Salsa > Going to Cuba - has anyone been?

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by Claire_Brummell, Apr 27, 2005.

  1. cocodrilo

    cocodrilo New Member

    That sounds like a great experience, Lilsalma.
    Could you possibly tell us how long you spent there? How you went about making travel arrangements there(was it a tour or did you arragne everything yourself?) and the approximate cost. (And the room rates for a hotel of that caliber).

    You are absolutely right that people should not be worrying about getting things ripped off- they should not be bringing valuables anyhow and if they do they should always carry them with them(cameras, watch, etc.). Bags should be carefully locked as well, to not further tempt hotel staff to want to make off with your stuff.
  2. lilSalma

    lilSalma New Member

    It was a great experience. :D

    It was a total of 8 days, but I certainly wish it were longer. And as for travel arrangements? Do you mean the travel arangements that were made while in the country? or the actual travel going there? Going there, I just bought tickets off If I'm not mistaken, it came out to be about $6-700+. I think. I forget.

    As for the day trips while I was there, Varadero was arranged by our hotel. It wasn't actually the hotel that took us, but travel tour groups associated by the hotel. Those are the ones you want to go on because you know they're safe. And the price? Haha.. I have a really bad memory. But I'm gonna guess and say REALLY CHEAP and a good deal. Because it provided transportation to and from the hotel, as well as lunch. They gave us a menu from which we could order from. It was great.

    The day trip to Old Havana was an informal visit. We took a "coco taxi" [ They're fun..don't forget to ride one while you're there. You can't miss it, they stand out. You'll see. :wink: ] into Old Havana and just walked around. Before doing so, we asked the concierge at the hotel if there were any specific streets and/or places that we should go to. Going back we took a coco taxi as well.

    Last, but not least, the hotel.. You can go to their website for a better look. And believe me, what you see is what you get. Amazing. Simply Amazing.
  3. cocodrilo

    cocodrilo New Member

    That's a beautiful hotel($120 per night, not cheap but looking at the site it seems tobe worth it). So it is easy then to just make reservations on the net, fly there and arrange your tours locally. That sounds simple enough.
    (You're not an American passport holder, I gather?)
  4. lilSalma

    lilSalma New Member

    Upon arrival, officials from the Cuban government (I forget what their official titles were) greeted us and took care of my visa and whatever else I needed. I actually was not the one who booked the hotel. My mother works for the United Nations, and she was asked to manage a conference in Cuba. So it was actually her department (Executive Office of Conference Services) that booked the hotel I think. I was simply lucky enough to tag along.

    I hope I was able to help. :)
  5. cocodrilo

    cocodrilo New Member

    That's great! It's nice indeed to have connections! 8)
  6. Kissa

    Kissa New Member

    Hi All,

    had to surrender my comfortable lurker status to be able to respond … :D

    Wanted to share with you some experiences from Cuba, went there two years ago. They all might not be relevant to Claire, but hopefully to somebody else. Would like to warn that they also reflect my philosophy of travelling which might be different than that of others, well, we are different…..

    I travelled to Cuba with a friend of mine, we were not so much interested in beaches, in addition, since my friend did not dance salsa and at that time I was a beginner/improver, salsa dancing wasn’t our aim either, we rather tried to get to know Cuba and Cuban culture.

    We made all our travel arrangements by ourselves, which wasn’t too complicated (I speak passable ‘portunhol’…..). For two weeks we travelled in Cuba: stayed about one week in Havana, flew to Santiago de Cuba (it is a long distance…), stayed there a few days, took a bus to Trinidad, stayed there one day and then back to Havana. Flight tickets to Santiago were easy to arrange, but the flight is not faint hearted…. Ilyushin air planes, seen their better days long time ago….. Bus tickets from Santiago to Trinidad and back to Havana took some bargaining, because it was xmas holiday season, but at the end we managed. The bus was very good, but terribly cold due to AC. Travelling be train was not very feasible, rail tracks were said to be in a bad condition, so it could take a long time.

