Travel time: 04/2016
Cuba is fully booked. Occasionally e.g. Eastern in Viñales: After hours of knocking on doors of casas (unfortunately many casas have no sign if "disponible" or "ocupado"), friendly casa owners picking up the phone to call others and asking taxi drivers (last option, minimum 10 CUC commission) you may end up at a place far away from your wanted destination or in a very expensive hotel.
Don't travel anywhere in Cuba without reservation. So be sure to have a reservation before you start to a new destination.
For Cuba the most important to bring is a lot of patience. Wherever you are in need of any service (shops, ticket offices, hotel receptions, restaurants, rental cars, visa extension, internet, etc., etc.) you first have to queue. Now you have normally a lot of time to observe how unstructured and unorganized things are getting done here. Once it's your turn don't expect to be served immediately as the service stuff may need to go for their break now, talk to colleagues, serve a friend who just showed up or for any other more important things. This applies especially to government owned businesses (most in Cuba) as the stuff here gets its (very small) monthly salary if they do their job well or not. So why should they be attentive.
It's a good idea to take a torch or mobile phone with flashlight with you if you go out at night as dependent on the area power shortages can be very common (e.g. Baracoa).
It's only available on public squares and the more expensive hotels and beach resorts. To connect you need an ETECSA card which gives you half (1 CUC) or one hour (2 CUC) internet time. You can get this cards at Telefonica offices (bring your passport and lot of time for registration of each single card), the more expensive hotels/resorts at the reception or ask around at the square where you have usually to pay one CUC extra for the organization service.
In rural areas no WiFi at all. Internet connection via phone is very slow. Count an hour to book a casa.
Often casas will display on the different websites that they are available for the wanted period of time. At the end it will turn out that they are booked. Also here you have to bring a lot of patience.
Warning: Some casa owners are misusing the websites by giving away the reserved room for a better offer. So it could be that you turn up with a proper reservation and the casa is full. Complaints neither at the owner nor the website office will not help you getting the room you have reserved. You just get back the reservation fee (if applicable). Just read the comments of travellers at the casa details carefully and leave a comment accordingly if this happen to you.
- MyCasaParticular.com is a good option to book casas ahead of arrival to a service cost of 10 Euro booking fee and ~18 MB for a single reservation request. At booking you have also to pay 20% of the sum to the casa owner (fair enough).
- Cubasolidays.com charges 5 CUC per night from the casa owner and the website has many errors. Forget the use of Smartphone, iPhone or tablet: Maps can not be closed, calendar might be dispay wrong dates, entering city names may not work (Viñales is not equal to Vinales not equal to viñales), etc. Takes ~15 MB per booking. Very annoying especially together with the slow Cuban internet.
Absolutely not recommendable. Better to call the casa directly and save 5 CUC per night of your stay.
- GalaHotels.com specialised in hotels and resorts have often rooms available when the official booking page Cubaism.com is already fully booked.
MAESTRO cards are not working anywhere in Cuba. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted at ATMs but you have to pay a service charge of 3% to the local bank in addition to the charge of the card distributor. Most ATMs have a limit of 40 banknotes. If there is more than one ATM next to each other check for the highest banknotes issued (5/10/20 CUC). Now you can calculate the maximum amount you can apply for. With foreign credit cards you only get CUC. For Peso National ($) you have to attempt a money changer.
For the visa extension bring:
- Tourist card
- Confirmation of health insurance (best in Spanish)
- Banderas (stamps) worth 25 CUC
- 1/2 day time.
The 25 CUC banderas are the service fee at the office for the visa extension and are available at certain banks. Ask at the bank before you queue because not all do offer the banderas. To pay the fee in cash at the office will not be accepted and they do not offer any banderas.
Cuba has summer and winter time which differs for 1 hour and will be adapted normally from Friday to Saturday. Get informed at which day this happens.
Viazul bus company has a very good website (www.viazul.com) in Spanish and English. But it accepts bookings only a minimum of one week ahead of travel.
Once you have registered you can book all you bus connections online. Important to print out your booking as this acts as a voucher which you have to change to a ticket at the bus station the hour before departure. If the office at the bus station is online you can show the reservation on your computer/tablet but if the connection is not available you will not be able to board the bus without printed voucher.
Some staff charges for each larger luggage 1 CUC which is illegal.
Usually the busses are freezing cold so wear warm cloth and bring a piece of cardboard to block the air ventilation over you because often the regulation is broken.
Cuba is almost perfect for cycling once outside the big cities. Low and peaceful traffic, almost no mountains and most of the dogs are ignorant to cyclists. Only when one of the large trucks is overtaking you better swap your gasmask over your face. Punch repair stations are widely spread but spare parts are critical and often very old-fashion.
If you like to help a local family bring a bike which you and donate it at the end of your journey. Some airlines take the bike for free to Cuba if you promise to donate it there.
Download Havana.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Stay in Havana Vieja because it's much livelier, offers more opportunities at day and especially at night. It's also a bit less noisy here especially in the pedestrian areas.
