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Mario

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  • Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Vegetarian in Cuba #9640

    Sorry, I have been traveling and did not have a chance to write you back earlier. I only just saw your email.

     

    I suggest no tipping for drivers. We compensate them fairly and no tip is expected. Tipping is rare in Cuba.

     

    Have a great time!

     

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: 14 day itinerary??? #9272

    Hi,

    So, if you are planning to travel around in Cuba, then you will definitely make good use of your son’s Spanish. Even in Havana you will not find many good English speakers. In a town like Trinidad which is small and is a popular tourist destination, you should be ok. In Remedios I do not think English will be common at all.

    I think you will enjoy Christmas in Cuba because you will be with your family. But there will not be many other  celebrations happening, other than the event in Remedios. Personally, I do not think it is worth it to go to Remedios just for the festival. It is good, but Remedios is far. There are some details here: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g671534-i14167-k6848734-Christmas_in_Cuba-Santa_Clara_Villa_Clara_Province_Cuba.html

    If I was you, I would consider Vinales too. It’s like Trinidad, but more about nature. Trinidad is a bit more about architecture in the town. They are similar in many ways, but Vinales is a bit closer to Havana (190km), so there is much less time in transit. Trinidad is 260 km from Havana.

     

    I would spend time in Havana. Do the tourist things for the first few days, and then start doing the local things. I wrote in the book about the beaches located both west and east of the city. Take a taxi particular to each. The western beach is small, but very close to the city. The eastern beach is much larger (Guanabo) and only about 30 minutes away. Consider arriving there in the morning and then walking around the town a bit and finding a casa to stay in for the night. I mention how you do this in the video I just linked to. You will have to knock on a few doors, but it will be fun and you will meet people. You can stay at a nice casa near the beach. But pick a nice warm day.

     

    If you go to Vinales, stay for 2 or 3 days. The town is tiny, but you go there to explore the Valley, which is huge. You can see the plantations, the tobacco fields. Ride on horses, explore caves and climb up limestone hills. It’s a great place. It’s like country living hundreds of years ago. It has well developed tourist infrastructure. The beach is not very close to Vinales.

    Also, have you considered going to Varadero? In terms of relaxing and having fun, it is good. It’s a tourist area, but still, a few nights at an all inclusive (drinks and food) resort never hurt anybody. You can find some cheap deals on the website http://www.Sunwing.ca.

     

    I did not want to confuse you with too many options. My best overall advice would not be to overthink it too much. Cuba is the kind of place where you do not need to make very big plans. You could land in Havana right now and ask a few people on the street, and they would be able to find you a good casa particular to stay in. Everybody knows everybody. And taxis are easy to take. 

     

     

     

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: 14 day itinerary??? #9267

    Hi, your plan is absolutely doable. But I will give you some advice.

     

    Havana – It’s going to be a great experience. But you must absolutely start looking/book your casa particular reservation soon. This week. Because there will be thousands of tourists going to Havana for Christmas. (Cuban’s don’t even celebrate Christmas, but many people are wanting to take vacations in Cuba this year..) If you want, you can look on this website, under the casa particular link and find a casa that you like. It might be occupied, but my assistant and I can find you other choices.

    I recommend that you stay at least 5 nights in Havana to start with. You can view the whole city, without rushing. Maybe take a taxi tour too. And you can go to the beaches in Eastern Havana (Guanabo) for the day, whenever you want. It’s a nice experience.

    In Old Havana you can take a tobacco factory tour. It’s not cheap, but it’s popular.

    For the baseball game, I cannot find the schedule. The stadium in Havana is located in the El Cerro neighborhood. The easiest way to see a game is to find out when the Havana Industriales team plays, and then just show up at the stadium. It costs less than 1$ per person to enter. If you arrive after about the 5th inning you can just walk in and nobody will say anything, or give the security guard a couple of bucks if he stops you. There are no assigned seats. It’s very casual. But I cannot seem to find the December schedule online. I guess they have not posted it yet. 

