10 DAYS IN CUBA Mylifeonlafayette goes to vinales - havana - trinidad

I organized this Cuba trip for our group of 4 couples to travel in January 2017 under the educational activity (people to people) visa. I relied on all information I could find online in planning. Having actualized it, I'm happy to share my itinerary, resources and tips with you.

Cuba is a culturally rich country; the people are kind, open and friendly. Don't go just for the classic cars, cigars and rum. Explore the country, learn the history, see the art, respect the people and culture, bring smiles and candy for the children - it goes a long way.

Cuba, at last.

After six months of planning, the day had come. From Newark, we purchased our visa at the United counter and boarded our non-stop 3.5 hour flight to Havana. At the Havana airport, changing $$ to CUC was a challenge with the long line and rationing, only 100 CUC per person was allotted. I narrowly avoided a black-market exchange scam as well and hoped this was not to be the pattern of our trip. Our driver Michele met us at the airport and drove us for 3 hours to Vinales.

Vinales is a rural town in the Pinar del Rio province of Western Cuba known for its tobacco farms and mogotes. Vinales Valley has been designated as UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason. All my research on Cuba led me to Vinales as a must-see destination. The views are magnificent and one-of-a-kind. What a beautiful place to begin exploring Cuba.

Valley of Vinales. Photo by Michael Girman

This is umm, like "WESTWORLD".

We met with Yaniel Luis Alvarez, founder of Discover Vinales and local resident with over 10 years of experience as a tour guide. The day's program would start with a hike, followed by lunch in a tobacco farm, a horseback ride through the valley and dinner in an organic farm. It seemed simple enough until we encountered surprises along the way.

Group briefing

We hiked for 4 hours across tobacco and coffee plantations and met some farmers along the way.

We stopped for a rest at this simple farm house where the owner made us coffee. Cuban hospitality is as delicious as the coffee,

We continued our hike and reached the tobacco farm. Nothing like a welcome rum drink to soothe our dusty and achy legs. We were treated to a cigar-rolling demonstration and gamely smoked the cigars dipped in honey.

Cuban lechon is superior to Filipino lechon. There, I said it.

The skin is thin and crispy with hardly any fat. Its short organic life was ended at 5am and left to a slow roast until our arrival. Served with yucca, sweet potatoes, plantains, rice and black beans, and a salad of tomatoes/lettuce/cucumber - it was one of our most memorable meals. The authentic ambience of the tobacco drying house only added to the moment.

It took two oxen named "Commandante" and "Colonel" to haul our fattened asses to our next stop. I would be lying if I said it was a comfortable ride. But it certainly was a first for all of us.

Our guides carefully matched us to our horse, no experience necessary. After 2 hours my lower body was numb. We rode for 3 hours in the Valley of the Silence without encountering anyone else for most of the way. We traveled across fields and streams, uphill and downhill. It felt like we were on the set of "Westworld."

That we ended our ride at Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso was no coincidence. This organic farm to table restaurant was the perfect ending to cap our day in Vinales. They will serve you their anti-stress drink (magic potion if you ask me) and a bottle of rum on the side. Arrive in time for sundown, the views, food and ambience are all superb.

Finca El Paraiso

A storm swell happened while we were asleep.

I had high hopes for Cayo Jutias, Pinar del Río's most discovered "undiscovered" beach with 3km-long blanket of sand. But last night's storm swell brought a cold front and strong winds to our beach day. The longer than expected ride (2hrs instead of 1hr) due to poor road conditions didn't help. We stayed long enough to walk the stretch and have a drink.

Cayo Jutias, we barely knew you.
The powerful and victorious revolution continues.

We stopped back in Vinales to change money, have lunch and a quick stroll before high-tailing it to Havana. The town of Vinales is small and overrun with tourists like us.

Hav ana good time!

The Malecon was closed to vehicular traffic. High waves had breached the seawall and water ran down into the streets. Johnny & Steve had to roll up their pants and wade through seawater to get to their casa. Could it get more dramatic than this on our first night? We had to catch 9:30pm dinner reservations at La Guarida and we made it with enough time for cocktails at the rooftop. This restaurant is the oldest paladar and most famous in Havana.

LA GUARIDA is laden with drama, just like the peeling paint on its crumbling walls.

La Guarida spans 4 levels of theatrical drama.

A walk through Old Havana

Bright and early, we met with Elena, our private guide for a 4 hour walking tour of Old Havana. It was followed by lunch at Ivan Chef Justo and a tour of the Museum of the Revolution. Dinner was at Casa Miglis (just around the corner) and after we walked into a music club and danced to La Crema's reggaeton-rap.

