Advantages Tropical Paradise, Havana, All inclusive hotels.
Disadvantages Scary Customs.
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
Visas and Vaccinations
There were no visas necessary for entry and because US customs take a dim view of people who go to Cuba they stamp an insert for your passport that can be discarded (or kept) afterwards. If you are taking this as part of a larger tour then you cannot fly to Cuba from the USA, but will need to go from Canada, Mexico or a Caribbean Island. Hepatitis A&B and Diphtheria vaccinations are recommended though we did not have them due to the last minute booking. If you do not have them be careful in local restaurants stick away from anything like salads washed and left to stand in local water and obviously drink bottled water vaccinations or not.
Cuba covers an area of 110,860 km² (roughly half the size of the UK) and has an average temperature of 21 °C in January and 27 °C in July (hitting highs of the low 30s) which is about perfect for me. The capital is Havana. Cuba has excellent literacy rates and a health service which is the envy of the region and has seen a rise in health tourism over the last few years.Currency
Flights and Arrivals
We flew with Airtours from London and the flight took about seven and a quarter hours. Leg room was very cramped for a long haul flight and at one point I had a small altercation with the person who was unable to put their seat back (as I'm 6'2 and have legs) but this was easily solved by a quick seat swap.
Of course because of this, I get through the customs only to find….. No case… So I am taken into the back of the customs office and put into an office, in walks a guy in full military uniform, cigar hanging from his lips. He sits in front of me, leans in closer and says 'I hear we have a problem' He takes a large folder out and places it in front of me and… It is full of pictures of suitcases. This guy clearly wishes he was ferreting out enemies of the revolution but actually he is in charge of left luggage. Anyhow turns out mine is in London and will reach me on day 6 of the holiday via Holland, Germany and Holland again.Varadero and Accommodation
Whenever travelling All Inclusive your holiday is likely to be dominated by the quality of the hotel. We were staying in the Sol Elite Palmeras hotel and resort. Upon arrival we were immediately asked if we would like to be bumped up to our own bungalow, never one to turn down a freebie I immediately agreed and we got our own little place with living room, bedroom and a large bathroom in a nice little setting. Top marks for the room. The hotel had the usual mini-golf, 5 pools, table tennis, buffet restaurants and numerous bars. It was all excellent and very relaxing.Meals were basically all day long and had a good selection of local dishes (plantain, breadfruit etc) and more standard fare (bacon and eggs for breakfast) my wife was very impressed that she could have ice cream for breakfast. Drinks as well are included and a variety of Caribbean cocktails were consumed including the Mojito, basically rum, and soda water with sugar and mint.
Varadero itself did not really have a huge amount to offer, there were quite a good number of high end clothes shops (good as I had no clothes and was buying on my travel insurance). It is mainly hotels and beaches and has a large nature reserve. I guess it would be possible to have a very relaxing and filling holiday hanging around the hotel and beaches but personally I like to get out and about so on with the excursions.Nature Preserve
We arrived at the centre of the preserve where they have a little zoo where you can hold alligators (my wife went for a turtle) and see more flamingos. That is before another hair raising jet-ski experience. This was a good day out but really did not need the insane speed (my wife refused to drive her leg).Havana (Twinned with Glasgow)
We bought Havana cigars, were accosted by women in Cuban dress who kept threatening to kiss us for a dollar and had lunch in a fine Havana restaurant. At one point a guy with one leg asked us for a dollar, we gave him one but 30 secs later 3 policemen whisked him off the street. Clearly hassling the tourists is not on.I wished I had had more time to explore properly, it is fantastic to see a city that is unsullied by the standard corporate façade of every capital city. It is also full of museums that we did not really have time to visit.
Bay of Pigs
Our final excursion was to Snuba (yes Snuba) off the Bay of Pigs. We were driven there by local guides who said they would talk about anything except politics. They were clearly running an illegal fruit swapping ring in the villages we ran through, buying our silence with fruit. In Cuba hitchhiking is compulsory and managed by the Police at intersections unless of course you are conveying tourists.
Time soon ran short and the last day came around. To celebrate my wife and I and a few other people we had befriended decided that we would celebrate the night in style at the All Inclusive bar. We played a game called 3 Jacks, where the cards are dealt round until a Jack arrives, the first person nominates a drink, the second goes and gets it and the third drinks it. I remember my wife coughing green chartreuse over the table and us all going swimming in our underwear very very drunk.
Shopping in Cuba revolves around rum and cigars, considering a litre of rum costs about $3 its daft not to buy your quota of top quality stuff. As to cigars, $100 will get you 20 of Havana's finest. This seems expensive but consider the same would cost you maybe £300-400 back in the UK. Be aware that people will constantly try to sell you cigars at low prices but these are often simply banana leaves stuffed with cigarette tobacco. Be aware that you are very likely to be searched on arrival in the UK so check your allowances carefully.
I loved Cuba, lots to see and a different culture, I would certainly recommend it as an opportunity to have a Caribbean holiday with a bit of difference.
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70cl / 38% - A blend of aged cuban rum and grape juice pepped up by macerating raisins in the liquid for a sweet and punchy liqueur.
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