    As for the classic car ride, you will likely have many opportunities. Most taxis are old cars, so you can just hop on one to get around the city. They cost 10 pesos (MN) each, for a ride (40 cents USD). Or you can take the taxi tour that I mentioned above.

    For Trinidad, you can spend maybe 3 days. It’s a small town. Very nice, but you will likely get bored if you spend too long. There is a beach nearby. Every town is close to a beach in Cuba. You can go horseback riding. That is fun. And maybe visit a small tobacco farm and see a guy rolling cigars.  

    In Remedios, it might be hard to find a casa now.. Try looking on the website http://www.bbinnvinales.com/bedandbreakfastrentweb/?remedios-(17),72

    They have 17 available. Email each of them. Even if the casas are booked, ask the person if they know of a vacant one. Remedios is tiny… I would almost say that there is no reason to visit the town, but they do have a popular festival for Christmas. But it is distant from Havana… You have to determine if it is worth the effort to go there. You can stay maybe 2 days in Remedios…

     

    But there is Cayo Santa Maria Beach which is close to Remedios. There are only state owned hotels on this beach, but you can stay in Remedios and then take a taxi to the beach if you want.. without having to pay for a hotel. 

     

    After Remedios, you can go back to Havana or stay a bit in Varadero (the biggest beach community, which is about 1.5 hours from Havana)

     

    Is this your first time in Cuba? How old are you kids? Do you/they speak Spanish? Is your ideal vacation about relaxation or more about viewing lots of things? I can give you some tailored advice if you tell me more about what you are expecting.

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Vegetarian in Cuba #9163

    Hi, really, in Cuba, Pork fat is a very common component in most dishes. They have vegetable oil too, but they have to buy it. The pork fat is simply rendered from other dishes and then used as flavoring, basically for free. It is common to find pieces of pork meat and fat in rice dishes.

    At a state run restaurant it would be very unlikely that the kitchen staff makes you a special dish. But at a small paladar (independently owned location) of which there are thousands in Havana, it is more likely that they will prepare you something without any fat, as you request. A higher end place, will likely have vegetarian options. You will have to look for the right restaurants for you, but I can guarantee that they are there. But it’s a niche market.

    At most state run restaurant the wait staff is unlikely to speak english. But at mid to high end paladares, the waiters will speak english well enough. I don’t think you will have issues. And high end does not necessarily mean expensive. At a low end place you might pay $3.50 for a meal. At a high end place you might pay $5.50 to 7$. It’s not a huge difference, and you will likely get much better service, so…

    As for the taxi tours, I can book you one, no problem. Just use the contact form at https://bestcubaguide.com/havana-taxi-tours-cuba-excursions/ On the contact form, just select Private taxi Guide/ Driver.

     

    For the standard Havana tour, it costs about $35 to 40$. You can work out the small details directly with the driver. Most tours are hosted by a driver named Julio. His direct number is (53) 5 2644989 if you want to book the tour yourself. Or else, if you are in Havana, you can call my assistant, Claudia, at 053 895036 and she can arrange the tour for you on short notice. She speaks perfect english.

     

    The tour route is as follows.

     

    Starting in Vedado:

    -Malecon (National hotel, US interest section, Riviera hotel built by Meyer Lansky, Melia Cohiba hotel,)

    -Tunel of 5th Avenue

    -Miramar through 3rd Ave till the Russian Embassy, the biggest one in Cuba, former Soviet embassy and then back through

    – the 5th avenue, embassies of Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and future US embassy….., park of 24th and 5th avenue with the big ficus trees more than 100 years old

    -then the metropolitan park of Havana (the forest and the river), Nuevo Vedado quarter, bordering Colon Cementery

    -Market of Tulipan for a juice, lunch or browsing.

    -Revolution Square, Carlos III, Reina, China Town, Capitolio, Central Park, Prado Promenade

    -Tunel of the bay of Havana, Christ of Havana for a global view of the city

    -and then back through the tunnel and the harbor avenue, 4 caminos market area and the “interior” part of the city (Cerro)

     

    End either in Old Havana or go back to Vedado.

