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Mario2017-05-19T15:32:23+00:00

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  • Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, this is a great question. Very unique. But to be honest, I don’t think you will find much info about this while in Cuba. I would advise you to do some research online about the solar power situation in Cuba. There are many nice headline about new solar projects being set up. But on the ground in Cuba this is really not something which is talked about much. I think the media in Cuba and the world likes catchy headline about renewable power but the fact remains that Cuba has an antiquated power grid with blackouts happening every day. Moreover, most of the power generated on the island comes from burning dirty oil.

    There is a small solar farm in the middle of the island but it does not produce much. It’s located in the middle of nowhere. You won’t be allowed to visit it. The government keeps most of this stuff hidden because they don’t want to be embarrassed publicly. You won’t be able to check out any factories or things like that. The government is very secretive when it comes to factories and energy projects.

    You might find some info about solar power in the Museum of the Revolution, but again it will mostly be catchy headline with very little substance.

    I hate to be so pessimistic but other than the headlines I dont think there is much progress being made on renewable energy in Cuba.

    There are some urban gardens which are cool. (https://youtu.be/0W6c5ZOiwi8) but again, these gardens are all talk and no show. They are tiny gardens and most of the year nothing grows there. On the occasion that there is a healthy crop, the government will invite all the journalists to take photos. It’s just for show…

    Good luck! Enjoy Cuba and meet some locals. They are great people and it’s a fascinating culture.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Horse riding #28582

    Thanks. Have a great trip Christi! Cuba will be wonderful especially this time of the year. It’s not too hot and it’s still low tourist season. Meet the locals and experience the none touristy areas. You will love it. All the best!

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Horse riding #28571

    Hi, thank you for posting this. The standard rate for horse back tours in Cuba is 5cuc per hour, per person. You paid a bit more than that for your Trinidad tours (10 euros per person, per hour). Also, looking at the info for Trinidad tours, you had to make payment to their bank processor in Italy. Honestly, this is a bit more complex than it should be. It is this way because of the economic embargo against Cuba (PayPal is banned on the island and using it to pay for any Cuban related items will result in your account being banned automatically and could result in a fine of over $10 000).

    Paying in Euros to a bank in Italy means that your money does not go directly to Cubans… It goes to some bank account in Italy. While some money gets to Cuba, to pay for the service, there is somebody else in Italy collecting a very large commission. I think it is far better to pay the Cubans directly, in Cash. Also, it would have cost far less to pay in cash.

    Also, important to note that bad weather events and trip delays are common in Cuba. If you pay for your services all in advance then it is more difficult to change your trip plans. What if there is a storm on the day you wanted to go for a horseback ride? You lose your payment in most cases. In my opinion, it is always best to pay cash at the moment you want a service, rather than paying in advance. The farmers with horses in Cuba absolutely do not have websites or offer online payments. They live on cash payments. Paying in Cash directly benefits them and you can be sure there are no middlemen collecting commissions and potentially exploiting the poor farmers. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s a problem in Cuba.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi Eric. Thank you for this review. I am very glad that you had a good time in Cuba and that we were able to help you with these transportation services. I am very happy that you contacted Claudia. Our core value is customer service and we want our clients to contact us the moment they have any questions or issues. Claudia speaks many languages and she is always available to help sort out any issues. 

    We have not yet expanded the casa list to include Santa Marta. I am always working on adding new casas, but have not make any contacts yet with owners in that location. Sorry. But it is a great place and very close to Varadero. An authentic Cuban town with good people and just a few minutes to excellent beaches. I definitely have to spend some time there and explore.

    take care,

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, congratulations on visiting Havana. It should be a great time.

    For getting to Havana from Cojimar, there will be many collective taxis. In the town of Cojimar, if you go on the main street you will see taxis on Ave Central and Panamericano. Some are also stopped at the parks. Getting to Havana will not be hard. Also, there are several buses that pass. Your casa landlord should be able to guide you to the easiest place near your casa to grab either the bus or a communal taxi.

    Both the bus and communal taxis will likely drop you off in Old Havana, and then you would have to take another bus or taxi to get to FAC. If you speak Spanish, you can communicate with the taxi driver and see if he will take you all the way to FAC. If it was me, I would simply offer the driver a bit of extra money and ask him to take me all the way to the FAC. The ride from Cojimar to Havana would be 25mn each or less (1 cuc each or less). For an additional 1cuc each, he should take you all the way to FAC. So 4cuc for the whole trip. This would be the lowest cost. I would be willing to pay up to 10cuc total for this trip, as it will be much more convenient to take one taxi rather than switch taxis in Old Havana.

