Well-travelled couple - first time visitors to Cuba.
1 + 1/2 fluent spanish. New to this forum we are seeking as much information and tips possible before our trip, which will be two weeks total, of which I plan 4 ngts Havana initially and last 2 ngts before departure.
What travel / guide books have your purchased in preparation for your trip?
There used to be a lot of discussions on touring Havana and other areas but I just did a search and not much turned up. I then went to my “bookmarks” 'cause I’d saved a lot of interesting links and they are all gone >:( I guess a lot of threads got deleted when the forum was revamped. Looks like we will have to have members rebuild our touring information both for our own reference and new members like bchow! I think my wife saved some of the touring information (like the Havana walking tour) and I’ll check it out this weekend.
Well thanks both for the replies.
I have found quite a lot of information on the 'net for sure, and have some older guidebooks - but I have found with all my travels that current first-hand information is always the most valuable.
It seems most of the Cuba travel information on this site is mainly regarding the all-inclusive beach vacations, but you never know, that may change…
Here’s some info I’ve Cut & Pasted fairly often to assist people who are interested in getting out of Varadero for a visit to Havana. You might find some of it helpful…
The “best way” to see Havana is of course entirely up to you and your comfort level off the resort, as well as your budget and whether you can afford to stay over for a night or two.
1.) On one hand you can buy a package tour from your resort. It’s simple and hassle free. You get picked up from your front door, taken to Havana and your guide will shepherd your tour group through every step of the way. You are just one of many sheep in the herd though…
2.) On the other hand you can jump on a Cuban bus, go to Havana, do a self guided tour, then catch the bus back to Varadero.
Between those two extremes there are MANY different options and choices. It’s up to you to decide how you’d like to handle it.
My personal recommendation for a first time visitor who doesn’t speak much Spanish would be something like this…
Take the early Viazul bus to Havana and be met by your local guide. Check into your Casa Particular then enjoy a one-on-one tour of Old Havana for a few hours. Have a nice lunch then do a few things that you’ve asked your guide to arrange in advance for you… maybe it’s a visit to a cigar factory, do a ride down the Malecon in a classic convertible, check out the Colon Cemetery, view a Santeria ceremony, do a dance class or visit an athletic facility like a boxing arena. Go back to your casa to freshen up and maybe have a nap, then have a meal at a great paladar (private restaurant) before catching a show at the Gran Teatro (Grand Theatre) then go out and paint the town red.
The next day have a great breakfast and one last walk around Old Havana before splurging on a taxi directly back to your resort.
Transport between Varadero and Havana:
1.) Taxi: Fast, efficient and expensive. Official cost is 90 CUC one way. Travel time about 1.5 hours and they’ll take you right to your doorstep.
2.) Viazul Bus: Cost is 10 CUC one way and takes about 3 hours. It stops once at the end of the Prado, beside the Malecon on the edge of Old Havana (this is where you would hop out) a second time near the University and lastly at the Bus Station beside the Zoo in Vedado.
3.) Taxi from Viazul Bus Station: When you get to the bus station you’ll be approached by someone wanting to sell you a seat in a taxi instead. Don’t be intimidated, this is a legit enterprise with taxis competing with the bus. They’ll offer you a seat for a few more CUCs than the bus costs, but the advantage is that it’ll be way faster and they’ll take you directly to your destination instead of simply being dropped at the bus station.
A few points to remember… Tell the driver where you’re going and confirm that the price includes a drop-off right at your address. Take a look at the taxi and see who else is going… you don’t want to be stuck in the back of a broken down Lada between two big guys carrying chickens. Generally though the taxis offer a great alternative service, so check them out before you go inside the station and confirm a bus seat.
4.) Transfer Colectivo: Most tour agencies will run shuttles between some of the Varadero resorts and some of the Havana hotels. It’s up to more than twice as expensive as the Viazul Bus but it does pick you right up at your resort, thus saving taxi fare.
Note: Transfer Colectivo schedules/prices are open to change, it also depends where you are located in Varadero - you might be stuck on the bus for a long time as it goes from resort to resort picking up other people.
1.) The best money you can spend before going to Havana is to buy a Guide Book like Moon, Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, etc.
2.) The best money you can spend after arriving in Havana is to hire a local guide, at least for part of the first day until you’re acclimatized. There are lots of excellent guides available, but very few of them have an Internet presence. Here’s one suggestion:
3.) Everything you need to know about Money Exchange:
4.) Steve’s self-guided Havana tour:
5.) Tropicana: If you enjoy and appreciate Las Vegas style cabaret entertainment with a live orchestra, dozens of dancers and entertainers then the Tropicana won’t disappoint. It’s the same style entertainment that’s offered at your resort x 1,000. Tickets are 70 CUC, 80 CUC and 90 CUC plus the taxi back and forth of course. Any tourist desk in any hotel can arrange this for you.
6.) The Gran Teatro - or for that matter, almost ANY venue in Havana - is (in my opinion) indescribably more “authentic” than the Tropicana which is sold on all the resort excursions. A couple of months ago I saw world class performances of dance, opera, ballet and several music concerts for less money than 1 ticket at the Tropicana. Here’s a few ideas regarding arts/culture/music/etc. in Havana:
7.) One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday:
8.) Additional Havana info:
9.) Some great hotels in Old Havana:
10.) Some Casa Particulars (Cuban version of a Bed & Breakfast) in Havana:
Here’s a decent pub crawl tour of Old Havana suitable for light drinkers and first time visitors.