Official taxi to/from the airport is 40 CUC, private taxi 20 CUC and colectivo even cheaper. If you ask drivers for a suitable accommodation add 10 CUC commission for the first night of your accommodation.
To get breakfast is difficult if not included into your stay as most restaurants and coffee bars open earliest at 10:00. Hotel Inglaterra next to the Parque Central offers a nice breakfast buffet from 7:00 for only 6 CUC for externals.
Casa Raul y Maylin at Ave. 184 #25325, % 136 y 251 Rio Verde Boyeros, Tel.: 76456486 and 52844523 is only 5 minutes by taxi (5 CUC) from the airport away. Perfect location if you have to catch an early flight or need only to stay overnight. For 20 CUC you get a large room with AC, TV, own bathroom with shower. The interior is well used as often in Cuba. No WiFi.
The owner Raulito speaks English well and some German and is very friendly and helpful. He runs a restaurant at the same spot (Monday closed) where you can have your breakfast and dinner.
It's not too noisy here but better to bring ear plugs as the casa is located next to the main road.
Recommendable for one night.
Casa Juan y Margarita at Ave. Obispo Nr. 522, Villegas & Bernaza, Tel.: 78679592 is located in a pedestrian area in Havana Vieja. Because the next restaurant is some block away (noisy live music) it is very calm here as long as you do not turn on the very noisy AC. The English speaking and extreme helpful owner Señor Aisle offers 3 different rooms: Two rooms with "king size" beds, shared bathroom and a windowless common area (30 CUC) including fridge and one larger apartment with private bathroom (35 CUC).
One room with shared bathroom has a very soft and very well used mattress, only a small window and a very noisy AC. So it's getting hot in here. The other better room has a firmer mattress and a balcony. Both have fan mounted to the wall, very noisy AC. No WiFi.
As the casa is in a pedestrian area the taxi can not drop you right in front but the next taxi stop is less than 100 meters away.
Not recommendable because of the worn mattress and noisy AC.
Try one of the sandwich (8 $) or pizza (10 $) offered through the windows of private homes. Cheap and mostly very good.
The Hop-on Hop-off bus starts from the Parque Central and offers two different routes: T1 for 10 CUC covers the western part of Havana, takes around 1.5 hours and stops only at three tourist attractions. The rest of the tour is hotels or neighbourhoods. T3 for 5 CUC goes to the east up to Playa Santa Maria within 30 minutes with only the fort as tourist attraction. Tickets can not be combined. For a less crowded and more natural beach than Playa Santa Maria take T3 and leave at the very last stop after Hotel Tropical Coco. Next to this bus stop is also a recommendable restaurant with live music at the late afternoon.
The visit of the big fort is a tourist rip-off: First you have to pay 2 CUC to get to the entrance. Than you have to pay another 6 CUC to get into the fort just to discover a lot of rubbish is laying around. At the bus stop next to the fort is a kiosk charging 3 CUC for a small bottle of water. Not worth to come here. From the small fort you have almost the same views but for free.
Isla de la Juventud
Download Isla de la Juventud.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Scuba diving is the main attraction at Isla de la Juventud and the only spot to do so is at the south west edge of the island which is inside the military zone. The only way to get there is by own boat (with registration at the military harbour before) or with the International Dive Center located at the harbour.
The Hotel Colony some 1.5 km away from the harbour is the best and only accommodation close-by. Next closer accommodation is in Nueva Gerona some 45 km away. The hotel offers apartments, standard bungalows and two story bungalows. All are clean, well maintained, with silent AC and flat TV. Use of the save is 2 CUC per day extra.
The standard bungalows are large enough for two persons, have medium firm mattresses and a separate bath room with shower. All have a nice terrace all with sea view. Take care at the evening because of the very little but itchy mosquitoes and keep all windows closed as they do not have mosquito nets. Hint: Avoid the apartments at weekend as it can get very noisy when the weekenders from Havana start their party here.
Choice at breakfast is very limited but OK, dinner offers a bit more choice but do not expect anything special. From morning until late a bar offers soft and alcoholic drinks for reasonable prices. The pool area is a bit very small if the hotel would be fully booked. Forget the beach as the water is very shallow (less than a meter) even 100 meters off shore, dotted with sea urchins and no beach equipment present.
From the airport to Hotel Colony it's 50 minutes and 25 CUC with official taxi. Late arrivals may have to spend 40 CUC by private taxi. So pre-arrange your pickup via the hotel.
There are 3 busses daily from Nueva Gerona to Hotel Colony and return covering also the villages in-between. Ask at the reception for the actual schedule.
Scuba diving: The International Center is 1.5 km from the Hotel Colony away. At 8:30 starts the free bus from to the harbour. After the registration you get your gear (10 CUC per day, no computer rental). The gear is good but only snorkelling fins available. Bring thick socks or your own fins to avoid blisters. Lunch is 10 CUC extra and tastes good. Only if you book the lunch you get a 1.5 litre bottle of water together. Otherwise stock up at the small kiosk next to the dive center.
