Return to Cuba, Santiago and the east
Replies: 28 - Last Post: Oct 5, 2012 6:34 PM Last Post By: sayeh
Sep 24, 2012 4:56 PM
Return to Cuba, Santiago and the eastHaving enjoyed a spectacular first trip to Cuba last year, doing the Havana-Trinidad-Viñales circuit, we are beginning to plan a return next spring. We would like to explore Santiago and the eastern part of the island for about 10-15 days, and perhaps end our trip with about 5 days back in Havana, to see the friends we made and explore the city we loved from a deeper perspective.
Two questions to those who were so generous with advice a year ago:
1) We'd appreciate suggestions for a loop that we can do by Viazul or Transtur or -- our preferred mode on our last trip -- shared taxi. We don't want to rent a car. We like to relax and stop in fewer places rather than many cities for one or two nights. We prefer towns and cities, architecture, music, food, and hiking to beach life. Last time we spent time, especially in Havana, seeking out artists, and we bought a lot of art. We confess to having bought our share of the ubiquitous shell jewelry. We speak passable Spanish and never passed up an opportunity for conversation, even though we couldn't understand half of what was said to us!
2) We travel from NYC, and last year we took the CUN-HAV route, with two on-time Cubana flights. What are our options this time? Does it make sense to try to fly into Santiago via Santo Domingo, and are there other eastern Cuban airports (Holguin?) or other gateway cities that service eastern Cuba? Or are we better off sticking with Cancún and taking the internal Havana-Santiago flight? What about trying to go from Miami etc, as one of us is a college faculty member and the other exec director of a non-profit? Whatever I've looked at so far seems much more expensive than last year, unfortunately.
Thanks so much, in advance.
Sep 24, 2012 6:24 PM
1Hi - what a shame you have geographic considerations with México City - much better access to Havana, more choices, more reliable than Cubana and cheaper. Sigh. The Dominicana flights to Stgo are not daily, of course, so there is the added complexity of schedules. Otherwise I guess you would need to go to Canada to get to Holguin. Too complex for me - all I have to do is fly from Cairns to Brisbane, Brisbane to LAX, LAX to México City, México City to Havana, then Havana to Santiago. Easy.
Others on the forum will have more advice about where to go, how to travel. I get stuck in Stgo for the duration, loving it.
Let me just say that the food there is on the whole very ordinary, but the music makes up for it in spades. Now that I'm home in Cairns, I've managed to post a few videos on YT as gdayjen2, some of them will whet your appetite. And the salon de jazz has finally opened - woo hoo! after I left, of course.
jenny t, demented as ever :)
Sep 24, 2012 6:58 PM
Sep 24, 2012 7:59 PM
3What about trying to go from Miami etc, as one of us is a college faculty member and the other exec director of a non-profit?
Read the OFAC regulations about travel by academics for research purposes. It sounds reasonably straight forward for most fields of study. Your buddy who is ED of the non-profit should be able to peruse all the allowable reasons for travel and find something that fits the character of his organization. Once you have the license, you simply fly direct from Miami.
I think the recent tightening down of OFAC licenses only relates to group humanitarian or cultural exchange travel, the ones that really were tourist trips by for profit agencies just with a different label.
Sep 25, 2012 6:32 AM
Sep 25, 2012 6:38 AM
Sep 25, 2012 8:02 AM
6If you do a licensed trip you can fly Miami to Santiago. Some travel agents are
DMC travel T: 305.443.0417 or ABC Charters. I believe there is also a flight from Fort Lauderdale and maybe NYC?
But I think the least expensive way to go will be through a third country and then take the domestic flight Havana to Santiago.
Once you get to Santiago you might want to arrange for a trip to El Salton for a change and to visit El Cobre. Have a great trip and please give us your reportback.
Sep 25, 2012 8:34 AM
Sep 25, 2012 8:43 AM
8Getting to Baracoa from Santiago or Guantanamo can be tricky if you aren't comfortable or Cuba saavy enough to access CUP collective taxis, or other types of Cuban oriented ground transportation. It may be better to fly into Havana, and then catch a connecting flight to Baracoa. Getting from Baracoa to Guantanamo or Santiago is much easier than the other way around. Your casa owner or other locals in Baracoa can show you how to access local transportation. If your Spanish is passable, just go to the Astro terminal. There will be extra space, and the driver will let you on.