    If you find a taxi only going to Old Havana, then get off in Old Havana and then take another communal taxi near the corner of Neptuno and Prado Street that will take you along Linea in Vedado. Ask the driver to drop you off at FAC. This ride from Old Havana to FAC will cost only 10mn (50 cents CUC) each.

    The ride from FAC back to Cojimar at midnight will cost more. I doubt you would find a communal taxi on a midnight on Sunday. You would probably have to bite the bullet and pay an official taxi. The cost would likely be about 25 to 30 cuc for this trip. Also, there are usually come old car taxis hanging around FAC. You might be able to negotiate a cheaper fare with the driver, maybe in the 15 to 20cuc range.

    I hope this helps.

    Before doing anything, ask your landlord. Sometimes the landlords know guys in the neighborhood who will drive for less. Perhaps somebody in the area is also going to FAC that night and you can car pool.

    take care,

    Mario

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi Kim, I will give you a complete response via the booking email which we received from you. It will be more private for you that way. But yes, there is no deposit needed. Your bookings are made directly with the landlords. Things in Cuba are informal. The landlords keep a written notebook with their bookings. For your booking, the landlord has simply written you in for your dates in Jan 2019.

    Cuba is a cash economy, so your payments are made in cash, directly to the landlord.

    It happens in less than 5% of cases that landlords will switch bookings and mess things up. This is an unavoidable things that sometimes happens. Usually it is made by mistake, but sometimes landlords do it in order to make more money or because they have a problem with their house (a flood or construction work, etc). But even if this happens, we would always contact you and work with you to find a new option.

    In this particular case, with the landlord that you are booked with, I am close friends with him and he has one of our most popular casas. He is dependable and I don’t think you will have any issues.

    I will write you more to your personal email

    take care,

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi Eric. Thank you very much for this post. I am happy to see that we could help you. I have a great team in Havana and they really try their best every day to deliver personalized service.

    Cuba is a dificult place for business. Customer service is a very new thing. It’s hard to imagine and it was a huge culture shock for me the first time I visted the island. Business in gerneral is a new thing in Cuba.

    The goal of my website is not to make profit. We don’t charge a commission and I feel that really liberates us from a lot of restrictions. We can focus completely on customer service and in a place like Cuba, where it is lacking, we can fill this niche. This was my goal. 

    When I am in Cuba, I like to meet with travelers from the website. Claudia often meets with travelers too. Just to say hello and to see how things are going.

    I am from Montreal (and I think you might be too). Quebec sends a lot of tourists to Cuba and I would say Canadians in general are pretty well informed about how things are in Cuba. But many otehr countries see Cuba as a new and sometimes scary place. So we like to always give our contact numbers (personal cell phone numbers) so that travelers know that they have somebody they can trust on the island, if they need anything.

    I really hope that we meet and exceed your expectations. If there are any problems please call Claudia and we will make everything perfect. I am in Montreal now and will not be in Cuba during your trip, but I wish you and your crew a great voyage and lots of fun memories.

    Mario

     

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Horse riding #27888

    The horses are all in great condition. Vinales and Trinidad are tourist towns and the locals make lots of money from offering horse tours. They feed the horses well and take great care of them because they support the whole family.

    The only way to book the horse tours is once you are in Vinales or Trinidad. You just have to ask your landlord and she will take care of the calling the horse guys to bring you on the tour. This cannot be arranged online. Maybe some websites offer this service but they will charge you much much more. A typical horse tour will cost you about 7cuc per hour, per horse. I have seen some people online charging $30 per hour, which is crazy.

    Once you are in Trinidad or Vinales, simply tell your landlord to arrange a horse tour and she will take care of it, no problem.

    Also, along the main streets in these towns, you will see farmers with horses and they will be asking you if you want a tour. It’s very easy. There are hundreds of horses.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi Steve, I’m not sure I have your email. If you want, contact my team in Havana at casas.bestcubaguide@gmail.com and we can communicate through email to take care of all your plans.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, the nature reserve has the flamingos and the Indian Village. The flamingos are not always there. They only use the lake during their nesting period. I visited all these places last February. I did not see any flamingos. I went to the Indian village too. It is very small. It is interesting, but not a big attraction. The alligator farm is all on the same place.

    The Bay of Pigs has a museum. It is ok. But note that the town is very small. There is not much there. There is snorkeling all around the bay. There are many people in Playa Larga and Bay of Pigs who offer independent snorkeling tours and there is a dive club. Again, I have been and it is ok, but if you are a professional snorkeler you will find it below average. For an amateur (like myself) it is ok.

