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Cuba … Viva La Revolucion!

Updated: Oct 20

This is my personal blog of the trip to Cuba in 2019, however I published a different blog about this trip on Uncharted.io, you can find it here:

https://uncharted.io/@jochengielen/cuba-a-challenging-roadtrip--MIL6DM9i_fDCbWvWSBk


Introduction:


Cuba is a country of contradictions … it can easily serve as an example of what could be and what can happen when people want change or when people don’t act to change anything. History tells us that Cuba was a colony under various powers for a long time and has a rich history, then some people called Fidel Castro and Che Guevara started a revolution that promised a better life for the people and although the revolution was successful, the result was not completely what they had hoped for … admit it, it didn’t work like it should have!

Aside from history I have to confirm that Cubans are warm welcoming people that will never try to rip you off or hassle for tips or extra money … a real relief when you travel! The Cubans will welcome you with a friendly attitude and when you book something, they will stick to the pre-arranged price, we even got discount in some occasions.

The country is of course an island in the Caribbean, and a large island I might add. The capital Havana is well known for its classic American cars serving as taxi and tourist rides, the prices are negotiable. Outside Havana there are many other interesting places, villages and smaller cities. The shape of the country makes it hard to visit all major places in one trip because the distance between Havana and Santiago for example is more than 850 km! The better thing to do is to focus on an area like we did, we focussed on the Northern part of the country with some cities, villages and nature reserves in mind, both inland and at the coast. The country has something to offer for everyone!

Before you go!


*Forget internet in Cuba, there is almost no 4G, internet is paid by the hour with cards that you buy at a dedicated office in town and even then you still need a Wi-Fi point to log in before you are connected … and then there is the speed … the highest speed I got was 0.70 MBPS … just enough for email and message services!

*Cuban currency comes in 2 different types, the CUP and the CUC. The CUP is used by locals only and although most website tell you to carry some of it, you don’t need it, the rate is about 25 CUP for 1 USD. The CUC is the usual currency for tourists and the rate is 1 CUC for 1 USD, however when changing or taking some at a cash machine you will have to pay an extra fee. Don’t forget to change all your CUC back to USD at the airport before you go trough customs because no other country will change it back and even in the airport past customs you can’t pay in CUC anymore!

*Beware that even though the best way to discover Cuba is by car, most rental cars are booked at least 2 months in advance and even then you might not get the best cars around, although they are in general not too bad, the roads however are pretty bad, the highways are ok but even those have potholes to avoid at all cost! It is generally advised not to drive at night in Cuba but short distances at low speed are ok. Fuel prices are pretty expensive as well but in general still cheaper than Europe

*You need to apply for a VISA before you go and a proof of your medical insurance is also advised as they might ask for it at the border control upon arrival, getting a VISA is easy, you just call your local Cuban Embassy and ask for their email and what you need to provide, it only takes about 2 or 3 days to arrange.

*A few things you will need to take with you! Mosquito repellent is needed when you go into coastal areas and forget about buying it locally as it will take you a long time to find a place that even has it, sunblock is of the upmost importance and any medication you need will certainly not be available locally so you need to bring it yourself!

*Remember that there is still a US embargo against Cuba so most American products are unavailable and most American services are also blocked, Google maps doesn’t work in most places, some financial websites are blocked, banking apps might not work and streaming sites are usually not loading, even when you have Wi-Fi you still might experience connection errors from time to time!

*If you need a GPS it is advised to download Maps.me with the complete map of Cuba on your smartphone before you go as this is one of the few GPS services that works great in Cuba!

*It gets dark pretty early in Cuba, by 18.00 it will be dark, however that doesn’t mean you have to go to bed as the nightlife is fantastic, indulge in the local culture (if you can handle the alcohol of course!) and visit local places away from the tourist areas, the prices will be lower and the service will be great, you will easily get into contact with the locals and don’t be afraid as crime rates are very low!

Review of the trip:

Day 1: Departure

We left home early in the morning for our KLM & Air France flights of which the longest would be Paris CDG to Havana with Air France Boeing 777. We arrived late afternoon at Havana airport and it takes some time to get out of the airport, once outside we took a local taxi to Havana centre where our AirBNB (Casa Mar-y-Sol) was booked (never pay more than 30 CUC for a taxi from Havana Airport to Havana centre!), once there we took a shower and went to bed as we were tired from the long flight.

Day 2: Havana

This morning we explored the area directly around our casa and had breakfast in Cafetaria La Rampa, after breakfast we took a local taxi to the old Havana for a walk around Plaza de la Catedral with the oldest Cathedral of Havana, the narrow streets around the plaza and the old Castillo de la Real Fuerza before going back to our casa for freshening up and looking for a nice place for dinner, we eventually found a local that took us to a nice restaurant and bar where the Mojito is absolutely great! We went for a short walk after dinner before going to bed because we had a long drive coming tomorrow!

Day 3: Drive to Vinales

Today we had breakfast just around the corner from our casa at …, a local breakfast is pretty cheap at only 5 CUC. I went to the airport to collect the car, the taxi I took was an adventure on its own, the car was barely holding together … lol! I arrived ahead of time at the airport but they told me to wait … and wait … and then a driver took me back to the city centre … to tell me that he didn’t have the car I reserved … so I got another car, dented and scratched Peugeot 301 with a different color door on the passenger side, overall it was pretty much OK for a Cuban car so about 2 hourd later than planned we started our drive to Vinales, driving in Cuba is a bit challenging and it’s not recommended at night due to the poor lighting on the roads so we decided to take the highway to Vinales to make it there before dark. Once there we found our Casa with ease and were greeted by a warm family and fresh juices at Casa Tatica y el Chino (AirBNB).