    All the time, we stayed in private houses (casa particular), which is highly recommendable. It is a wonderful way to get to know local people, all the hosts were so friendly, willing to discuss and tell us about local culture and history. In particular, the family who lodged us in Vedado in Havana was wonderful, so warm and caring people. The rooms we usually arranged on spot, only the room in Havana we reserved before the trip. We paid USD 25 for a self-contained double room per night, if I recall right. Anybody interested, I can give the contact.

    Finding reasonably priced decent food was not easy, tourists come across with rip-off prices. Private home restaurants (paladars) are not easy to find. Vedado had some nice local corner places. But our hosts in Havana were excellent cooks, and they were ready to prepare all kind of local traditional delicacies at a very reasonable price, which we preferred, so often we had dinner back at home after spending the day in the city. It was the best value. I think about USD 6 for the ‘standard’ dinner, more for lobster etc.

    Vedado, in particular the western parts towards Miramar, was my preferred area: not too touristy, green and leafy, some nice eating and drinking places. And the old cemetery (Colon?) near Vedado is worth visiting, lots of statues, there is one very popular one depicting Saint Caridad, where people bring flowers and offerings. All the tourists tend to flock in Habana Vieja, the old part of the city which is rehabilitated and painted pastels. It is good to see it, but otherwise it was not to my taste, it looked and felt completely artificial, but the masses seemed to like it.

    We took some private salsa lessons given by a professional dancer (from the national dance group), who was studying to become a professional salsa teacher, very competent and patient (!) person, great lessons. We went to dance at matinee in Casa de la Musica in Miramar, that was very nice, spent one night in the other Casa de la Musica near city centre (state-of art stuff, very touristy, expensive and professional), then went twice to the salsa club of the national theatre, Café Cantante (cheaper, drinks included, seems to be popular, but was quite roughly decorated). I think there are several other good salsa places, but time was just too short… There was a huge new year’s concert on Malecon (Los Van Van en el Malecon!), which ended up in a spectacular fighting…. too many young boys getting pi…d… Afternoon matinees are not too expensive, USD5?, I liked them. The entrance to evening ones is USD10-15, well, there is always a live band. I have an impression that Cubans themselves pay the same price. And drinks are expensive. Other beautiful places were Casa del Amistad (restaurant and bar in a splendid building, big garden, sometimes concerts, good for afternoon beer…) and Writers’ Association (Association de escritores?), they have music performance few times a week, all in Vedado. We spent a great night in writers’ association listening bolero, drinking and chatting with local writers and chess players (this is a Cuban thing…).

    If you go to Santiago, I would suggest to learn at least some son and cha-cha-cha if you don’t know them yet, they (plus other traditional ones such as guaguanco?) are played a lot there. I personally found it such a pity not to be able to dance them. there are several sympathetic, traditional music places around Santiago, old men jamming together. One of the best memories I have. The castle nearby (Morro something?) is impressive, worth visiting.

    We were told the best beaches in Cuba are on the northern coast. Varadero is supposed to be a wonderful beach, but it is a kind of tourist enclosure, and quite ‘urban’. Habaneros themselves go to the beach on the eastern side of Havana (Playas del Este).

    Security. There is a lot of bubbling under the surface. Crime in Cuba is held back with the help of the fear, horrible jail punishments etc, so there is a reason to be careful, not too show off, not to go alone to the beaches etc. Also a lot of stuff also disappears in the suitcases (at Havana airport?), better not to put anything valuable there. Home accommodation was very safe.

    Money. Cuba is expensive (well, expensive is very relative, depends where you live etc, but it is not cheap at least) to tourists. Fortunately, there is one bank in Havana, where you can withdraw money with your Visa card, takes 15 min, amazing. Take a lot of small notes with you. Now, I do not know if they in Cuba accept US dollars any more or is it Euros, or what, Castro recently made some changes. Otherwise, the whole monetary system in Cuba is complicated, I never understood it. It works in three currencies: hard currency, peso convertible (same value as USD) and peso. In short, some items have prices for locals and other prices for tourists. Some eating places charge local prices only. Some items are in hard currency both for tourists and locals. Cuban can buy a quota package of basic items at subsidized price, thereafter everything is in hard currency and very expensive. For the trip, we took a lot of old clothes, shoes, cosmetics etc, and left them behind with our hosts, to be sent to their relatives in the country, very welcomed gesture.