Briefing before our guided walk covering do's and don'ts
Lunch at Ivan Chef Justo
Former Presidential Palace now the Museo of the Revolucion. Che, Fidel & Camilo
Board Room of the former President's Palace in Batista's regime
Dinner at Casa Miglis, a big Swedish miss for me. More on that later.

Art & Convertibles

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Old Havana

We met our art guide, Sussette Martinez, on the steps of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes for a private tour and education of Cuban art. For the next 2.5hrs, Sussette walked us through Cuban history through art, from colonial to the contemporary. Sussette is an art curator and THE GUIDE. This tour was amongst our top experiences in Cuba.

Lunch at Al Carbon

Lunch was followed by a 4 hour Drive/Walk tour through the rest of Havana in classic convertible cars. We had 2 convertibles, a guide and driver in each car. Girls had the pink car, guys in red. It was a lot of fun and a great way to see the city. Dream come true for some of us.

Pink for the ladies, guys behind us in red
Revolution Square with Che

I was told, "Cuba is a country of art and artists".

This was a full art day tour with Sussette, who introduced us to 8 Cuban artists. It was such an honor and privilege to meet the artists and to hear them speak about their work. This too was a top experience for the group. All the artists we met were born in the 70's and began their careers during Cuba's "Special Period." This period began in 1990 and was a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USRR) and the embargo that the United States imposed on Cuba. Cuba’s “Special Period” was marked by a declining economy that negatively affected the quality of life of all Cubans.

Douglas Perez Castro is a Cuban artist born in Santo Domingo, in 1976. What stands out most in Castro’s works is his great sense of humor that comments on complex matters in local history, society and culture.

Douglas Perez Castro in his studio
Douglas D. Perez Castro - Calle 12 #254 e/ 11 y 13, El Vedado, Plaza, La Habana Tel: (537) 8333302, (535) 2841543, douglasdarnis@cubarte.cult.cu

Glenda León is a Cuban artist born in Havana, in 1976. León graduated from the Academy of Superior Art and New Medias, Cologne, Germany in 2007. She is noted for her body of work spanning from drawing to video art, including installation, objects, and photography. León is "interested in interstices between visible and invisible, between sound and silence, between ephemeral and eternal." She is currently based in Havana and Madrid.

Glenda Leon's studio
Estudio Glenda Leon - 28 n. 308 Bajos e/ 23 y 25, Vedado, Habana 10400 Tel: +535 2726584, +535 8078784, www.glendaleon.com, estudioglendaleon@gmail.com

David Beltrán, born in La Habana, in 1978, is a Cuban artist mainly working with photography, painting and installation. Beltrán graduated from the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) in Havana in 2003. David's partner is Glenda Leon and both live and work between Havana and Madrid.

David Beltran - www.david-beltran.com, unpluggedplace@gmail.com, Havana +53 53894143, Madrid +34 633459869

Ibrahim Miranda was born in Pinar del Rio, in 1969. Ibrahim arrived in Havana when he was barely fifteen in 1984 to study at the National School of Visual Arts and then the Higher Institute of Art, from which he graduated in 1993. Long before his graduation from ISA, the splendid prints and ink drawings of Ibrahim Miranda were well-known and began to be shown in national and foreign galleries.

Ibrahim Miranda's Studio
Ibrahim Miranda - estudioibrahim@gmail.com, Tel (535) 8056745, (537) 8339808

Sandra Ramos (born 1969) is a visual artist from Cuba known for her surrealist expression of her relationship to Cuba’s political and social situation. At age twelve, the young artist began to study art in Havana's Escuela Elemental de Artes Plásticas. She continued her studies at the prestigious San Alejandro Art Academy and the Superior Institute of Art in Havana. Ramos uses a variety of mediums for her art, which include, paintings, etchings, collage, installations, and digital animation. However, the medium for which she is most renowned is engraving.

Sandra Ramos Studio
Sandra Ramos - 49 #2847 e/ 28 y 34, Kohly, Playa, Havana 11300 Tel: (537) 2096381, (537) 2715226, (535) 2899324, (535) 3818376, www.sandraramosart.com, sandraramos@cubarte.cult.cu

We stopped for lunch at SANTY for sushi, sashimi and the best octopus salad ever. Anthony Bourdain featured this restaurant in his show!

SANTY Restaurant

Beatriz Sala Santacana, is a self-taught artist born in 1975, Havana, Cuba. She is a member of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). She is known for her ceramic art works which she learned when she lived in Mexico as a young girl.

Beatriz Sala Santacana Studio
Santacana Esudio Taller - Beatriz Sala Santacana, Calle 166 #104 e/ 5ta y 1ra, Flores, Playa, La Habana, Studio +53 72714392, Cell +53 52826950, santacana@beatrizsantacana.com, www,beatrizsantacana.com

The Merger is a collaboration group formed by the Cuban artists Alain Pino, Niels Moleiro, and Mario Miguel Gonzalez (Mayito). They have been involved with the art world since very young, getting to the decision of merging their work in the maturity of their solitary careers.