Both of the two different dive boats need urgent maintenance. It's getting very cosy with more than 10 customers on board. The instructors Henry and Carlos speak fluently English and are very informative. The dive area offers 56 dive spots but many are very similar. The dive sites are well preserved, no broken corals and no rubbish lies around. Most dive spots are shallow with maximum depth of 15 meters with visibility of +30 meters. Only after a storm the visibility drops to 15 meters but clears up quickly after two days. The downside is the long transfer to the dive spots which takes a bit less than 1.5 hours one way when the sea is flat and 2.5 hours at rough sea.
Normally the boat leaves around 9:30. After the first dive you get a hot and sweet tea. Lunch will be served after the second dive at around 14:30. So do not expect to be back before 16:30.
A good alternative would be Maria
Download Baracoa.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s, the track to Yumuri and the hiking tour there for your gps device.
Baracoa is a very tranquil village divided into a more touristy part and two local parts. The smaller one towards the airport and a larger one across the Rio Miel. Around Plaza Independencia you will find live music with dancing possibilities almost every night. At certain times of the day it gets a bit too touristy when the tour busses are stopping here.
Casa Caracol at Flor Crombet Nr. 216, Roberto Reyes & Coroneles Galano, Tel.: 21 643010, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, is located close to the center of Baracoa has three very different rooms. One of them at the second floor next to the main entrance has two large beds. One with softer and one with firmer mattress. The room is sufficient for two, comes with noisy AC, fan on the ceiling, a huge mini-bar with cool water, soft drinks (1 CUC) and beer (1.5 CUC) and its own bathroom with shower. Attention: Keep a distance of 5 cm to the shower head while taking a shower because of the risk of an electrical shock or better switch off the circuit breaker of the heating next to the shower.
One other large room is on the third floor facing the rear of the casa. Also a good choice. The third double room at the second floor facing the rear is very tiny and only for a single recommendable.
The breakfast (3 - 5 CUC) will be served at the third floor where also a small terrace is located. Some guests complained about the size of the breakfast. The coffee is very strong and bitter and the orange juice sour. Large dinner is available for 10 CUC. The vegetarian white kidney bean stew was good. Not recommendable is the fish because it was covered with tons of garlic.
The owner Señora Ileana can speak English well and is very helpful. She can organize e.g. a bicycle for 5 CUC per day and laundry service (2 CUC, no ironing). The other staff can only speak Spanish. No WiFi, no chicas/chicos.
Recommendable except meals.
Restaurant La Colina at Calixto Garcia 158 (last road towards the hills), Tel.: 21 642658, email: email@example.com, offers very nice local meals for reasonable prices with a very attentive service. As the restaurant is located at the 4th floor you have a nice view across the village together with a cool breeze. Often they have BBQ and live music. Try the Naranja Portoplata if available, a juice from an orange fruit with a taste of grapefruit cultivated only in Baracoa region.
They also offer nice rooms (25 CUC incl. breakfast) and bicycles.
Restaurant Tato half the way from Baracoa to Boca de Yumuri is only worth a visit for its nice beach site. Very touristy and food is elsewhere better.
In the city center are two travel offices: Gaviota Tours at Hotel La Habanera and EcoTur at Hotstal 1511. Both are grouping their customers together so you can end up in a group of 18 or more people which is far too much for the visit of the Humboldt Parque (24 CUC). The Humboldt tours starts at 9:00 with the payment of the tour which take half an hour at a larger group. After entering the bus it takes another hour on bumpy road to the start of the hike.
At the normal hiking track you have to cross 11 times some streams. At rain weather the track will be changed to an alternative where only 3 times river crossings are necessary. Some area of the track is very steep and slippery if wet. After 2/3 of the hike a break of around 30 minutes is taken at a waterfall with the possibility to swim in the refreshing water.
Our guide Señior Profilio explained many interesting things about plants and traditions and helped the elderly customers down the steep decent to the waterfall.
On the way back the bus stops at Playa Maguana to spend an hour at the beach for relaxing and swimming. Back in Baracoa around 17:00.
With smaller group size recommendable so best to organize your own local guide.
A perfect day out for sportive travellers is to rent a bicycle and cycle to Boca de Yumuri (27 km / 365 hm). Passing a lot of local houses, farms, nice sea views and the village Jamal where you can stock up with supply.
At Yumuri whether you can take the short boat ride to the so-called island or do a very interesting hike through the hilly rural territory (7 km / 322 hm) with a perfect remote swim spot in the Yumuri canyon after the decent of the exhausting hills. After the rest the tour is on easy terrain, crossing two times the river, which ends at the so-called island from where you get back by boat. Ask around the bus stop for a local guide which speaks English. Señior Ramon Acosta Gusman is one of them and very recommendable. Including someone guarding your bike its 12 CUC all together. Bring own food and water. Ramon may be able to find a coconut for lunch at the swimming spot.
From the airport into the city take an environmental friendly bici taxi which costs 3 CUC. You will be asked to walk up a short ramp into the city as it is too steep to paddle the bici up there.