Sep 25, 2012 8:53 AM
9An alternative for New Yorkers is also Nassau, Bahamas.
If landing in Havana (either way used for it) you may consider bussing Havana to Baracoa (possible stops at Camaguey-Bayamo-etc); and fly from Baracoa back to Havana (re: these flights so far only Thursdays-Sundays).
WiFi limited in those areas but still Internet access via local PC and dial up (slow) connection.
Sep 25, 2012 9:34 AM
10First of all, let me say to those who were so helpful last year that I'm 'likes2 draw" and have changed my user name, not out of paranoia but because I didn't want to continue to leave a trail of every post from every country I've visited for years.
#8, you mentioned being "comfortable or Cuba savvy enough to access CUP collective taxis, or other types of Cuban oriented ground transportation" and the truth is, we feel ready and interested in "crossing over." We're both experienced, adventurous travelers, but Cuba is so weird that we didn't even realize the extent to which we were being shepherded onto the tourist universe until we went to the Industriales-Camaguey game and they made us move to the CUC section. We tried to engage with people whenever possible (even the milk scammers :-))) and traveled by shared CUC taxis (nearly the same price as Viazul) to have the chance to talk with the driver for hours, listen to his CDs, and more than once stop for a visit with his wife/girlfriend/whomever. So I think we're ready for Astro etc but will need some guidance.
Sep 25, 2012 9:56 AM
11I agree with Poster #5 that the easiest thing for you to do would be to go from NYC to Montreal and fly from there directly to eastern Cuba--Holguin or Santiago. However, since you want to end your trip in Havana, you might want to consider DraJ's suggestion that you begin in Havana and fly to Baracoa and start working your way back from there.
Baracoa is about an hour's flight from Havana, $125 or so, but there are only two flights per week, I think Thursdays and Sundays. You could spend a few days in Baracoa, then a 3-hr bus ride to Guantanamo for a night, then a 2-hr bus ride to Santiago for however long you want to stay there, then a 2-hr bus ride to Bayamo. Plan at least two nights in Bayamo, so you can spend one full day going by taxi up into the Sierra Maestra to Santo Domingo (2 hrs) to hike to the Comandancia de la Plata (takes the better part of a morning, up and down). From Bayamo you can either bus to Holguin (1 hr) and spend some time there, or maybe take the midnight bus all the way to Trinidad, arriving there at 8 a.m. next morning. There are at least daily Viazul buses to all those towns, and from Santiago west, more than one a day.
Only you would know how much time you would want to spend at each place, but I would say that Baracoa, Guantanamo, Santiago, Bayamo, and the Comandancia are the places you should not miss in eastern Cuba. And if you want to spend a day or two on the nicest beaches in the east, then that would be either Playa Maguana, 25 km west of Baracoa, or the Guardalavaca area, an hour north of Holguin--but you'd have to take a taxi to get out to them. There are lots of casas in all those towns, but none at those beaches.
Sep 25, 2012 10:07 AM
12Everyone, this is a huge and wonderful amount of information to digest. Info on the eastern half, especially a comprehensive list of the flight options, is less available, so I really appreciate this.
Rosa, last year you gave me a great itinerary -- including the hike to the waterfall -- so I appreciate all the transport detail you've just given me. And fyi I bought your novel last spring as an ebook and learned a lot from it. It would be fun to take the hike.
Sep 25, 2012 10:19 AM
13Personally I'm a bit mystified by DraJ's comments about needing to be v Cuba-savvy to sort transport between Santiago/Guantanamo and Baracoa ... it's on the Viazul route and this journey is often taken by foreigners. It's not really off the beaten track at all. The road is full of curves and climbs, but nothing perilous by European standards for self-drivers. Just wanted to clear up that this is not all that much of a big deal.
Sep 25, 2012 1:29 PM
14ViajeraUK, good you mentioned DraJ's error in saying that it was not so easy to find transport between Santiago-Guantanamo-Bayamo. My guess is that she tried it some long time ago, before the Viazul started running that route. I know that the first time I went that way, in 1999, I did have to use various meant-for-locals trucks and collectivos. But today, yes, the Viazul makes the run each way, daily. And as you point out, the road is pretty good. And if you get a seat in the bus on the side nearest the ocean, the scenery along the coast between Guantanamo and Bayamo is great.
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