Sunday, July 29, 2012

Varadero & Havana, Cuba - July 2012

Cuba in the Summer?  Why not I told my American other half, and there we went - it was actually surprising to find out most of the people believe Cuba is the one not allowing Americans in their country.  The opposite is true, America does not want their citizens spending US dollars in Cuban soil, nevertheless in 2011 over 400,000 Americans visited Fidel's country (SOURCE).

Direct flight from Montreal to Varadero, and around 3h30 later we landed in this tropical paradise, if you are tourist of course because I doubt the locals would say the same.  Once in Varadero, our shuttle bus took us to our resort - Melia Las Americas - and this was the beginning of our vacation.

Varadero is pretty much a resort town, and if you are expecting to find more than what it is, then you went to the wrong place.  The reason why I picked Varadero, out of all other cities in Cuba, due to its proximity to Havana, only 2 hours away.  Don't take me wrong, Havana is beautiful and I could spend many days getting lost in this beautiful city, but this vacation was mostly to be at the beach trying different types of Mojitos.

It has been almost 12 years since my last visit to Havana, and although the colonial architectural always impress me, it sadness me to see how the city is falling apart, and I guess it would be hard for the government to justify spending money to rebuild some of those 500 years plus old buildings, instead of feeding the whole country right. What I can tell you is the day the American embargo ends, this city will become the tourist Mecca of the area, among other things.

Melia Las Americas is a beautiful, but not cheap, resort in Varadero, located beside the only full golf course in Cuba - a plus if you are a golfer - and according the conversations we had with guests of other resorts, our food was excellent, and I must say indeed it was.

Friendly stuff, some more than others, and when you arrive from the lobby you have the view of a back entrance leading towards a beautiful white sandy beach with turquoise warm water.  The resort is big enough and it doesn't feel crowed at all, no need to wake up early in the morning to fight for a spot at the beach, there is always one waiting for you. One more thing, if you are planing to stay at this place, be advise is for adults only.

If you are planning to wonder around Varadero, either you can rent a scooter at your hotel if available, of jump on the Varadero Tour double decker red bus, it only cost CUC $5.00 (Cuban Convertible Peso) and your ticket is valid all day long.

If you arrive in Cuba during the weekend, wait until Monday to exchange your money, and keep in mind if you bringing American dollars, a 10% fee will applied to your transaction, bring Canadian dollars or Euros instead.

Bought some rum and coffee and I can tell you the prices are basically the same everywhere you go.  I checked in different places in Havana and Varadero and there was no difference, unless you forget and decide to buy them at the airport, then you will pay a bit more. Talking about rum, although Havana Club brand is the most visible everywhere, I found the Santiago de Cuba rum to taste better.

Once you decide to go to Havana, you will either go with a trip planned by your travel agency, or by talking to the local you might be able to take a taxi instead. The price is almost the same (around CUC$ 60/70), and I think you will find two main differences.  If going with the tour, you will be in a bus with a tour guide, and the only draw back is you have to wait for other people all day long, because you are never going to make them wait for you right?  If you decide to go in your private taxi, you won't have the best tour guide in town, but you will do whatever you want without having to wait for anybody.

Once in Havana, you are going to be taken to the Malecon (water front), Plaza de la Revolucion, old Havana, new Havana, Capitolio, Cohiba cigar factory, and more.  My suggestion is get lost in the city, walk around and breath and feel the area, you will enjoy it.

Capitolio: beautiful building unfortunately the place has been close for renovation of over two years already. Kid Chocolate Boxing gym: if you are into boxing, then this place should be in your itinerary. Gran Teatro La Habana: don't think just because this place is falling apart it does not deserve the visit of your majesty, I found their main saloon in the upper floor to be more impressive than the ones I saw in Chateau des Versailles, go in and take a look.  La bodeguita del Medio: a must if you like literature.

Finally, if you enjoy old cars, then you will find yourself in paradise once you arrive in Cuba, it is incredible to see all those old cars that are still running in the streets of Cuba.  Collectors around the world must be salivating just with the idea one day they might be able to purchase one of those vehicles.

Enjoy the pictures and until next time.

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