     

    A trip like this would likely last about 1.5 to 2 hours.

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi,

    The way things are going, a lot might change by February 2016. It might become even easier to travel to Cuba.

    As for the details of flying there, the flights from JFK to Havana are still charter based, if I understand correctly. You can simply contact the airline or tour operator and ask them exaclty what info they require. It won’t be much. You will have to fill out a form and say why you are traveling there. The most common answer is for “people to people exhanges” or for journalistic purposes.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi,

    The outdoor fair on 23rd street, near the corner of M street is good for finding local crafts.But since it is in a touristy area, the prices will be high. 

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP1VCXbraQI

    I would have to recommend that you search for local crafts in the area around the Capitolio building. Near the corner of Simon Bolivar (Reina) and Paseo de Marti you will see lots of indoor markets and vendors. They mostly sell the same things. Negotiate the prices and be warned that if you really look like a tourist, they will charge you higher prices. Drive a hard bargain…

    Also, another great flea market is at the corner of Neptuno and Italia street. There are many vendors selling leather crafts, belts and sandals. You can find some low cost items. And, it’s a nice place just to walk around and see locals in action.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP1VCXbraQI

    • This reply was modified 7 years, 2 months ago by Mario.
    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, 

    Fusterlandia is in the town of Jaimanitas which is east of Havana. You can get there by taxi.

    It would probably cost you about 20cuc to drive there in a yellow taxi. Just stop a taxi in Havana and tell them if they know where Fusterlandia is in Jaimanitas. It’s well know and Jaimanitas is a tiny town anyway, some every driver should be able to take you there.

    You could also get there in a standard communal taxi, but you would have to know the route… Basically you would take a taxi going east on Linea street and say you want to go to El Paradero… which is the slang name for the bus stop in Miramar (near Cony Island, -Isla de Coco). And from there, you would take another taxi going to Jaimanitas. It would take longer to get there by communal taxi.. But it would only cost about 2$ per person.

    As for getting to the Hemingway house, which is called La Finca Vigia, it is located south of the city, about 10 kms. You would have to take the highway. While it is possible to do it by communal taxi, it is rare. You would have to look for a taxi in Old Havana that is heading to the Carretera Central (The highway). You would have to ask the driver to drop you off at the Finca Vigia. If you were Cuban, you could probably get there for about 2$ or less, per person. But the second the communal taxi driver sees that you are a tourist,  the price will likely jump to 20$. And at that rate, you would be better off taking a standard yellow taxi to get there.

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Vegetarian in Cuba #8720

    Hi, sorry for the late reply.

    Honestly, I think you will do just fine in Cuba. Vegetarianism is not so common, but it is present and most state restaurants or palarades have options which should be ok.

    My main concern would be cooking oils used for flavorings. For example, in rice dishes and most fried vegetable dishes the cooks will often add either a bit of pork or chicken fat in order to give the dish more flavor. Will this be a problem?

    In 90% of restaurants, dishes like this are prepared ahead of time and I don’t think the kitchen would make a separate batch without the animal products. You would have to ask the restaurant and see what they say.

    But almost every restaurant offers pasta dishes and simple pizzas. These are often the most popular items on the menu. Those have no meat or animal products in them, other than the dairy used in the cheese.

    Also, all restaurants have salads and a side dish of vianda, which is usually the root vegetable which is available at the market that day. It’s very filling.

    And, all cafes have breakfast sandwiches which are just bread, egg and cheese, maybe with some marmalade. I think these would fit your diet. Most street food is vegetarian. It’s very tasty and filling.