Viazul office at the bus station is open for reservation only from 8:30 to 11:00 at Monday to Saturday and 8:30 to 9:30 at Sunday. To change your printed voucher to a ticket just come here one hour before departure.
Santiago de Cuba
Download Santiago de Cuba.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s and the track for the Lonely Planet walking tour for your gps device.
Casa Colonial Lourdes at Felix Peña Nr. 454, San Francisco & San Geronimo, Tel.: 22 654468 is 2 minutes away from the main square and less than 15 minutes walking from the bus station. The owner Señor Juan speaks some English and offers two 2-bed rooms. One of the rooms has a window to the street where you can observe the people. The two rooms are equipped with two bed with large semi-firm mattress, are clean and a bit old-fashion, have its own bathroom with shower, a van at the ceiling and a noisy AC (do not touch the circuit breaker of the AC) and a mini bar. Breakfast is good with eggs of your choice. The casa has a "mirador" on the very top where you can relax with a cigar while having a view across the city.
The downside is the discotheque next to the casa which opens until early morning. So bring good ear plugs (as usual). No WiFi, no chicas/chicos.
Recommendable if some noise does not bother you.
At Parque Alameda facing the harbour (Bahia) are two floating restaurants. Nice view, nice breeze, almost only locals, cheap but not very recommendable food, slow and not very friendly service. Good for a drink. Pay in Peso or CUC.
The Lonely Planet walking tour is very nice because of its combination of very different areas, interesting museum and some plaza to recover. Start the tour early to avoid the heat and to be at the last destination (No. 17, Cuartel Moncada) before 13:00 at Sunday.
To get to the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro (4 CUC) catch the local bus No. 12 at one of the several stops at Ave. de los Libertadores (1 Peso, no change) close to the Cuartel Moncada (end of Lonely Planet walking tour). Leave the bus at the end of the line where it reverses (Ferry terminal to Cayo Granma and Playa Morro). Walk down the road and cross Playa Morro. Behind the playa is a low stonewall where a track starts uphill directly to the entrance of the fort. The spot is quite popular for the sunset view and its cannon shoot with some historical dressed actors.
Usually the Saturday street party starts around 19:00 at the pedestrian area and parks but if it's raining the party is cancelled and most of the music clubs will not open because people just stay at home.
For live Salsa music you have many options like:
- Casa de las Traditiciones (3 CUC): Small and mostly locals. Closes at midnight
- Casa Carribe (3 CUC): Mostly Rumba music and fewer tourists
- Casa la Trova (5 CUC): Very touristy and expensive drinks. When the tour groups are leaving around 22:30 the casa is suddenly half empty
- Terraza Matamoros (2-3 CUC): Opposite Casa la Trova with less tourists and more Cuban style. Closes at 1:00.
For disco music try:
- Casa de la Musica (3 CUC). Often Latin video clips but also other styles up to eTechno. Wishes are covered by the DJ. Reasonable prices (beer 1.5 CUC), smoking only at the toilets. It fills up after midnight when the others pubs are closing. Because of its black light illumination the couples are getting in closer contact here than elsewhere. Open until early morning.
Download Bayamo.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s and the track to Pico Turquino for your gps device.
Bayamo is also a tranquil small town where you can easily relax. Not many tourists because not much to discover here.
Visa extension can be done at the office at the corner of calle Bartolome Maso & 26 de Julio (map) less than 5 minutes walk from the city center. The necessary banderas (stamps) for 25 CUC can be purchased at the Banko de Creditos y Comercia at Ave. General Garcia No. 101 (pedestrian area).
Casa Balcon de Bayamo (sometimes also called Casa Olga) at calle Parada No. 16, Marti & Marmol, Tel.: 23 423859, offers two nice and clean rooms. One with one and the other with two beds with firm mattress. Both with own bathroom with shower (one / two). The extremely friendly owners Señora Olga (only Spanish) and Señor Jose (basic English) offer a great breakfast and delicious dinner on a nice terrace. From the balcony with rocking chairs you can watch the locals at the square and connect to the WiFi offered here. Chicas/chicos are allowed if they register with their passport.
The downside is the location at the main street and bus stop next to the casa which gets busy around 6:00.
From the bus station to the casa a bici taxi is 20 $.
Highly recommendable because of its very friendly owners and great meals.
The hike to Pico Turquino (map) will be very exhausting if you are not well trained: Its 11.8 km from the end of the road until you reach the peak with lots of ups (1729 hm) and downs (762 hm) and an uncountable numbers of natural steps.
The first day starts with a transfer to the visitor center close to Santo Domingo which takes around 1 hour from Bayamo and costs 35 CUC for up to 4 persons. Pick-up usually is around 7:00 at you accommodation. Once registered with your passport (good copy is accepted) at the visitor center its 57 CUC for the transfer from the visitor center to the end of the very steep road (4.7 km, 639 hm) with a 4x4 taxi, two days hike with guide, meals including tea and accommodation at Campo Joaquin. At around 10:00 the taxi drops you at the end of the road and you start the hike on less steep terrain.
