those people, who once didn’t consider Cuba as a holiday destination but now are intrigued and would like some further information. Such as where to stay, how much things cost, how much spending money you will need, which trips you should go on etc. It’s all in here!


WHERE WE STAYED

The place was beautiful and had all the amenities of a hotel (unlike other Casa Particulars) and I would recommend this place 1000%.


The owner Juan is such a sweetheart too and so helpful. Breakfast is included, there’s a rooftop area and it’s clean (this is hard to guarantee with other Casa Particulars). What’s more is that it’s significantly less than the cost of staying in a hotel. I would rate Madero 5/5, so if you do end up visiting Havana and staying there, tell Juan, Linda and Salma say hi 🙂









If you wish to stay at a hotel I would suggest looking at Saratago or Hotel Ambos Mundos.
For Varadero, we were more organised as we had more time, so we had accommodation when we arrived. We stayed in a hotel, Barcelo Solymar Resort, which is a resort.



The biggest advantage of this hotel is that Varadero beach is literally 200m from the hotel. Another positive is that the cost is all inclusive; breakfast, lunch and dinner and it’s all you can eat. Would I stay here again? No.
Although the staff were lovely and helpful, the hotel needs a serious makeover. The rooms were old fashioned and contained old furniture, my bed broke in the middle of the night, the shower door fell off while my friend was taking a shower and the hot water was almost non-existent.
Other hotels I would genuinely recommend after going around in Varadero is the Royalton Varadero. Yes, these hotels are further away from the beach but for the same price you can guarantee a clean, good night’s sleep. If you, however, feel like choosing a cheaper alternative, Casa Particulars also exist in Varadero and can be found on Airbnb or Homestay.

WHAT WE DID

I have always preferred city breaks vs beach holidays, it might be the London girl in me but I like having a lot to see and Havana did not disappoint at all!! First and foremost, it’s probably worth saying that you don’t need more than 3-4 days to see everything in Havana and it won’t feel rushed at all.
While we were there we took in a lot of Old Havana simply by walking around as it’s I think that’s the best way to see any city. For Christmas however, we did decide to do a City tour in one of Cuba’s retro cars which are very easy to spot in and around town. The tour included sites such as Gran Teatro de La Habana, Christ of Havana, Museum of the Revolution, El Capitolo and other popular sites.









One thing that is a must see is the Malecón! It’s basically one of Havana’s most soulful and quintessentially Cuban thoroughfares. Amazing!





Varadero unlike Havana is a very small place and is typically visited by tourists because of its popular beach, so the main thing to do is lie in the sun!






However if after a few hours you get bored of lying in the sun like I did, you can consider doing the hop on hop off bus tour which will take you around the whole of Varadero for only 5 CUCs and you can get off and on as many times as you want until about 8 pm! Tickets can be bought on the bus or at your hotel and there’s no need to book in advance. The whole tour takes no longer than an hour, with no more than 10 stops which includes the biggest Mall in Varadero (Plaza America) and Definario Vadero, where for 99 CUCS you can swim with dolphins. The fact that it is so cheap makes it worthwhile doing but if you’re strapped for time, trust me you aren’t missing too much.


WHERE TO EAT

I am a complete foodie just to give you context and it was sad to find out the food in Cuba was notoriously bland.
But a restaurant worth mentioning is La Vitrola Tapas Y Copas. We loved the food and the atmosphere so much so we ended up eating there twice. We also ate at Hostal El Canonazo and the food there was good portion size and very tasty!








All in all, Plaza Vieja is a great place to start searching for good restaurants.


WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW



  • Wifi – Warning!!! The Internet in Cuba is very, very limited!! In order to use the Internet (wifi), you will need to purchase a NAUTA internet card available from most hotel lobbies. Each card will provide you with 1 hour of internet and costs anywhere from 2 to 5 CUCs depending on the retailer. You will then be able to use the internet in most hotels and ‘wifi parks’ by connecting to the wifi named ETECSA. It is easy to tell where the wifi parks are, as you will see everyone’s eyes are glued to the smudged screen of a phone or tablet.

  • Currency – The airport is a good place to change sterling for Cuba’s convertible peso – the island’s hard currency, CUC.  Before we came I had all the money (and then some) in cash (£) because most places only accept cash including (Casa Particulars) and cash machines are few and far between so it’s just far easier to bring all the cash you may need.


  • Visa – A tourist card is needed to visit Cuba but it’s not a long process at all (assuming you’re a British or American citizen). Depending on your airline, they may have already organised one on your behalf, but do check! Mine didn’t, so I applied online two weeks prior my departure date and it was sent in the post. It costs no more than £23 depending on your postage option. It can be done here. Ensure that you safeguard this with your life if you want to get in and out of Cuba without a hitch.
  • Flight – From the UK, Virgin Atlantic currently are the only airline who fly directly to and from Havana, Jose Martí International Airport, (a 9-hour flight) and if you’re going during high season, be prepared to spend at least £900 per return. I flew with British Airways to Miami, as I was going to Cuba with another writer and from there we took a flight with Frontier to Havana, which was less than an hour’s flight.
  • Misc
    • Mosquitoes – While in Cuba, I definitely saw mosquitoes on a daily basis and was not prepared, to say the least. So I would definitely recommend you come with mosquito repellent especially if your skin is prone to mosquito bites
    • Weather / Clothing – During high season on average it is 28 degrees Celsius but can reach up to 30/32 degrees. So in terms of clothing, please ensure you bring light clothing and appropriate footwear, such as the likes of t-shirts, shorts, vest tops, dresses, sandals and swimwear, especially if you plan to go to Varadero.

Cuba has been the very best. Totally delicious, wonderfully peaceful and you should all go immediately. If you need any more helpful hints, just leave a comment below.

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