Day 4: Vinales

This morning Tatica prepared us a fantastic breakfast and after that we prepared for our horse tour in the valley of Vinales. Our guide was a cowboy with great horses that were well taken care of and very healthy, our rides for today were Muneco and Lucero, 2 lovely horses with a will of their own! The ride isn’t easy from time to time but it’s rewarding to say the least, a must do for every adventurous traveller! Alexis is the best guide to have and he always puts safety before everything else. Since both of us had little to no experience riding horses, this was really nice to see! He takes care of the people and the horses! We visited a local farm for an explanation about coffee, cigars and rum so I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of their local rum for myself … lol. Next stop was a small lake with bar where you can swim or just sit and relax. The ride back was again trough the valley and overall this tour was one of the highlights of this trip! We went back to our Casa to take a shower and relax a bit … horse riding is not friendly for your muscles you know …! We went to dinner just minutes walking from the Casa in a local restaurant that offered free wifi. Food is overall very good in Cuba and service is nice, most restaurants offer a general menu so there is always something for everyone.

Day 5: Vinales to Playa Larga

Another day, another drive, this time a long one … so we left Vinales in the morning to head for the Soroa waterfall where we stopped to rest and relax near the water. It’s about an hour driving from Vinales and a great spot to have a rest in the jungle or have a swim under the waterfall, the bar at the entrance is nice to have a drink or a small lunch. We continued our drive for another few hours to Playa Larga, unfortunately we did have some problems on the way like having to stop at 3 gas stations before we could actually refuel as some gas stations don’t always have the fuel you need … and my iPhone gave up so we lost our GPS as well, however in the end we arrived safely at our Casa in Playa Larga in the evening.

Day 6: Playa Larga

Today we slept out a bit since we had 2 days in Playa Larga and after breakfast and relaxation we explored the small village and decided to do the Zapata nature reserve tour in the afternoon. The tour costs 15 CUC per person and you need a car to do it as the guide will go with you in your car and show you all the highlights along the road to the viewpoint in the Zapata mangrove nature reserve, you will see wild vultures, flamingo’s and other birds and wildlife. It really is one of the highlights of Cuba. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around the casa before getting some local dinner and cocktails to finish the evening.

Day 7: Playa Larga

Today we explored the area on the other side of the nature reserve where we stopped at the Cenote and beach halfway between Playa Larga and Playa Giron. The rest of the day we walked around the 3 main beaches of Playa Larga and in the evening we went back to the closest beach restaurant for dinner.

Day 8: Playa Larga to Trinidad

We had a long drive ahead of us today, after breakfast we moved out of our room and started the long drive from Playa Larga to Trinidad. Driving in Cuba is exhausting to say the least, to get to Trinidad you have to leave the highway and drive on smaller roads for over an hour to get there. Once there we were hungry and tired so after settling into our room and getting a welcome drink, we went out to visit Trinidad centre and get a decent meal.

Day 9: Trinidad

Our first full day in Trinidad, Breakfast was served with excellence and we couldn’t eat everything so did our best and relaxed a bit in the morning. We asked our host where to go and she sent us to the mountains, one of the several waterfalls around Trinidad. The walk was pretty hard and took a bit longer than expected but the view is more than enough reward, on the way you can walk trough the forest and see a lot of wildlife like hummingbirds, woodpeckers etc. We spent the evening relaxing, walking to town again for dinner and a good evening walk.

Day 10: Trinidad

Today was a day of doing nothing really, we had breakfast again like yesterday, went to the beach and drank some cocktails, went to dinner and drank more cocktails and went to bed a bit earlier because we had another drive ahead of us the next day.

Day 11: Trinidad back to Vinales

When we were in Trinidad, we decided to make a change in the schedule. So we drove back to Havana to deliver the car and there a taxi from Vinales was waiting for us to drive us back to Vinales for a second time, both drives went well and we arrived in Vinales in the evening after a quick stop at a local viewpoint that overlooks the whole valley. Once we got our room we settled in and went out to walk the local market and find some dinner and cocktails again.

Day 12: Vinales and back to Havana

The reason we went back to Vinales was simply the relaxing peace and the fantastic horse tour we had earlier in the trip. So this time we took the same guide with the same horses but a 6 hour tour instead of the shorter 3 hours. He took us to the painted rockwall, a small café and best of all, a viewpoint high up a certain hill, the horses took us about halfway up and the rest had to be done on foot because it was a bit too dangerous and exhausting for the horses so we let them relax in a shady spot. The rest of the climb was one of the hardest I had ever done, even for a well trained traveller like me this was a challenge! But the view was just stunning, the best view ever on a natural valley in the world! We took the same taxi back to Havana after the ride and arrived in the evening in our last casa of the trip.

Day 13: Havana and flight home

I started the last day in the morning to find a good place for breakfast and then went to visit Morro Castle, probably the best known castle in Cuba. The focal point of my visit was the famous Morro Castle lighthouse of course, for ages it has been guiding ships into Havana port. From the castle I went back to Havana city to see the famous Capitol of Havana, a truly iconic building and the perfect place to start my walk to the Old Market Square and then on to the Old Cathedral again. By now it was time to get back to the casa to get ready, and once we had packed our bags we took the pre-arranged taxi to the airport for our flight back home.

Day 14: Back home

The flight home went smooth and we were able to catch some sleep on the Boeing 777 of Air France with the same great service as the incoming flight 2 weeks ago. In CDG airport in Paris you need to take a monorail to get your luggage and it a long time to get it, when we finally got it and went to the train station at the airport, they announced that our train was cancelled due to an accident on the rails and they offered us another train 3 hours later with a food voucher and first class seating, good service! By late evening we arrived in Brussels Midi station and went home.


Here are 2 videos I made for clients on Youtube:



THE END!

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