After a short distance the track is getting narrower, more slippery (especially after rain) and much steeper. Steps, steps, steps with short horizontal connections in between. After 8.2 km with 944 hm up and 546 hm down you reach Campo Joaquin where you will stay for the night. Shortly after arrival a nice lunch is served. You can stock up with filtered (free) or bottled water (1.5 CUC) or have a beer (2 CUC) or two. You also can take an open public shower served from collected rain water and charge your devices with solar power.
Very relaxing here but after sunset the temperature can easily drop below 10 degrees. So bring something warm with you. Around 19:00 dinner will be served. As it's getting chilly after sunset most hikers went for their sleeping bags (lucky if you brought one) before 21:00. The covers on the beds and pillows were a bit smelly because of the high humidity. The blankets provided are not really keeping warm especially if some wind goes. Hikers without sleeping bag haven't had a good time at night.
The second day starts with a breakfast including coffee at 5:30. Start to Pico Torquino is at 6:00. You can leave everything not necessary for the peak at the camp and pick it up at the return. The track is similar to the first day but gets a bit rockier towards the end. Some great viewpoints in between. After 3.6 km with 785 hm up and 216 hm down you reach the top without any view except the statue of Señor Marti.
On the way back at a short stop at Campo Joaquin a slight lunch is offered before you decent to the end of the road where the 4x4 taxi brings you back to the visitor center.
An alternative is the crossing of Pico Torquino with a pick-up at the road along the coastline at the end of the hike. Larger luggage will be transferred too.
If you like to experience pure country life, stay at Casa Sierra Maestra (Tel. 52487811, email: firstname.lastname@example.org) located opposite of the visitor center. The owner Alexei speaks good English and offers several well equipped rooms (25 CUC) and bungalows (30 CUC). A restaurant offering good food is present too. Alexei might be able to arrange a taxi from Bayamo for only 20 CUC if you stay at his casa.
Highly recommended by other backpackers.
Download Camaguey.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Scenic city with a long pedestrian area.
Hotel Colon is located directly at the pedestrian area. The classical designed rooms with own bathroom with its high ceilings may attract enthusiasts. Unfortunately mostly very noisy tour groups are staying here just for a night. As the hotel is from historical time with air ventilation doors facing the aisle and no sound isolation expect a very high noise level at morning and night. Also avoid the time when the tour groups are taking their breakfast. After the tour groups most of the buffet is plundered. No WiFi. Chicas/chicos are allowed to stay at your room only for the night for 20 CUC extra (without breakfast).
The local farmers market at Carretera Central gives an impression of the difficulties Cubans faces in their normal live. Long queues in front of every booth and every booth offer only one or two items.
A bit disappointing is the nightlife which is almost not present. The very few bands stop their music mostly before 23:00 even at Saturday night. Two discotheques which are open till morning at Parque de Arena (Carretera Central Este and Narciso Montreal) might be an alternative.
From the bus station to the city center it should not be more than 3 CUC by bici taxi.
Viazul runs one bus daily to Playa Santa Lucia at 14:45 for only 8 CUC. Reservation can be made at the Viazul office at calle Revolucion No. 295. Open 9:00 - 16:00 except Sundays.
Playa Santa Lucia
Download Santa Lucia.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Beach resort Gran Club Santa Lucia is 1.2 km from Viazul bus station away and it can be tricky in the off-season to get a taxi for that distance. So best is to walk down the road to the direction you came from. Once you reached the front desk of the resort be lucky that no tour group just arrived. Otherwise take a seat and wait for an hour or so as only one person might handle all the check-in and check-out and all this not very structured.
The bungalows (once you found yours) are large with two king-size beds with firm mattresses which are a little bit worn. The rooms are not that clean, well used and could be maintained better. The rooms are equipped with flat TV, small refrigerator and an AC which is does not work very efficient. The curtains are opaque and large enough to cover the windows completely. The own bathroom with shower is sufficient. Try to get the upper level of a bungalow for a nicer view and more privacy and away from the stage area as it's quite noisy here until 23:00.
The beach is nice and cleaned every morning from eelgrass. The water is shallow but often with lots of floating eelgrass. Sun chairs and some shades are present. Funny that at this resort most of the sun chairs are not "reserved" with towels early morning in opposition to the adjacent resorts where ALL chairs are already "reserved" before 8:00. Small sailboats and kayaks are also available. A rustic beach pub offers drinks and snacks almost 24 hours.
The pool area is sufficient at low season but at peak season far too small as all facilities: Pool bar, coffee bar, recreation bar (coffee & drinks 24h), buffet restaurant with different choices every day from reasonable quality and taste and two a la carte restaurants (pasta/seafood) where you need a reservation for. Not really worth the effort as the Italian only serves pasta and the inside of the seafood restaurant is very fishy smelling. An entertainment stage, game area, discotheque, kids club and travel agencies for day tours (schedule), rental cars or bicycles (don't rent this scrap metal), gym (badly maintained) are also present.