     

    My preferred website for restaurants in Cuba is http://www.alamesacuba.com/es/la-habana/search/?name=&county=1&cuisine=0&pricerank=0

     

    Some restaurants that I have been to and I know have some solid vegetarian options are as follows:

    http://www.alamesacuba.com/es/la-habana/restaurant/la-catedral/

    http://www.alamesacuba.com/es/la-habana/restaurant/el-balcon/

    http://www.alamesacuba.com/es/la-habana/restaurant/razones/#!/menu

    http://www.alamesacuba.com/es/la-habana/restaurant/el-idilio/

    http://www.alamesacuba.com/es/la-habana/restaurant/la-isla-de-la-pasta/

     

    Many of the restaurants have their menus on the website and you can look over them before you go.

     

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, the most common way for Americans to fly to Cuba are through Cancun and through Canada (usually Toronto or Montreal.) Cancun to Havana would likely be the cheapest option.

    I have helped book casa particular for hundreds of Americans over the last 6 months. Nobody has ever had any issues. The government of the United States does not care if you travel to Cuba, I can assure you.

     

    Just book a flight to Havana, via Cancun and go. I can help you with taxis or casa particular accommodations, no problem.

     

    take care,

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi.

    Are you sure you want to stay in a hotel, or would you rather prefer a casa particular?

     

    Hotels are good if you simply want a place to stay in Havana that is with other travelers. The environment in a hotel is like one you would find in any hotel, anywhere in the world. You are with other foreigners. The hotel has a lobby, bar, restaurant. Your room will have 1 or 2 beds, a bathroom and maybe a balcony. Hotels are good. But they can also be a bit expensive in some cases. In Old Havana a hotel will likely be about 100$ per night on the lowest side. Luxury places can cost double that, easily.

     

    In Vedado there are some cheaper hotels ( 40$ per night range), but any large hotels like the Capri, Hotel Nacional or Habana Libre will cost at least 100$ per night, and up. Probably close to 200$ per night.

    Also, in hotels, you cannot bring any guests to your room. Maybe you are not planning to bring guests anyway, but you should know that you can’t.

     

    In a casa particular, you get basically the same amenities as in a hotel, but often your room will be larger and your casa will have a few more things. Sometimes you can get a casa with a kitchen or with a living room in addition to the bedroom. Most importantly, if you want to interact with locals, then a casa is the best options. Rather than being surrounded by foreigners, in a casa, you are surrounded by local Cubans. In some casas, you rent an independent apartment, but still, you will likely be in a building with other locals. It’s a different atmosphere. Prices range form 25$ to 45$ per night for good places.

     

    If you want a casa, just look in the casas section of the website. There are lots available.

     

    If you want a hotel, I can suggest to you a few, but I would have to know more about what you are searching for. Do you want luxury? Do you want something cheap? In which neighborhood?

    In Vedado, a good little hotel which is cheap is called the Habana Paseo Hotel. You can usually get a good room for about 40$ per night. It’s a good overall place and an excellent value. In high season, prices increase a lot… and there is limited availability in Havana these days because of the influx of tourism

     

    As for the best beaches…. near Havana you have the Eastern beaches in Plays del Este (Guanabo). I have some videos of the beaches here..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Sz0X2IRpKU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMng0cAhaDo

     

    Also there is a beach west of Havana, you can see here..

     

    Further from Havana there is Varadero. That is a nice beach, but it is 2 hours away….

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, the price for going to Havana or Guanabo will basically be the same. I don’t think you will be able to negotiate much of a discount for that, since Guanabo and Havana are pretty close.

    Here is my advice.

     

    There are lots of tourists who land in Varadero and then have to find a way to get to Havana. You will definitely not be the only one with this dilemma when you land in Varadero. I have been in this predicament myself on many occasions. In some cases I have waited for the Viazul bus. Just be quick, because the bus does not wait at the airport long, and seats will be limited.

    But, since there will be other tourists waiting to find a ride to Havana, you should talk with them and ask to car pool. The taxi rides will cost about 80 to 90$ to go from Varadero airport to Havana. Nobody will want to pay this. But if you can get 3 or 4 other passengers, you can each pay 20 or 30$ and you don’t have to wait for the bus. It is the best way.