The Merger - 31 Ave #6602, Playa, Havana Tel +53 52833492, www.themergerart.com, Sandra Borges (representative) sandra@themergerart.com

Eduardo Yanes Hidalgo (1977), who lives in La Lisa, creates paintings that represent relationships of power, family, society, and the struggle between enemies. Although he didn't speak English, he chose to tell us about his works with Sussette translating. He was very kind, soft spoken and intense.

Eduardo Yanes Hidalgo in his Studio
Eduardo Yanes Hidalgo tel / fax: 7260 6688 (workshop) mobile: +53 54328167 eduyanes@gmail.com www.eduardoyaneshidalgo.com

Dinner at Vistamar in Miramar for only 5 of us with a stop in Havana's jazz club El Zorro y El Cuervo.

Cigars, Papa & Dancing

Cigar Factory, Ernest Hemingway, Cafe Laurent, Hotel Nacional, Old Havana, El Cocinero, El Gato Tuerto

When my "man in Havana", Jorge, suggested a visit to the cigar factory, I told him that we were already going to a tobacco farm and thought it would be the same. He smartly replied, "A tobacco farm and a tobacco factory are not the same." At the Tabacuba factory, they assigned a security guard for our group to make sure we weren't taking any photos. NO PHOTOS ALLOWED.

Inside the TABACUBA factory

We drove to Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway's home 10 miles east of Havana. It is a beautiful estate and worth seeing. There, Hemingway wrote two of his most celebrated novels: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Lunch at Cafe Laurent in Vedado, a penthouse restaurant in a residential building with stunning views of the sea followed by a short visit to Hotel Nacional. Back to Old Havana for some last minute shopping. Dinner at El Cocinero in Vedado, formerly an oil factory now one of the trendiest places in Havana. Have drinks at the chimney then dine in the rooftop terrace. It started to rain, fortunately only after our dinner, so we taxied it to El Gato Tuerto for some trova/fusion music. We all danced, on and off stage and had a great time. What an incredible last night in Havana.

Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway's home
Lunch at Cafe Laurent in Vedado
A quick visit to the famed Hotel Nacional
Dinner at El Cocinero in Vedado

We ended our last night in Havana at El Gato Tuerto for Cuban music, audience participation and salsa dancing. Watch Steve, Johnny, Maia and I show off our "skills".

Adios Havana, Hola Trinidad

Half of the group went back to the US while the four of us traveled to Trinidad by private taxi. We left Havana at 10am, stopped for coffee along the way and arrived in Trinidad by 2pm.

Roadside break between Havana & Trinidad

Trinidad was built on the back of the 19th-century sugar and slave trade and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town boasts well preserved Spanish colonial plazas, mansions and churches and the most colorful and picturesque rows of houses.

Trinidad, Photo by Frankie Drogin
Lunch in Trinidad at El Cubito
Dinner at Taberna La Botija

Unplugged and unstructured

Unlike the rigorous schedule we kept in Vinales and Havana, we chose to spend our days in Trinidad unscheduled. If you just keep to the town, its small enough to wander around in and sit in a cafe and watch the rest of the world go by.

HAVANA DINING

LA GUARIDA - was on the top on my list of places to dine in Havana. Madonna just celebrated her birthday here and that was fine by me. I made reservations six months in advance by email and they were able to accommodate me for one night. The ambiance and building are so dramatic, it was the perfect first night in Havana. The food is good and the service excellent. This was our most expensive meal at 71 CUC per person but included drinks at the rooftop, apps, main, dessert and 3 bottles of wine.

Concordia No. 418 e/ Gervasio y Escobar, Centro Habana, For reservation contact: reservas@laguarida.com Telephone: +537-8669047

LA GUARIDA Food

Pate dela casa was rabbit pate underneath a cloud of spun sugar. My husband loved it.
Ceviche Verde
Pulpo
Tacos Marlin
Ensalada Pato
Langosta Grille
Tres Solomillo
Pescado Caimanero
Pie de Limon
Chocolate 3 Leche

IVAN CHEF JUSTO was on top of my list from all the food articles I'd read and it didn't disappoint. The Spanish food is spectacular and the service excellent. Ivan used to be the chef of Fidel Castro. Lunch for 8 cost us 36 CUC per person.

Address: Street Aguacate 9 corner Chacon (opposite the Museum of the Revolution ), Havana Vieja Phone: +53 7 8639697 Email : ivanchefsjusto.restaurant@yahoo.com Hours : Open daily from 12 to 24 h.