Most of the staff is able to speak at least one foreign language, very friendly and helpful if they are not busy by talking to each other. They offer different activities every day from morning till late afternoon. WiFi is available at the reception and at the pool area for 2 CUC per hour. Necessary ETECSA cards are available at the reception.
Hint: Bring your own isolated mug to avoid getting a new disposable plastic cup with every drink you order at one of the many bars.
Scuba diving with Sharks Friends adjacent to Gran Club resort is only exciting if sharks are present from April until November. The rental equipment they offer is not well maintained and the instructors do not seek for interesting things at the dive. The dive area is also not very interesting as colourful corals are missing (mostly brown algae) and fishes are not in large numbers. A bit boring here and 40 CUC per dive including rental gear.
The day tour to Playa Bonita by catamaran is worth its 72 CUC. Be picked at the hotel at 9:30 and transferred to the harbour (10 minutes) where you enter a large catamaran (which runs on engine and not by sail). Make yourself comfortable, grab a drink from the bar and enjoy the one hour trip across the channel. Before you enter Playa Bonita you stop for another hour at a shallow coral reef for snorkelling. Snorkel gear is available onboard. As the water is very shallow you can see many fishes. In total the snorkelling was far better than the scuba diving.
Later you will be dropped off at the nice and beautiful Playa Bonita. Half an hour later a nice lunch is served. Relax at the beach until the catamaran leaves at 15:00. On the way back the crew does a short stop to collect some starfishes to show around.
Recommendable day out with not more than 20 guests but they take up to 60!
Coco beach some 10 km to the west is worth a visit because of its beauty and seclusion. Beside the beach is a commercial (Bucanero) and private (La Dueña) restaurant. There are also two casa:
- Casa Yuli, Tel. (53) 52392339, is next to the shore and offers one simple but well maintained room with AC and own bathroom with hot shower. Friendly English speaking owner Yuli charges 25 CUC per night and offers breakfast and meals as well.
- Hostal Coco Beach is the second option (sorry, no details. You may ask Yuli for the telephone number if he is booked).
Viazul runs a bus daily from Trinidad to Santa Lucia with a stop-over at Camagüey at 14:45 reaching Viazul bus terminal at Santa Lucia at around 16:45. The bus returns at 11:00 from Viazul bus terminal to Trinidad. It's 8 CUC from/to Camagüey. For the return it is told just to show up an hour before departure but at peak season its better to insist of a reservation.
Ciego de Avila
Download Ciego de Avila.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Nothing interesting here.
Hotel Ciego de Avila is at the edge of the city located at a park with a lake and some open air bars (which are luckily closing at night). All this bars have loud music but to loudest music comes from the hotel pool. So you will have all day the pool music also at your room.
The rooms are large enough for two, the beds have medium hard mattress and are a bit worn. The bathroom with shower was OK. The AC is more an air blower than regulating any temperature. The only modern item in the room is the flat TV. The rest looks from 30 years ago. In the moment the hotel is under refurbishment and some of the rooms are already refurbished and equipped with a well working AC..
The hotel has also an open air coffee bar open 24h at the ground floor and a "discotheque" to meet local ladies. The breakfast buffet is just acceptable. No WiFi.
Jardines de la Reina
Download Jardines de la Reina.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Looking for sharks? Diving with sharks? Surrounded by ten or more? Caribbean reef, nurse, silky sharks? This is the spot to visit!
Booking through the informative website www.cubandivingcenters.com/en is easy. Only a list of the major hotels in Havana where customers will get a pick-up is missing. Communication by email quick so request this list before you book accommodation in Havana.
Pick-up by bus from some major hotels in Havana is around 4:00 early morning for the transfer with arrival at Embarcadero de Jucaro between 10:00 and 11:00. Individual approach by taxi from Ciego de Avila costs around 20 CUC and takes less than an hour. After all passports were collected for registration and the customers sorted to the different boats they leave the harbour around mid-day. On the dive boat Halcon immediately a nice lunch is served.
At around 17:00 the boat reaches the dive base where also the floating hotel Flotante Tortuga is located in a natural harbour protected by Mangroves. Here you get your rental gear and stay over night. The rental gear (wetsuit 35, BCD 35, regulator 25 CUC per week, fins and weight belt free) was in acceptable condition but for BCDs and wetsuits they may not have enough pieces with your preferred size available to cover all customers. So you may end up with a BCD a bit too large and a wetsuit a number too small.