1.) Start in the rooftop bar at the Inglaterra Hotel – great view of Parque Central, Gran Teatro, etc. Quiet, no one to bug you. Great mojitos. Have one and move on.
2.) Go down to street level and have another cocktail at their sidewalk patio bar, the Galeria La Acera del Louvre. Watch the street action. Lots to take in, but again, you’re slightly removed from it.
Head directly across the street, through Parque Central, past the large groups of shouting men who are just about ready (it appears) to kill each other. Don’t worry, they’re simply discussing baseball. If you really want to see some drama, put a video camera on them - their decibel level (and hand gestures) will triple.
3.) Continue straight ahead past the Art Museum until you get to the famous landmark (and tourist trap) the El Floridita where Hemingway spent a lot of time slurping back daiquiris. Wander in, have a look, have an overpriced daiquiri if you must.
4.) Exit, turn left, and at the end of the block (corner of Monseratte and Obrapia) there’s two good bars, the open air Castillo de Farnes and the Bar Monseratte where you enter through an old fashioned saloon style swinging door.
5.) The Castillo de Farnes is a great people watching bar, the Bar Monseratte will be less hassle, and it has decent pub food and usually a pretty good band.
6.) Head back a couple of blocks to Obispo and take a right turn. There’s several bars along this stretch. Go into any of them that are rockin’. One of my favourites is the La Lluvia de Oro. Lots of tourists and well connected hustlers, many times a good band.
7.) Continue down Obispo to the Café Paris. It’s similar to the La Lluvia de Oro with good music and decent pizzas.
8.) Exit and make a right turn, south from Obispo, and enjoy a leisurely stroll down San Ignacio for 4 blocks until you reach Plaza Vieja. It has a lovely fountain (quite rare in Havana) in the centre. In the southwest corner is a trendy European style place that has its own micro-brewery, the Taberna de la Muralla. They have beer drinking contraptions that are about a metre high – you might need a friend to help you finish it.
9.) Go the northeast corner of the Plaza and you’ll find one of my favourite classy restaurant/bars, the Taberna Beny More. Wonderful place.
10.) Exit and turn right, following a beautifully restored street, Mercaderes, back 3 blocks to Obispo, then another block further to O’Reilly. Turn left, and one block later slip into the O’Reilly Pub and carefully negotiate the antique winding wrought iron staircase up to the second floor. Enjoy a moment of peace from the noise of Havana.
11.) After the 10 cocktail warm-up you’ve enjoyed to this point you should be ready for some serious drinking by now, so turn left on O’Reilly and continue west for a couple of blocks until you reach the Bar Bilbao, one of the few truly Cuban bars left in the tourist section of Old Havana.
It’s a bit of a dive. They don’t particularly encourage tourists, but once you’re there its great. Have some real Cuban Pesos on you (not Convertible Pesos) and enjoy a double rum for 8 pesos and a cigar for 1 peso. (1 Convertible Peso = 24 Cuban Pesos. Do the math. We’re talking cheap.) The decor - if you can call it that - is sort of interesting. The bar has been discovered by the professional soccer club from Bilbao Spain, and they have left all kinds of stuff all over the walls.
Go one block south, back to Obispo and walk back to Parque Central.
The night is still young, and you have loads of time to start some serious drinking and dancing…
Lastly, you might find these interesting…
1.) My casa in Trinidad and some pals: http://debbiesreviews.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=cubageneral&thread=17757&page=1
2.) In and around Trinidad: http://debbiesreviews.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=cubageneral&thread=13201&page=1
3.) Vinales with my pal Pedro: http://debbiesreviews.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=cubageneral&thread=17661&page=1
Hauling your butt up a mountain?
Pedro is getting a percentage, eh? Maybe ACTRA?
Thanks, Terry, for all the work you put into your responses + links. :-* The famous walking tour is definitely on my to do list for our upcoming trip in Feb. So far, we’ve only managed bits and pieces.
Si, muchas gracias from me tambien;
We’ll probably go east for 5 days after our first 5 days in Havana… so Vinales will wait for next time
11.) After the 10 cocktail warm-up you’ve enjoyed to this point you should be ready for some serious drinking by now, so turn left on O’Reilly and continue west for a couple of blocks until you reach the Bar Bilbao, one of the few truly Cuban bars left in the tourist section of Old Havana
Strike number 11 from the pub crawl. Bar Bilbao is closed.
Seriously? When did that happen? Bummer…
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the authorities shut down the last real Cuban bar in the touristy section of Old Havana…
Bilbao was probably on a proposed golf course.
Martian … I first noticed much to my sadness that it was closed during my June visit. I confirmed last week that it is still closed.
I have it on good authority that Calle O’Reilly is slated to become a pedestrian only street like Obispo.
With the recent addition of a small boutique hotel on the street it looks like an “cleansing” is in the works.
Good news bad news update!!!
Good news …Bar Bilbao has re-opened after a face lift. The rough edges have certainly been smoothed.
Bad news …It is no longer a “peso bar”.