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Old 20th June 2020, 00:58   #1
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Default Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba

After travelling to Nova Scotia from Toronto in 2018 and spending considerable amount of money on expenses, we decided to travel out of country from then on for the below reasons

1. Exposure to a completely different culture including food, language and currency.
2. Warmer weather.

Not that Nova Scotia didn't give us the above. But spending more than or at least an equal amount of money to travel within the country for a week's vacation doesn't seem exciting when compared to an out of country experience.

Enough said. After doing some homework on some countries in terms of safety, budget and tourist friendliness factor, we decided to fly to Cuba in 2019. While most of our friends circle had travelled to Cuba, their trip involved the following
1. 5 star resort.
2. Sipping Piña colada at the comfort of being half(or full)naked in the swimming pool.
3. 7 days of buffet food options (aka bland)
4. Some entertainment now and then.

There is nothing wrong in the above approach. I would love to do it now and then and when I am older. But I wouldn't call it travelling. We wanted to do a little more than that. Hence we decided to backpack.


Out itinerary below.

Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba-screen-shot-20190511-9.25.23-pm.png


We had 7 days and below were the constraints.
1. Both of us wanted a pristine beach for 3 days.
2. We also wanted to see a small town and chill for sometime.
3. I wanted to see Havana for the hustle bustle.
4. We were on a budget.



So we decided on the following options
1. Varadero: Pristine Beach (Days 1 and 2)
2. Trinidad: Small Town and Green space. (Days 3, 4 and 5)
3. Havana: Hustle Bustle. (Days 6 and 7)
4. AirBnb to the rescue.
We booked the flights from Toronto to Varadero and back. Booked some AirBnb based accommodations also famously known as Casa particulars in Cuba.




Varadero:

Day 1: 7 PM
We landed in Varadero airport which is the most famous place for 5 star resorts. After a long queue for currency exchange we managed to spot our Airbnb host's taxi arrangement and left for the accommodation. We were greeted by a sumptuous dinner and we spent sometime amidst mango, guava, drumstick trees around our accommodation and slept off.

BTW there are 2 currencies in Cuba.
* Cuban Pesos: For local people.
* Cuban Convertible Currency also called as CUC. This is for the tourists and is equivalent to USD.


Day 2:

Woke to an amazing weather and to a sumptuous breakfast. After chilling in the balcony watching how local life unwinds, we decided to head to the beach.


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We got some directions from our hosts and boarded a local bus. Only locals took the bus and we were stared at with curiosity. I knew a little spanish and managed our way to get down at the Varadero town. Before we headed to the beach, we booked a government intercity bus service which is dedicated just for tourists. There is an online booking option available too. It is known to be as Viazul Bus service. I tried booking it prior to our departure at the comfort of my house. But all the seats were full. Varadero has a bus terminal where in the tickets can be booked. I did the same for the rest of my plan
* Varadero to Trinidad
* Trinidad to Havana
* Havana to Varadero to board the return flight.

Experience Snippet 1:
I was standing in the local people’s queue to book the bus tickets without realizing there is a separate queue for Viazul. An interesting thing we noted is that the locals kind of get confused when they see us. They take a step back and analyze us to make sure we are tourists because of the skin colour. Then a kind girl came to me and told me in Spanish that this is the queue for locals and I thanked her for saving my time.


Then we headed to the beach. L

Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba-photo20200518170624-2.jpg



Day 3 Noon: Reached the Viazul bus station in Varadero with the hopes of boarding the bus to Trinidad.

Experience Snippet 2:
The bus didn’t arrive for 3 hours. We waited indefinitely like our fellow travellers not knowing what to do. BTW without internet in Cuba, it was like the good ol days. You talk, observe and repeat the process. Some time later we heard a bus coming in. It was this modified truck with a completely closed carrier behind it. Looked like a war machine. Fortunately it wasn’t the replacement bus for us. It was for the locals. I have included the picture below. We were supposed to board by 12 and it was 3PM. Finally there was some commotion and the lack of Spanish made it tough to understand. A couple of fellow travellers from Italy told us that there is a replacement bus coming. We finally boarded around 4PM.