Wakeup at 7:00 for a good breakfast with coffee, tea, eggs (no individual choice), cheese, salami, yogurt and fresh fruits. Start to the first dive site by a small and speedy boat is around 8:15 and the transfer takes usually 5 to 15 minutes. Briefing, take on your gear and flip from the side of the boat into the water. The group needs to follow the instructor. No individual dives. Dive time is limited between 45 to 55 minutes dependent on the depth and the instructor gives annoying noise signals if you want to stay a bit longer. After the dive you return to the Halcon where you are welcome with coffee and tea and the staff changes the tanks. One hour later you start to the second dive with the same procedure. After return a nice lunch is served. Now you can relax until 14:30 where you leave for the third and last dive of the day. At your return a Mojito (or two) welcomes you together with some pizza snacks. A great dinner is served around 19:30. Vegetarians have to survive with rice, potatoes, bean with tomato salad and fruits. Included in the dive package are 36 drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) as well as the Mojitos after the last dive and wine (red/white) for the dinner. All additional drinks cost extra.
The dive sites are very interesting with loads of sharks at almost every dive. Turtles, rays, morays, huge groupers, snappers and lots of other fishes often in big size. Only macro live is very limited. The corals are in good condition but mostly covered by brown algae. So also here as elsewhere at Cuba you have lots of brown colours underwater. For the first two dive days the boat will move to a spot more close to the south side of the archipelago. At this spot you may even be able to swim with two small crocodiles and you get the possibility to discover the wildlife on one of the islands of the archipelago.
The crew is helpful but also a bit chaotic and sometimes you think they do their job the first time ever. We never received an instruction where the life jackets are located, what to do in case of fire (even there are no smoke detectors) or any other emergency case. At the introduction round of the crew the instructor did not know the names of some of his colleagues. Our two dive guides were not very active while diving. Often they just floated around without searching for interesting things, did not keep the two dive groups (4 and 6 divers) separated and went against the current (very exhausting) which in total was not very professional. But from time to time they took some fish down in a cage to attract the sharks which often worked that well that we ended up surrounded by more than 10 sharks waiting for their meal.
The Halcon is not very suitable for scuba diving because there is no freshwater tank to flush your gear, no charging station for batteries, no dry area to prepare cameras, no sundeck, nothing to proper dry your dive equipment. The other facilities are as limited as usually: Small cabins (2 x for couples at the bow, 2 x very small double occupied by a single person next to the kitchen, 2 x shared in-between) with small beds with thin foam mattresses, 3 small shared bathrooms (one with a smelly toilet as the pump was not able to empty the bowl completely, one with without toilet seat for a few days as the crew did not repair it), a small living area which does not accommodate all guests and a dining area.
No mobile phone reception and usually no WiFi. Only if the boat is close to hotel Flotante Tortuga you may catch some very slow WiFi signal from them. No mosquitoes in March.
All together there is a high potential for improvements.
Still highly recommendable if you are looking for sharks instead of the small things.
Download Trinidad.zip as gpx file with the Lonely Planet Walking Tour and some more PIO´s for your gps device.
Trinidad has a pretty old part of town with cobblestone streets and loads of restaurants.
Don't come here without reservation as it is very touristy.
Casa El Mirador is just 100 meters from the Viazul bus terminal and the taxi colectivo stop. The rooms (35 CUC) are a bit small and have windows only to the aisle or staircase. This is also the cause why the rooms do not cool down at night. You have to turn on the AC and close the window shutters therefore as they do not have glasses installed. At my room one larger bed had a semi-firm spring mattress and the smaller one from softer foam.
The bathroom with shower is very small and it was not possible to close the door at my room for the toilet. No TV, no WiFi, no laundry service on Sundays. Breakfast on the nice rooftop terrace with very little shade coasts 5 CUC extra.
The RAMBO day tour by Cubatur for 47 CUC starts by taking your seat on the platform of an open truck for a maximum of 21 tourists. This gives you good possibilities for photo shootings but is also very windy and bumpy. Best seat is at the very left side because of better shade and the exhaust system at the right side.
After around 40 minutes drive and a steep accent on paved road the truck stops for 15 minutes at an outlook point with coffee bar. From here its 25 minutes to the next stop for 15 minutes at the visitor information center where you can see some photos of the area. Less than 5 minutes away is the next stop for 20 minutes at a coffee shop where the guide will explain the processing of coffee and you can taste the coffee on extra cost (1.5 CUC for an Espresso). Another 25 minutes on spectacular road and the trailhead is reached.
As there is no water or food supply for the next 2:15 hours you better stock up here with local products. The hike itself is not very tricky but it's on uneven ground and has also some natural steps to climb down and some very narrow bridges to cross which consists only from a tree trunk. On the way to the restaurant you can observe a small cave, a scenic waterfall and swim at a small lake (with piranhas it was told but could not see any while snorkelling) as you stop here for around 25 minutes.
After 1:40 hours net of hiking you get a very late lunch served at Casa La Gallega at the end of the trail. The chicken was not tasty but the starter, rice and mashed potatoes were OK. Coffee is also included but drinks are extra (mainly 2 CUC per drink). At the end the truck brings you back to Trinidad (one hour).
Only recommendable if you have not seen any forest and countryside yet.
At Casa La Gallega (tel.: 076 929279) is a camping area located with rental tents (5 CUC/night). Most tents have shade and all a thin inflatable mattress. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available. Very countryside here except the tour groups.
