Cuba, mijn geliefde Cuba. Mijn hart gaat sneller kloppen als ik terugdenk aan deze reis. Voor mij heeft Cuba alles. Natuur, witte stranden, muziek. Maar bovenal, puurheid. Je loopt op straat en kijkt zo bij iedere voordeur naar binnen. Er wordt iemands haar gevlochten. Ze lachen naar me en vragen of ik ook wil. De Cubanen laten je letterlijk in hun huis! Wat zijn wij Nederlanders toch gesloten.
- Taal: Spaans. En eerlijk is eerlijk, weinig Engels. Mocht je Spaans spreken, is dat in dit land een gróót voordeel. Dan heb je het geluk de mensen te mogen leren kennen.
- Geld: Cuba is arm. Vind je het lastig om mensen in armoede te zien? Ga dan niet naar Cuba, want op elke hoek van de straat zie je de armoede. Bring euro’s in cash to Cuba and change your money there. Be careful! Count your money on forehand and don’t take your eyes of the lady behind the desk. In the Money Exchange desks they will count your money and suddenly they say you gave 700 euro’s instead of the 750. They slide 50 euro’s under the desk if you don’t look for a second or if they abstract you. Remember this: You can bargain for everything in this country! For food, the casa and transport. There are two different money flows; the money that the local people use is different than the money you have to use as a tourist. If you are able to, change like 10 CUC to local money (1:24), so you can use the local food stands beside the roads in some cities.
- Vervoer: This is also the case for the transport. It is not expensive at all to travel by shared taxi, often even cheaper than the bus. So don’t worry if you find out all the buses are already fully booked in advance. Travelling by public transport or shared taxi is also way cheaper than hiring a car.
- Verblijf: The best, most fun and cheapest is to sleep in Casas Particulares. This means that you will sleep in the houses of the local people. Be aware that Cuba has not easy access to the internet. It is therefore not necessary to book everything on forehand, because there are way more casas there then you will find on the internet. In my opinion this is not an easy country to travel on your own. There are no hostels, so you have to book a double bedroom for your own. In the first place that is expensive (around 25-30 CUC per night) and in the second place you won’t meet people that easy as if you stay in a hostel.
- Spullen: In de winkel verkopen ze wat er is aan spullen. Op dag één raakte ik mijn haarborstel kwijt; de rest van de reis geen nieuwe kunnen vinden. Reis je met kinderen? Zorg dan dat je voldoende van alles meeneemt.
Geland op Havana en geen behoefte om te starten in een grote stad. Oplossing? Neem direct een taxi naar Las Terrazas, om daar te starten in alle rust.
Las Terrazas is een groot natuurpark, waar je prachtig kunt wandelen. Veel mensen slaan dit over of gaan er voor één dag naartoe. Wil je er slapen, kun je in het grote Hotel Moka in het park zelf verblijven. Een andere optie is twee kilometer buiten het park. Hier zit Casa Hospedaje Villa Duque, een klein boerderijhuis (25 CUC per nacht voor een tweepersoonskamer. Adres: Finca San Andres, Road Las Terrazas-Cayajabo, Artemisa, telefoonnummer +53 53221431 / +53 52326871). In Villa Duque woont een grote familie. Al het voedsel dat ze hebben komt van hun eigen land. De opa heeft een mooie oude auto die hij kan gebruiken voor een taxi ritje. Hij kan je naar de entree van Las Terrazas brengen voor 3 CUC.
Op de map hiernaast zie je oranje routes. Deze moet je verplicht met gids doen. Een mooie wandeling is die naar El Mirador Valle de San Juan. Deze wandeling kun je makkelijk zonder gids doen en is heerlijk rustig/stil. Wil je graag zwemmen? Dan is de hike naar Baños de San Juan een goede optie. Volg de rode route. In het weekend is de rivier volgepakt met Cubaanse families. Druk dus, maar ook een bijzondere ervaring en daarnaast is de natuur er prachtig. Langs de rivier vind je enkele kleine restaurantjes waar je wat kunt lunchen.
Viñales is a really touristic place. As soon as you get out of the bus or taxi a lot of people will tell you they know a casa. Don’t go with them, because always a Cuban person walks with you to a casa, they receive commission, which means that you have to pay 5 CUC extra to the casa that goes to your ‘guide’. Calle Adela Azcuy Norte is a cute long street with a lot of casas. If you did not book anything on forehand, just go there and you will find a nice place for sure. Make sure that you ask if you can check out the view from the roof terrace, because there are some casas with amazing views on the valley.
To discover the valley, you can go by foot, by bike or by horse. The trip by horse is really nice. You pay 4 or 5 CUC per person per hour; the trip is around 4 hours. You will visit a tobacco plantation, a coffee plantation and a cave. For the cave you have to pay 2 CUC each extra, in my opinion it was not worth it. For a nice view of the valley, go to Hotel Los Jazmines. If you like salsa, go in the evening to Centro Cultural Polo Montañez around 22:00 o’clock, located in the corner of the main plaza. There is a live band and you can dance.
Cayo Jutías is the most beautiful beach you have ever seen! 60 kilometres from Viñales. Take a taxi for 15 CUC per person to Cayo Jutías. This taxi will wait all day at the beach until you want to return. The beach is next to the mangrove. When you arrive by taxi and walk a few hundreds of meter to the left, through the water, you will find some deserted small beaches. Private! Don’t hesitate to go to Cayo Jutías. As the Lonely Planet says: “The best discovered undiscovered beach”. If you want to spend more than one day in this place, there is one casa around 4 kilometres away from the beach (there are no casas on Cayo Jutías itself): Casa Villa Cayo Jutías (address: Cross Road Cayo Jutias, Santa Lucia, Minas de Matahambre; telephone number: +53 53365574 / +53 54191595).