    There is a small resort called Caleta Buena. It is a good place to bring a family and to relax and enjoy drinks. I always go there. you can find more info here: https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g2053537-d6745496-Reviews-Caleta_Buena-Playa_Giron_Matanzas_Province_Cuba.html

    It is not expensive to go to this place.

    Good luck and have fun!

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Cuban Currency #27737

    MN stands for Moneda Nacional. I always just say Moneda Nacional. You will sometimes also see it written as CUP, which means Cuban Peso. In general, I never use the word peso, because it can mean either CUC or Moneda Nacional. I prefer to keep things simple and only say CUC and Moneda Nacional.

    “Would it be possible only to change MN and pay everything in this currency (casa, bus, taxi, restaurtant, market…)”

    No. It would not be practical. For example, if you buy fruits at the market, the total cost might be 12MN. You will have small notes of MN and can easily pay. But for your casa, your bill for 5 nights might be 150cuc, which translates to 3600MN (multiply by 24). So you will have to have 3600MN in your pocket to pay this bill. You can carry large bills in MN, but you will still end up carrying many many notes. It would not be practical. Because you would need large denomination notes to pay for expensive things and small denomination notes to pay for cheap things (like the market). You would be walking around Havana with a backpack full of notes.

    This is one of the reasons for the 2 currency system. You can easily use MN for small purchases and CUC for bigger purchases.

    Also, most casa landlords and most higher end restaurants will not want MN. Yellow taxis mostly want CUC too.

    It is best to have mostly CUC and then a little bit of MN for small purchases. If you go out walking in Havana for a day, bring 50 cuc, so you are always sure to have some cash in case of anything, and 50MN, so you can purchase small items easily. That is the easiest way.

    have fun,

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Please look at the following link. We can organize a driver for you for about 110cuc for a carload of passengers. Or, you can ask a driver in Havana to take you. The prices should be similar. Playa Larga and Giron are small places. You won’t need a bit tour. There is an alligator ranch and a nature reserve beside the town. The town also has a small beach. Other than that, there is not much else for a tour.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    That’s a great approach. Giving to parents or grandparents is fantastic. Giving is never expected, but if you have a few extra things to bring from home, to give out, I think it’s always a great idea. Toys are hard to get in Cuba, even if parents want to spend money on them. Giving them an extra thing that was just hanging around your house will make the parents and kids really happy.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Currency #27049

    Hi, for the purposes of exchange, there will be almost no difference between bringing euros or GBP. Both have good exchange rates to the Cuban CUC. Bring whichever currency is easiest for you. Have a great time, Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, unfortunately the bus (Viazul) does not pass by the Havana Airport. I think the government does this on purpose so that it causes tourist to spend more money on taxis. There are city buses which pass near the airport, but in order to take one you would have to haul your bags from the airport terminal and walk along the airport road for a good distance, before getting to a public road. I don’t think this is a good option.

    The best option, and what everybody does, is to simply take a taxi from the airport to Havana. The driver could bring you directly to the animal rescue place. The cost would be 25cuc. Drivers at the airport might try to ask more money, but you can negotiate. Or I can book you a taxi for 25cuc online. Either way, it would work out to the same price. At the airport you might be able to find another traveler to split the taxi cost with. This would reduce your expense.

    Are you staying in Havana at all, or do you want to go directly to Varadero?

    The Havana bus terminal is located at the corner of 26th street and Zoologico street. It’s easy to find. You can reserve a bus ticket in advance at the website http://www.viazul.com/. The cost to go from Havana to Varadero is only 10 CUC. This route is very popular, so you should reserve online or in person at the terminal, a few days before you travel.

    Santa Marta is located near Varadero. It’s like the main town just before getting to Varadero. If you tell the bus driver, he will let you off beside the highway, near the town. The town is large and if your end destination is far from the highway, you might have to walk a bit and then hail another taxi to get you to your destination. This should not be very expensive (5 to 10cuc, max)

    It is true that for the Viazul, even if you book your ticket ahead of time, sometimes the bus is full. In Cuba, things rarely work out as planned. Sometimes the bus clerks will just resell the tickets and you might get screwed. I will say that it does not happen often, but it’s always a risk. If there should be any trouble like this, you can always find dozens of taxi drivers just outside the Viazul station. There will be many other tourists in this area too, all trying to negotiate cheap taxi rides. You can join another group and share a taxi ride to Varadero. If the total ride costs 100 cuc for a private taxi, but you are 4 people, it comes to only 25$ per person, which is not expensive. And there should be enough room for all your bags.

    I hope this helps. Just ask if you have more questions.

    Mario

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