There is no direct connection to Viñales by Viazul as the early morning bus will arrive at Havana exactly when the bus to Viñales leaves Havana (very clever). The only option if you want to avoid a night in Havana is a colectivo which departs just around the corner of Viazul bus station and will cost 40 CUC. Normally it will depart around 8:30 but may run around the city to pick up others. Eventually it will leave Trinidad at 9:30 if enough passengers present. Otherwise it might bring you to a different destination where you have to change to another colectivo or the journey will be postponed to the next day.
Normally the colectivo will first stop in Havana (20-25 CUC, 4 hours) and than continue to Viñales (Havana - Viñales 15-20 CUC, 3 hours). The driver may stop somewhere for lunch but no guarantee. So stock up and stop drinking as the next toilet might be far.
If you get grouchy of all the tourists in Viñales come here and relax. Nothing special here and the beach not worth a visit.
There are three "pubs" at the waterfront. Every pub serves different drinks, the one next to the peer sandwiches (pay in $) and the one east of the parking strong coffee. At lunch time pizza (7$) might be available close to the coffee bar and sometimes ice is sold close to the casa Doña Barbara. No shops and no WiFi.
Casa Doña Barbara at calle Frank Pais #60, tel.: +53 53 999721. Friendly Señora Barbara (Spanish only) is widely known for here nice dinner (10 CUC) which I can fully confirm. Delicious fish, beef, chicken, lobster or vegetarian dishes with sides and salad. Yummy.
One rustic room (20-25 CUC) with a larger semi-firm and a smaller bed. It has a reasonable AC and a fan mounted to the wall of the other side. The bathroom is OK but the toilet without toilet seat and the shower only semi-optimal. She also offers laundry service for 10 CUC per load.
At the front of the casa are rocking chairs where you can nicely observe the nightlife on the main road and a nice dining area at the backyard where also a good breakfast with fresh pancakes is served. The downside are the many mosquitoes after dark.
Overprized but still recommendable if you prefer countryside and bring your own vehicle.
Once a year in March they have a long weekend for carnival celebration with lots of drinking and dancing. Ask around for the exact date.
From/to Viñales a taxi is 10 CUC and a colectivo not more than 2 CUC. To get a lift on the road in-between the villages is almost impossible.
Download Vinales.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Don't come here without reservation. Neither for a casa nor for the bus as this village can get VERY touristy.
Cabaña Los Profesores Universitarios at calle Orlando Nodarse #20, % Joaquin Perez y Adela Azcuy, tel.: +53 48696853 (basic English, map), email: email@example.com offers a small clean room (25 CUC) with private bathroom. The room is equipped with a small and a larger bed with firm mattress, a fan mounted to the wall and an AC. As this room is at the rear of the house it's usually very calm here if the AC is turned off. Nice breakfast (5 CUC) and dinner (7 CUC) is served here. Very friendly hosts with lots of information if you know some Spanish.
Havanatur at the corner of the main square offers a day trip to Maria la Gorda where scuba diving is possible. The bus starts at 7:00 opposite to Telephonica office and takes a bit more than 3 hours. After one hour a short break is done at a gasoline station where toilets are available. After arrival at the beach resort you need to register at the reception. Now you can take a sun chair and relax at the beach. Unfortunately at most parts of the beach you have to walk over coral rocks to get into the water.
Lunch buffet is available between 13:00 and 15:00 but there is also a coffee bar at the reception and an a-la-card restaurant and bar next to the dive center at the beach open all day.
Departure of the bus to Viñales is at 17:00. Including lunch buffet its 45 CUC for the day trip. If you have a reservation at the beach resort its only 30 CUC one-way.
If you use the day trip for scuba diving quickly make your way after arrival to the International Dive Center, tel.: +53 48 778131 or 773067, email: firstname.lastname@example.org because the schedule for the paperwork and rental gear is very tight. The rental gear (only snorkelling fins available, price list) is well used and the ton of the dive masters a bit harsh. Carry your gear except the tank to the modern boat and set it up. After only 5 to 15 minutes the dive sites are reached and a quick briefing is done.
After only 40 to 55 minutes dive time you return to the boat and back to the resort at around 12:30. Leave you equipment at the boat for the next departure at around 15:30.
The visited two dive sites offered a lot better views than Playa Santa Lucia and Isla de la Juventude. Only larger fishes which you find at Jardines de la Reina were missing but therefore a lot more "small" things were discovered. The downside are the many greenhorns which may limit the dive depth and time as you always dive in a group of 6 to 8 divers with dive guide.
To avoid the hectic of a day trip from Viñales stay here (map) for a few days (price list) as the dive center offers 3 dives per day and a night dive if enough divers do apply.
Restaurant Rancho Laguna de Piedra offers very local food for very reasonable prices with very nice views.
Every Saturday around 23:00 the disco at the main square starts mainly with Latin music. Bring earplugs.
There door to door service by colectivo now available which is a bit faster but also a bit more expensive than the bus. Booking is at the same office than for the Viazul bus: Calle Salvador Cisneros #63A opposite the main square.