Count your money yourself after exchanging at CADECA; they’ve been known to hand over less than they say
Change a few CUCs into CUPs to give as tips and/or pay street bands
Codeine works well as a ‘bunger upper’ if your tum gets dodgy. Don’t overdo it though: it’s apparently a bit addictive
Havana is very polluted; take a thin scarf to cover your face if fumes bother you
Wifi is not easy to find. The Inglaterra hotel has it but you have to pay. When you see young people gathered in a park staring at their devices, chances are there is a wifi area nearby.
You will be safe from physical harm, though you might get annoyed by constant pestering (especially offering ‘physical relief’ services)
Don’t expect a gourmet holiday: the food is basically pretty poor, but mainly only due to boredom – endless beans and rice – and it should be safe to eat. However, AVOID salad and DON’T drink the water (including frozen i.e. ice cubes, ice cream): always buy bottled water and make sure the seal hasn’t been broken. Locals sometines refill them with tap water to sell.
Take toilet paper with you during outings /especially on long journeys) : there may not be any in the facilities
- dancing in plazas (squares) and streets all over the country: don’t be shy!
- riding in a vintage American open top car through the streets of Havana. The locals like to brag that they’re held together by elastic bands, but they are lovingly polished and cared for and great to pose as a film star in
- drinking a mojito or three – it’s quintessentially Cuban – on the roof terrace of the Casa Granda hotel in Santiago de Cuba. Unforgettable.
- experiencing Hemingway nostalgia whilst sipping his iconic preferred cocktail, the Daiquiri, in his favourite bar at the end of Calle Obispo, across Monserrate Street from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana
- visiting the excellent Cuban ballet. Go to a rehearsal to get your fix without the hassle of finding tickets
- travelling by Viazul bus: you’ll see more, meet locals and get a real feel for the culture. The buses are comfortable and very resaonably priced. Take your own snack foods. Look out for the cardboard luggage labels you will be asked to complete and tie on before boarding!
And now for somethings completely different…..
Cuba is host to some unusual wildlife (and I don’t mean of the human kind). For example, did you know that there’s a tiny bat (the second smallest in the world), known as the Butterfly bat (that gives its size away) which is only found in Cuba and The Bahamas?
Not the prettiest of creatures…..
And….there are some huge, astonishingly colourful snails…to be seen near Baracoa, in the far south.
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Don’t miss visiting this beautiful, laid back area, regularly devastated by hurricanes and so needing the income tourists bring: it is where Colombus is said to have first landed in Cuba. It’s shabby, and underdeveloped, with poor infrastructure, but people often say it was their favourite part of the island to visit, due mainly to its tranquil, peaceful setting.
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Visit a cocoa farm, and take a boat trip along ancient inlets – there’s plenty to discover off the beaten track in this region.
If you want to experience Baracoa, read my post about a great Cuban guide called Darian Matos Gomez. You can book guided tours with him by emailing him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact him on his cell: 5358548575
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Photos by Lisa Denton
Finally, here’s an extract from my e-book The Tour Guide Life – It Could Be Yours!, all about leading a tour in Cuba:
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