The village is not really special and there are a lot of mosquitos. If you want to go here, one night is enough. Hostal Enrique (telephone number: 98-74-25) has good rooms and the dinner on the roof terrace is something you will definitely enjoy. A nice and big place to relax. From this casa you can arrange different kind of trips. You can go bird watching on a morning hike with a guide, visit Boca de Guamá to see crocodiles (‘crocodile farm’), visit Las Salinas to see flamingos (depends on the season) or snorkelling/diving along some small beaches. If you go to some small beaches, Cueva de los Peces is a nice place. There is a kind of open water in the middle of the trees with clear water and a lot of fishes in it. You can go swim in here, the environment is pretty special. The beach is not sandy, so if you want to lay down to tan, this is not the best place. There is also one other beach where you can snorkel/dive, called Punta Perdiz. They won’t tell you on forehand, but you have to pay 15 CUC per person to enter. A buffet lunch is included.
Not a pretty village neither, but worth a stay for one night also. The beach is a small walk from Girón and is called Playa Coco. A pretty quiet sandy beach with a lot of history. This old men and lady on the picture were an awesome stay, about 15 CUC for a room and 5 each for dinner. I forgot the name of the casa, it was located on the main street, on the other side of the big flat.
From Playa Girón, it is about 8 kilometres to Caleta Buena. Also a nice beach where mainly Cuban people go to. The entrance here is 15 CUC per person, included the buffet lunch and drinks all day.
A big and smelly city. Just walk around and experience it. I am not fond of big cities, so I wouldn’t recommend this. The opinions about Cienfuegos are varied, some people like it and others don’t. A really clean and pretty casa is Hostal Amigos del Mundo (address: Ave 60 #3304, calles 33 y 35; telephone number: 53(43)555534 / 01-52452120). The rooms are huge and the breakfast is really good! The locations of this casa is central.
Between Cienfuegos and Trinidad there is a famous waterfall, called El Nicho. A lot of people go here from Trinidad, by car or by organization. There is another option: taking a taxi from Cienfuegos, around 80 CUC he will be available all day. Let the taxi take you to Hotel Hanabanilla. From there you can take a small boat for about 25, including the boat driver as a guide. He will take you to El Nicho by hike. This hike is wonderful, in my opinion a way more beautiful experience than the waterfall itself. The entrance to see El Nicho is 10 CUC per person. At the end of the day the driver can drop you of at Trinidad.
A famous cute city in Cuba. A lot of things you can do (from) here, so stay a few nights! Drink (ice)coffee at Café Don Pepe, watch or dance salsa and drink cocktails at (the big stairs in front of) Casa de la Música, have dinner on a rooftop terrace with city view, get lost in the streets. A lot of people talk about the discotheque Las Cuevas, where they have techno music. Only tourists go there, because the entree fee is high. Don’t walk alone on the streets in the middle of the night, I met a girl who was robbed. Hire a bike (around 4 CUC each for the whole day) and bike first to La Boca and then among the coast of Playa Ancón; you will find perfect little beach spots. The train into the Valle del Silencio costs 10 CUC per person and is really touristic. I wouldn’t recommend it, pretty boring it was: it just goes back and forth.
From Trinidad there are different possibilities to go to the big natural park Topes de Collantes. Go to the travel agency Cubanacán, on calle Amargura. They can organize trips for a few nights camping if you like to. You will get your own guide. As you can see on this note, we paid 61 CUC per person for the whole trip (excluded food and drinks). It is an amazing experience, because most tourists do a day tour, which means that you will be at the main places while everyone is already gone. You and the nature!
Relaxing at a 20 kilometres long beach! In the weekends crowded with Cubans, during the week it is way better. Go to Bodegón el Criollo, this is a restaurant on the corner of Avenida de la Playa and C40. Next to this restaurant there is a great casa from a Spanish lady, on the Avenida de la Playa. The breakfast is expensive and nothing special, so buy your own breakfast. A good bakery, called Panadería Doña Neli, is around the corner. In the supermarket in Centro Comercial Hicacos (Avenida 1, between C44 and C46) you can even buy great cheese.
Matanzas is an industrial city. Great city to walk around and discover. Not touristic at all and the people are very friendly. Hostal Alma (address: Calle 83 No 29008, between Calles 290 and 292; telephone number: 29-08-57, price: 20-25 CUC for a double room) is a great place to stay, it has a big roof terrace.
From Matanzas you can take a train to Havana, called the Hershey train. It takes 4 hours and costs2,80 pesos nacionales (local money) per person, so that is really really cheap. The train goes through the valley and you will travel with mainly locals. The train leaves every day at 12:00 o’clock and around 16 there leaves a second one (depending on the afternoon weather). You will arrive at the train station Casablanca in Havana. From there you can take a short ferry to Havana Vieja, this costs round 0,25 CUC (they will ask 1 or 2 CUC) per person.
If you want to stay in Havana Vieja, this is a good recommendation: Sueño Cubano Hostal Boutique (address: Calle Santa Clara #66 – Habana Vieja; telephone number: + 53 78660109; price: 40 CUC, but less if you bargain!). The owner and his family are really nice and the rooms are beautiful. The location is perfect and they do taxi service from or to the airport if you want to.
What to do in Havana? You can do the Habana Bus Tour for 10 CUC per person. This hop on hop off bus will take you through all the areas of Havana and you can use it all day. If you want to go to a beach, go by bus to Santa Maria del Mar (part of Playas del Este). This bus takes about 20 minutes; in the weekends this city beach is packed with Cubans. For a cheap dinner in Havana Vieja, a possibility is Café Paris. Cheap and ok food, but the waiters are not kind and the drinks are expensive.