     

    Also, sometimes you can find a van waiting in the parking lot of the airport… When you get out of the terminal, do not speak to any of the taxi drivers… just keep your head down, walk into the parking lot, and find that van. (It’s an 8 or 9 seat van). Go to the driver and ask how much it costs to go to Havana. If he has space, it is always a good deal.

     

    But it’s very important to not talk to the taxi drivers first… There is a little taxi driver cartel at the airport. The van driver is not part of this cartel. His van rides are pre-booked and arranged through tour companies. He is not allowed to pick up regular passengers at the airport. If you look like you need a taxi, and approach the taxi drivers first, then they will not let the van driver take you…. Always try the van first.. And if a taxi driver asks you anything, just say that you already pre-booked your Havana ride with the van.

     

    If the van fails or is full, then talk with other tourists and taxi drivers waiting around outside… For sure you will be able to find others who have to go to Havana. Just split the ride with them.

     

    Good luck!

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Vinyl Record Stores #8127

    I have never seen any vinyl record stores….

     

    There are a few consignment shops that might have a few records (there is on on 23rd street between 6th and 8th if I recall correctly) … But there are no stores which have anything in real quantity, as far as I know.

    I have not really noticed many vinyl records at all in Cuba. 

     

    But I checked on the Cuban classified site Revolico.com and there were two ads selling some vinyl records… 

    http://www.revolico.com/compra-venta/antiguedades-coleccion/vendo-discos-de-pasta-o-vinilo-o-long-play-12596748.html

    http://www.revolico.com/compra-venta/antiguedades-coleccion/discos-de-vinilo-12595910.html

     

    My best advice would be to contact these guys when you are in Cuba and see what they say. Chances are good that these guys know other people who have records too. There is a network for everything in Cuba.

     

    Good luck!

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: 14 day itinerary??? #8023

    Hi, for the tourist visa, you will have to ask the airline. Usually the airline supplies the visas and they are handed out when you are on the plane. You usually pay for them in your flight expense.

     

    Sometimes you have to purchase the visa seperetely, at the airport, before you depart. The airline would tell you this and process your visa request before your plane departs.

     

    It is unlikely that you would have to purchase a visa upon arrival to Cuba. The airlines almost always take care of this ahead of time.

     

    Contact KLM if you have doubts.

     

    Anyway,, the visa is not a major thing. Cuba gives them out liberaly. They are just a way for the government to make money, since they cost 16$ each, I think… I really don’t think it will be a problem, but you can call the airline to be sure.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: 14 day itinerary??? #8013

    It will be a great trip. The weather will be good anywhere, and if you get some cooler days I am sure you will appreciate it.

     

    And probably keep plans to a minimum. Things change fast in Cuba. Buses break down, taxis come late, casas lose reservations…. If you have too many plans it might get stressed when things don’t work out.

     

    A great thing about Cuba is that the adventures just seem to build upon themselves. You won’t have to do much work or go very far to have a good time. The fun finds you.

    take care and just ask if you need anything.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: 14 day itinerary??? #7997

    Santiago would be relatively hot in December. There will be a few cold fronts, but December is usually good anywhere in Cuba, and you will welcome the cooler air if it comes. In Havana there are some days which will be cooler (since it is more north). You won’t be able to go to the beach every day. Some days will just be too cold or windy. It’s important to note that locals do not go to the beach in the winter. it is rare. On a nice saturday in July the beaches will be filled with thousands of locals. On a nice saturday in December you might find less than a dozen people…. Cubans only go to the beach when it is really hot.

     

    If you plan on going east (Santiago) you would likely get bored if you spend more than a few days in the city of Santiago. It’s not a large city and there are few tourists (which is good), but that also means there are not many tourist oriented things, and less basic tourist infrastructure. But you can have fun in the general Santiago area.

     

    I did not mention it before, but if you like nature then you might consider traveling from Santiago to Baraco.. It’s a small town, located a few hours away from Santiago. It has a mountain and many rivers. It’s good for exploring and enjoying the outdoors. It’s very tropical. It rains every days… You would have to take the Viazul bus to get there, since there is only one road into the town. It’s cheap to find accommodations. You would do best to not make reservations.. Just show up and the locals will offer casas to you for very cheap (10 to 15$ per night).