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Waiting for the bus !

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The bus that I thought I was going to board.



The bus was very comfortable with AC and I had a nice time watching the streets of rural Cuba while my wife was deep asleep. Some towns were lacking proper roads, there were run down buildings here and there. It was like travelling back in time.

On the way we saw thousands of crabs crossing from the mainland heading to the sea. The roads were full of them. We couldn’t get down to take a picture. It was quite a sight.

Experience Snippet 3:
en route we stopped at a famous French influenced town called Cienfuegos. We were allowed to go for refreshments in the bus terminal. The washrooms are just like India. There will be gate blocker asking for change. With prior experience for 3 decades back home, I quickly shoved 25 cents into her hand and started my business. There was old guy who was struggling to make a conversation with the gate keeper lady. He was asking her how much and she was saying “deniro” and this was going on for 5 mins and was fun to watch.

We finally reached Trinidad around 8:30 PM and took a rickshaw to our Airbnb

Experience Snippet 4:
After getting down from the rickshaw I gave the x number of CUC’s and was waiting for change. The young fellow wanted to make some quick bucks. He was supposed to give me back 2 CUC’s. But he rather gave me 2 CUP’s. I read about this famous scandal and told him I want CUCs. Then he obliged and gave me CUCs instead.

Had a good night sleep and woke up the next day to the charm of Trinidad.

Trinidad: (Day 3, 4 and 5 )Its a beautiful colonial town which flourished back in the late 18th/ early 19th century because of the sugar industry. Its got gorgeous cobblestone streets with rich history behind each building. The streets are very colourful laden with colonial buildings and numerous restaurants. Trinidad is known for its music scene and I thoroughly enjoyed it every bit.



Trinidad has a lot of places to be spent time with.
1. Topes de Collantes: A beautiful mountain range to do some trekking.
2. Playa Ancón (Ancón Beach): Not as pristine as Varadero. But it’s a really carefree beach. I mean a really carefree beach.
3. Old Town of Trinidad: Gorgeous place to take a walk back in time
4. Sugar mills: When I came to Cuba, I wanted to gulp coconut water and sugarcane juice. But they are not as abundant like I expected. Sugar mills are the only place where you can pour a glass of sweet sugar cane juice down your throat.

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A view of the town

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CobbleStoned Streets

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Random

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Random

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One of our favorite restaurants. La Botija in Trinidad

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The only place where i gulped a couple of sugarcane juices.


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Typical Cuban Street with a rainbow


Experience Snippet 5:
I haven’t really got the hang of when to use Amigo and when to use Señor. When I was asking for directions in Spanish to a bunch of old men sitting idle in a street corner, I addressed them as Señor. I guess he got really happy and congratulated me for my good Spanish accent.

After having a really relaxing 3 days, we started our way to the infamous Havana. The bus was on time this time.


Havana(Day 6 and 7):
It’s just like India. Once we got down the bus, cab folks started approaching us from all directions. We shared the cab with 2 French girls and they got down as we got down near our Airbnb too. When asked , they said they don’t want to travel alone in the cab. Havana is a place to be a little cautious.

We didn’t have much of plan in Havana except for the below
1. Visit the town of old Havana
2. Visit the Plaza de la Revolución.
3. Visit Ernest Hemingway’s house.

We did the first 2 and couldn’t find time for the 3rd since its a little far from town. We took a walking tour of the old city with a group and it was fun and interactive. All in all we had fun in Havana just walking in the various parts of the city, eating local food, getting cheated buying cigar and etc.


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National Capital Building

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Our walking tour

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A government building

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Random

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One of many charming town squares.

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High entrances for horses to enter.


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Street Musician. He sounded awesome !


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Hemingway's signature. See if you can spot it.


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Weird PostBox


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Street Art


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Old Havana Streets leading to the national capital building.


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Malecon 1


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The famous National Hotel which witnessed the revolution !! I had to take this picture from a tram. So it wasn't very clear. Heard this hotel walls still have the shell and bullets based damages.


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Plaza de la Revolución.


Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba-photo20200518170624-11.jpg

Malecon 2

Experience Snippet 6:
We finally headed to the bus station where we were dropped earlier to board the bus to Varadero Airport. When we went there, we realized that the boarding bus terminal is different from the one we were in. Since the AirBnb host didn’t speak a word of English, we could'nt ask for anything. Again in the bus station, due to language differences, many cab drivers were ready to drive us to Varadero for a steep cost. Finally I met a fellow tourist and asked him for help. That is when we realized we were in the wrong terminal and he helped us take a cab to the new one. The cab driver was swift and dropped us right on time and at the right terminal.

We had our final cuban lunch with Pina Colada and boarded the flight to Toronto.


Interesting things
1. There is no internet globally available. You have to buy a wifi card by standing in queue and using designated wifi spots to use the card and thereby internet. One card lasts for 1 hour.
2. The government has ice cream parlours called Coppelia and people hang out there as families to enjoy ice cream.
3. Cab drivers can earn more than Doctors (speculation).
4. The presence of 2 currencies.
5. The freedom fighting starts way back in the 19th century by Jose Marti against the Spanish and then followed by Fidel Castro and the legendary Ernesto Che Guevara against America.
6. You can find cups, shirts, caps, plates and whatnot with Che Guevara on it. But not one with Fidel Castro. Seems like it was Mr.Castro’s personal preference.
7. America has still its presence in there at the south end of the country known as Guantanamo Bay.

Takeaways:

1. Cuba thrives on tourism at least now after the world’s sugar consumption came down.
2. It is very safe and people think twice before doing something to a tourist.
3. There have been petty theft cases in Havana. But it’s still good to be cautious in any big city all over the world.
4. People are warm and friendly and go out of their way to help you.
5. But poverty is another thing I witnessed. I was able to afford a cab and most local people can’t and obviously the priority goes for the tourist. Local people could be suffering due to tourism.
6. The music is outstanding.
7. There is more to Cuba than just resorts and it is safe to explore the other parts of the country.


All in all we enjoyed our stay in Cuba by
1. Staying in local residences
2. Eating local food
3. Travelling by local buses
4. Meeting fellow travellers. (I cant call myself one though)
5. Trying out Spanish.
6. Dancing to the peppy tunes.
7. Witnessing salsa.
8. Endlessly waiting for the bus
9. Swimming in one of the pristine beaches ever.
10. Standing in line to use the internet and the list goes on.


I used the below well put website for my travel information.

https://capturetheatlas.com/trinidad...omplete-guide/

Last edited by Rubbertramps : 20th June 2020 at 17:58.
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Old 20th June 2020, 01:00   #2
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Default re: Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba

Not ending the post without cars !


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Some more pics.


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Our Airbnb backyard.

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Random

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He said he is 1 year short of 100.

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A typical Wifi spot

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Beautiful sunset at the Playa Ancon

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Selling Bananas

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Canada is a major tourism supporter for Cuba.

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Interesting restaurant with money hanging on the ceiling.

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Midnight. Waiting outside one of the best restaurants.

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Waiting in line for the Viazul Bus in the early hours.

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Standing in line to purchase the wifi card.

Last edited by Rubbertramps : 20th June 2020 at 01:15.
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Old 20th June 2020, 01:49   #3
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Default re: Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba

Wow. Amazing travelogue and lucky you. Cuba is really beautiful. I should kill you for not satisfying my appetite by not posting more pictures. :-) of this amazing place.

Regards,
Krishna
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Old 22nd June 2020, 07:10   #4
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Default Re: Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!

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Old 22nd June 2020, 11:57   #5
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Default Re: Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba

Excellent travelogue, Rubbertramps!

Especially in times like these, locked into our homes, these beautiful pictures of the outside world, bumbling and bustling with life,are indeed both eye and mouth watering!

Of course, much has been said about Cuba's car culture. Although Russian Ladas have been very popular among beaurucrats, it's the classic American cars lovingly maintained by the community that really takes your breath away!

