Cuba-'between' backpacking & resort possible?
Replies: 10 - Last Post: Sep 29, 2009 8:24 AM Last Post By: rbrierle
Sep 14, 2009 4:32 AM
Cuba-'between' backpacking & resort possible?Apologies for the vagueness of the title (& probably the content!).
My girlfriend and I normally backpack (into nature, hiking, diving etc) our way around and stay as far away from package-type resorts as possible. We're trying to plan a trip (~20 days) for late October/early November, but with one additional thing to consider for this trip - she will be 22 weeks pregnant. This means we want to take things much more easily than normal (i.e. clean, private accomodation - somewhere above youth hostel but below big-chain hotel, less long bumpy bus journeys etc).
We'd be looking to see a few sights, maybe limit ourselves to three locations (she'll be exhausted if we move about much), see a few sights and spend some time in a coastal area with good beaches and snorkelling (ideally also diving for me).
Do any of you experienced Cuban travellers think we could put together a ~ three week break that:
- takes in some nature (fauna/flora)
- good (reasonably quiet) beach time with snorkelling
- avoids too much travel (or at least bouncing in buses on unmade roads)
- avoids the brashest/neon package-tourist resort areas
- lets us find 'upper budget' price accommodation that's not roughing it
If it sounds like it could work I'll pick up a guide book and start ploughing through the forum history in more detail!
Many thanks for your help.
Sep 14, 2009 4:57 AM
Sep 14, 2009 9:01 AM
Sep 14, 2009 9:54 AM
3"avoids the brashest/neon package-tourist resort areas"
Not too much neon in Cuba.
"avoids too much travel (or at least bouncing in buses on unmade roads)"
The Viazul busses are comfortable and the roads they travel on are pretty good.
That's not a bad a time in her pregnancy to travel, actually. It would be better for her to be on Cuban roads than say, Costa Rican roads, from what I have expperienced. This is one time when I might suggest that renting a car could be a good idea. The Havana-Viñales-Cienfuegos-Trinidad-Santa Clara - and yes, maybe a bit of flopping on the sand in Varadero or one of the Cayos north of Santa Clara for a day or two before heading home -- this would make a nice three week holiday.
If you are going all the way to Santiago, consider flying, maybe even both ways.
Sep 15, 2009 7:33 AM
4The best option would be for you to stay in casa particulares (private homes, Cuba's equivalent of our B&Bs). Average price is around US$30 per room per night (price by the room, so same price for one or two people). Meals served in a casa (which like the room, is one of the best values in Cuba) run about US$10/day/per person--that's for a good breakfast and dinner. Casa hosts will cook to your specifications, within the limits of what's available. This will usually include chicken, pork, and fresh seafood, plus veggies and, always, rice and beans. Breakfast is typically vegetarian--eggs, fruit, coffee, juice, bread, marmelade from a local fruit.
If you particularly want a casa on or within a block of the beach, here are your choices:
Guanabo, in Playas del Este, about 15 minutes east of Havana by taxi.
Playa Baracoa, about 25 km west of Havana by taxi.
Neither of the above are particularly good for diving, though. For that you'd want to try:
The Bay of Pigs area, either Playa Larga at the head of the bay or Playa Giron at the mouth of the bay. This is about a 3.5-hour Viazul bus ride from Havana. Most of the casas are about 1 km from the beach, but one Villa Merci, is only 500 metres and very pleasant. It is just east of Hotel Playa Giron on the road leading to Caleta Buena. Many nice private small beaches in that area. It's very flat, so getting around by bike (your casa host can help you find ones to rent) is easy and will give you access to a number of different little cove beaches both on the bay and on the open ocean. If you want to SCUBA, there's a dive shop and dive boat at both Hotel Playa Giron and at Hotel Playa Larga.
You will probably also want to spend a little time in Trinidad and the nearby community of La Boca. Trinidad is like a mini-Havana with historic architecture, small museums, music venues, and a large street crafts market. It's 15 km to Marina Blanco out at Playa Ancon, where you can catch a dive boat. There are lots of casa particulares in Trindad, and also some on or directly across the street from the waterfront in La Boca (10 km from Trinidad.) From La Boca all along the shore to Playa Ancon it is easy to snorkle, although not as good as the snorkling around the Bay of Pigs.
You might also want to take a taxi from Trinidad to Playa Guaijimico and overnight there at Villa Guaijimico, either in a cottage directly on the beach or one up on the bluff among the trees. (In Cuba, a "villa" is usually a place with individual cottages.) Guaijimico has all the water toys (kayaks, wind surfers, etc, as well as a dive boat. The sites it goes to are less dived out than the ones where the Trinidad-Marina Blanco dive boat goes. I think the cottages at Guaijimico run about US $70/night, but not sure about that. The main down side to Guaijimico is that there is nothing there except the villa, and its restaurant is not very good. Still, I think you'd find it worth doing for a day of diving while your lady love simultaneously works on her tan and baby-making just steps outside an air-conditioned cottage.
Sep 16, 2009 2:18 PM
5Cuba not really a backpacker destination . You need to bring much more money than you planed on as Cuba gets expensive fast. Is it worth it ? YES Cuba is fantastic. Photos see my website wolfcalls.com
Sep 22, 2009 11:59 AM
6Paty, not to discount your personal experiences in Cuba, which I know are extensive, but I have found Cuba to be an excellent backpacker destination. And that's whether we're talking about those who use a backpack for luggage because they intend to do serious trekking in the Sierra Maestra, Rosario, Escambray, Cristal, or Baracoa mountains, or if they only carry a backpack as a symbol of their independent traveller status and have no intention of packing it on their back any further than from a bus or taxi to the hotel or casa where they're staying.
The fact that backpacking in Cuba is different from other places does not, in my opinion, make it less of a good destination. It's true that it lacks many facilities we find in First World parks and designated hiking trails, but that's true of many less affluent countries. And even in affluent countries, in many places it's necessary to be quite self-sufficient. I believe it is the latter that anone who hopes to do actual backpacking in Cuba needs to be aware of, and prepared for. All Cuba's national parks now have guides, and have had for at least a decade, which means that by now many of them are quite experienced (and bi-lingual.) This won't ensure that a trekker can find what they think they need along the way, but it does ensure that the lack of signage doesn't leave them lost, and generally contributes a lot by way of information about the area.
You are correct, of course, in saying that it's important to bring more money than planned for a stay in Cuba, but that is mainly because so many inexperienced travelers equate "backpacking" with "cheap." Backpacking in Cuba, like backpacking in North America and Europe, is only cheap in comparison to staying in hotels in those places.
It is not cheap in comparison to bussing around and staying in hostels in SE Asia or
Sep 22, 2009 12:09 PM
7I am not saying it cannot be done but as you stated it costs more than you would expect. Out in the countryside it may cost less but in the cities there are no $3 a night hostels. This is what many expect and figure Habana is just another Antigua, Guatemala. It isnt and food costs alot more than other places in Latin America.
Sep 22, 2009 12:33 PM
Sep 22, 2009 12:42 PM
9People back pack in cities alot and hostels with dorms can be had very cheap in many cities. Those wishing for a private rooms in a hostel of course must pay alot more. People backpack in Lima, Peru and also Mexico City. Those are two other cities that I know of besides Antigua, Guatemala. I dont know about Ecuador but will ask my friend Ramiro when he stops by this afternoon as he is from
Sep 29, 2009 8:24 AM
10Guys, thank you all very much for your detailed comments and suggestions - they are very useful. We are still trying to decide between a number of destinations (about four in mind), but your information has given me a greater insight into our options if we were to visit Cuba.
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