     

    Closer to Santiago there is the Turquino national park, which has the Sierra Maestra mountains. That is a good place for hiking and climbing. It has good infrastructure for tourists. You can get more info here.

     

    As for beaches, there are beaches everywhere in Cuba. In Santiago, and all the cities beside it… You can usually do some scuba diving too. This is most popular near resort (hotel) towns, like Manzanillo and Guardalavaca, which are not far from Santiago.

     

    In terms of cost, Santiago is cheap. Havana and Varadero are the most expensive places in Cuba and are the places where 90% of the tourists visit. The rest of Cuba has very little tourism.. Things are cheaper.

     

    Surfing is really not a big sport in Cuba. I found one website with a bit of info, but not much. There are not many big waves around Cuba… The water is shallow. And it is not common to find surf boards or other equipment in Cuba.

     

    Hiking – You can hike up any hill r mountain that you see. It is better to do the hiking in  a park (Like in the Turquino national park) as the mountain can be high and dangerous sometimes, so in a park setting they have some people to help guide you and some support infrastructure (bathrooms, rest areas, food places). For the big mountains, you need a guide, it’s the law, since it is dangerous. For smaller places you can go alone.

    As for hitchhiking, Cuba is a safe place. You should not have any problems as a woman. Use common sense.. but really it is not a dangerous environment. As for etiquette… the etiquette is generally that foreigners should pay something or not hitchhike at all. Cubans see all foreigners as rich. You might be asked to pay… Also, if you look like a foreigner, the regular cars might not stop to pick you up at all. You might only get approached by taxis. This would likely happen because everybody would think that you are just waiting for a taxi and never even think that you are actually hitchhiking.

    And, the most important thing is, hitchhiking is hard in Cuba because there are so many people doing it. All along the highway you will see people trying to get free rides. Most of the cars driving on the highway are either full with passengers already, or they are tourist taxis (and those ones do not usually pick up hitchhikers). You might have to wait hours on the side of the road before somebody picks you up. A local Cuban with no money can afford to spend this time and effort to get a free ride. But, as a tourist with limited time in the Cuba, you might not want to waste hours on the side of a highway with your hand out.

     

    I would strongly suggest that you spend a bit more and just take the Viazul bus for all long distance travel (over 100km). And for local travel, just approach any taxi or any car, and ask them if they will take you to where you want to go… and offer them a bit of money. 3cuc will be enough to take you across a town or city. 5cuc will probably get you a 20 to 30 km drive. It’s not too expensive, and it will save you a lot of time.

     

    I will be very honest with you, Cuba is a cheap place to live in. Most people in Cuba survive on about 20 to 40$ per month. That is almost nothing… And they have good lives too, in general. But, as a foreigner, your expenses will be higher.. You will probably have to spend at least 20$ per day to survive. And the costs increase exponentially the moment you want to start doing “fun and interesting things”. Going to the beach, traveling around the island, staying in casas, all that kind of stuff costs money. Local Cubans save money because they barely leave the house and rarely do fun “event” style things.

     

    The Vinales option is interesting because you are exploring a smaller part of the country and you still have options to see the cities, the landscapes, mountains, farms and beaches. You can do it all, without having to spend money and time going all the way to Santiago. it’s a more relaxing trip and far less rushed. You can do some research on the Parque Nacional Cienaga de Zapata, which is close to Havana and if you are interested in scuba, there is a great diving place on the western tip of the island called María la Gorda. It is a professional scuba area.. Not cheap, but it is world class.

     

    My best advice is to not plan too many things. 4 weeks will pass fast. The more simple you keep your trip, the more fun you will have. And know that Cuba is not very developed for tourism, outside of Havana. You can explore any area, but you won’t necessarily find signs to guide you or infrastructure to support.

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