Clarkson is no stranger to any car community, but anyone who hasn't seen his old BBC Motorworld series might want to check them out on YouTube. In this episode on Cuba, he finds out how the community by sheer improvisation and crafty skills, is able to maintain their old Buicks, Chevys and Fords in pristine condition, decades after US severed diplomatic relations with the country, with the availability of spare parts out of the question. Worth checking out:

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Old 22nd June 2020, 12:04   #6
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Looks very clean, like a european country. Is most of cuba like this? Im very impressed.
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Old 22nd June 2020, 12:05   #7
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Amazing Travelogue. Cuba is fantastic! It's on my bucket list along with Costa Rica.
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Old 22nd June 2020, 12:31   #8
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Awesome travelogue Rubbertramps! Came as a breath of fresh air in this tough testing time of Covid. Pictures of cars are awesome. I spot lots of old Ladas & Opels here in Tajikistan. People use them to transport their harvests like strawberries, Watermelons etc.to the markets.

Can you share the accommodation costs & travel costs within the country?
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Old 22nd June 2020, 13:21   #9
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Default Re: Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba

Amazing travelogue about Cuba.
About internet, isn't mobile internet using 4G available in Cuba?
I loved how you wrote your experience snippets and fine details about two type of currencies.

And how is it on visa front? I have heard that you have to buy some coupons from airlines for visa.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rubbertramps View Post

4. Sugar mills: When I came to Cuba, I wanted to gulp coconut water and sugarcane juice. But they are not as abundant like I expected. Sugar mills are the only place where you can pour a glass of sweet sugar cane juice down your throat.
This is expectation versus reality. It happens at many places around the world.
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Old 22nd June 2020, 16:46   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rubbertramps View Post

All in all we enjoyed our stay in Cuba by
1. Staying in local residences
2. Eating local food
Very nice travelogue sir!, If I may ask, could you put up some more pictures of the local food?
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Old 23rd June 2020, 20:41   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nikhilck View Post
Looks very clean, like a european country. Is most of cuba like this? Im very impressed.
No sir. I have seen pretty badly rundown streets and small towns. Trinidad is UNESCO world heritage site. That is one of the reasons it looks well maintained. But it more or less resembles India with both extremes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RahuKetu View Post
Awesome travelogue Rubbertramps! Came as a breath of fresh air in this tough testing time of Covid. Pictures of cars are awesome. I spot lots of old Ladas & Opels here in Tajikistan. People use them to transport their harvests like strawberries, Watermelons etc.to the markets.

Can you share the accommodation costs & travel costs within the country?
Flights for 2 people to and fro: 1000 CAD
Accomodations: You can get decent accommodation from 50CAD. Total of 400 CAD
Food: We had to eat out always and hence it was a little expensive to eat in good restaurants. There are some good less expensive street food available too. I would say allocate 300 CAD to 500 CAD for food.

InCountry Travel: I think I spent close to 130 CAD for bus and 50 CAD for cabs.


Quote:
Originally Posted by rst89 View Post
Amazing travelogue about Cuba.
About internet, isn't mobile internet using 4G available in Cuba?
I loved how you wrote your experience snippets and fine details about two type of currencies.

This is expectation versus reality. It happens at many places around the world.
No mobile internet was not available when we went or it was way too expensive. I had to offload maps to my mobile for navigation.

Yes. The airlines I flew provided the visa form and you have to fill it out in the flight before immigration. I am not sure about the process for US. Heard its way tighter. I used Canadian Bank ATM cards in the ATMs in Havana. US cards might not work. They might have to transfer money to a known Cuban. Its crazy !!


The two currencies was interesting to us as well. I have both of them with me. I didn't want to post pictures of them here fearing it might be against the rules.




Quote:
Originally Posted by ike View Post
Very nice travelogue sir!, If I may ask, could you put up some more pictures of the local food?
Unfortunately I could not take more pictures as we were ready to gulp it as always. My bad. I will make sure I take more pictures next time. Eyeing Chile and Iguazu for a long time now.

Last edited by Rubbertramps : 23rd June 2020 at 20:44.
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Old 26th June 2020, 14:08   #12
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Default Re: Experiencing the Cuban Charm! A week in Cuba

Its quite rare people travel to such places.. it is interesting to get first hand account of such places sitting at the comfort of our homes. Thanks for bringing us such a wonderful travelogue.
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