    And there are many other issues: Cubans have great sense of humour (the painting near American ‘embassy’ is great…), there are lots of interesting details everywhere (old items etc), great architecture all over, santeria (local afro-cuban religion), Cuba has done great achievement such as high education levels, but… there is also a lot of fear, regulation and alertness there below … Cuba left at least me quite perplexed: though we had great time there, I still do not know what I think about it, it was quite a paradox, an interesting combination of European heritage with a strong African flavour, great human development indicators combined with monetary poverty…. But I definitely would like to go back there again, perhaps just for dancing the next time…. indeed, Cuba makes a very interesting travel destination, certainly worthwhile visiting.

  7. cocodrilo

    cocodrilo New Member

    Wow, thanks, Kissa! What an insight! I have heard before that it is good to stay with a family and now you have re-confirmed it. I have also heard about the so-so food(when NOT staying with a family) and for me eating well is a big part of enjoying the culture.
  8. Twilight_Elena

    Twilight_Elena Well-Known Member

    Ditto, cocodrilo. And welcome to DF, Kissa! :D Hope you don't return to your lurker status now that you're one of us!

    Twilight Elena
  9. salsachinita

    salsachinita New Member

  10. Pacion

    Pacion New Member

    It is my understanding that the US dollar is no longer accepted in Cuba. There was something in the news earlier this year (?) about this. Will try and find a CNN link or so.

    Re the staying in private accomodation, I also heard from someone who goes there regularly that that was going to be changing around June? That all tourists were to stay in hotels? My memory is hazy on this so you may have to just do some checking...
  11. Pacion

    Pacion New Member

    From the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (a reliable government agency),

    There was other useful information on security, health/medicines such as taking what you need including prescription drugs, along with a letter from your doctor explaining why you need it.

    Interestingly enough, the webpage also mentions about thefts from rooms, particularly at casas. Therefore I would say, just be careful, where ever you go and of course, don't take any valuables with you.

    For the rest of the webpages contents...
  12. Lucretia

    Lucretia New Member

    I meet a girl once who arranges Salsa Trips to Cuba. The price includes room and classes for 14 days. You pay for your own travel. I have thought about this jorney myself....some day I will do it...

    (website is in English although it is a Danish one)

    w w

  13. Guarachero

    Guarachero New Member

    Yes Pacion:

    USD are now exchanged for Cuban government issue. It is a form of certificate containing 81c of a dollar. Castro takes 19c for himself. Euros and Canadia dollars do better there.

    That's the info I got last week in talking to my brother in Havana.

  14. africana

    africana New Member

    Yes I felt much the same :? and hinted at it in my post...I really appreciated the chance to go and even learn more about my roots but Cuba is definitely nothing to be to romanticised ( a lot of inequity, sadness & desperation, racism, poverty, all mixed in with the rich culture)
  15. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    Thanks. I just got to get to work on this teaching dance thing of mine and then maybe I will go and use education as my trip purpose too. :wink: :)
  16. Claire_Brummell

    Claire_Brummell New Member

    WOW - I've been offline all weekend, so I've only just had the chance to catch up on here - you guys are fantastic!! :D

    Thank you so much for all the valuable information you've given - especially those who've come out from lurkdom to give it - I'm so pleased!!

    Well I leave tomorrow so I'm all excited now - VERY low chance of me getting ANY work done today!! :wink:

    Rest assured when I return I'll give you all an update and as soon as we have all the details set for our trip to cuba next May I'll put them up here so that anyone who wants to come and join us can come along too!!

    Can't wait - :bouncy: - I'll be bouncing / dancing all the way to Havana!! :D

    Thank you SO much again,

    Big Hugs to you all xx
  17. cocodrilo

    cocodrilo New Member

    Have a great trip & give us the full report uopn your return! (Take notes along the way for hot places to see!) :D
  18. lilSalma

    lilSalma New Member

    Take pictures. Lots. :D
  19. IsabellaCruella

    IsabellaCruella New Member

    sexy! But are those that different than salsa? And also.... what is the most popular dance in Cuba?

    Everyone here is awesome, next time, take meee. :D
  20. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    Claire_Brummell. You back yet? How'd it go? 8)

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