Ivan Chef Justo

the menu board
Lechoncito Mamon Asado
Ceviche Pescado
Filete de Pescado
Tabla de Pan
Ensaladas de Queso

AL CARBON is located below Ivan Chef Justo and is owned by Ivan. Specializing in Cuban dishes cooked over charcoal. The decor and menu is similar but the lechon at Ivan was superior to Carbon! Fabulous restaurant, great food and service. Lunch for 8 at 31 CUC per person and also accepts Euro and USD!

Aguacate 9 Esq. A Chacon, Habana Vieja Havana, Tel: 53-7863-9697

Al Carbon

Costillas de Cerdo

Filete de Pescado
Lechonito Ahogado
Pesca del Dia
Conejo Asado
Brocheta de Vegetables
Satisfied customer
, Cafe Cohina
flan

SANTY Restaurant - A little bit far from the center and hidden from tourists, this amazing sushi paladar is worth special journey. Ceviches, sushi, and amazing fresh seafood in a wooden construction over the small fishing harbour in Jaimanitas. 10CUC gives you a plate of sashimi/ceviche/sushi. Camaron for 12 CUC, Pulpo for 13 CUC and Langostino for 25CUC. Lunch for our group of 9 cost 32 CUC per person including beverages and 10% SVC. Address:Calle 240A No 3023 y 3raC, Jaimanitas 12200, Phone:5 286 7039

SANTY

Set above a fishing village in Jaimanitas
Casual restaurant
Sashimi plate for 10CUC
Sushi Plate for 10CUC
Sushi in Cuba? You bet!

CAFE LAURENT - located in a residential apartment building where a small antique elevator takes you to the penthouse. The restaurant has a Spanish-Basque based menu and a 1950's Miami vibe. Ask for a table in the outdoor terrace and enjoy the breeze and views. Lunch for 8 - 23 CUC per person.

Calle M No 257, between Calles 19 and 21, Vedado, +537 831 2090

Cafe Laurent

crema de verdura con queso
Arroz meloso negro
Pescado con patatas
Mixto de mariscos

El Cocinero - New York style loft lounge with rooftop terrace, this was the perfect restaurant to spend our last night in Havana. Very cool and hip vibe and crowd with good food and service. For 28 CUC per person, we had empanadillas, tomato salad, papas bravas, ensalada japones, pescado grille, del mar, lamb kebab, chorizos parrilada, salteado de vegetables, codito de cordero. cocktails and coffee. Reservations a must, they are solidly booked.

Calle 26e/ 11 y 13.Vedado, Havana, +53 78 322 355

ATELIER - a contemporary space in a Havana mansion in Vedado. Atelier is run by Niuris Higueras, who has long nutured her passion for exciting food: the menu changes every day. We were seated in the outdoor terrace and enjoyed the cool evening breeze. Food and service were both very good. I appreciated the lighter fare options as we had our fill of lechon by this time.

Calle 5, between Paseo y Calle 2, Vedado, +537 836 2025

ATELIER

Octopus salad in previous photo

Beef Carpaccio
Vegetables with Brie Cheese
Serrano Ham combination
Tomato with Feta Cheese
Seafood Salad
Half eaten Seafood Platter

CASA MIGLIS - located in Centro Havana in a restored ground floor home, Casa Miglis is a cool, modern and airy dining option. We dined on Ceviche Tropical, Tostada Skagen, Gazpacho, Albondigas Suecas, Cazuela de Mariscos, Ensalada Cesar, Pasta con Camarones, and Chili Mexicano de Carnero. The food was good however the service was not. My dish only appeared after everyone else had finished leaving a sour taste for this restaurant. We spent 35CUC per person including wine.

Lealtad 120 Between Animas and Lagunas, Centro Havana Tel: +53 7 8641486 (restaurant), +53 52 827353 (mobile) Opening hours: noon to midnight Website: http://www.casamiglis.com, email: michel@topaz.se

VISTAMAR - was recommended by my guide Jorge and is located in Miramar in a beautiful two story oceanfront family home. Its easy to imagine how just how glamorous this stretch of real estate was before the Revolution with each home having a swimming pool facing the ocean. The food was decent but not spectacular plus the taxi from Centro Havana to Miramar cost 50CUC round trip. But it was a nice evening, we sat poolside and dined on Crema Calabasa, Grilled Shrimp, Ensalada Pollo, Pollo Asado, and Grilled Pork spending 32CUC per person including wine.

Ave. 1ra entre 22 y 24, Miramar (+53)7203 - 8328 Open noon-midnight Mon-Sat, closed Sun

VINALES DINING

FINCA AL PARAISO - Everything they say about Finca Al Paraiso is true. It lives up to the hype so much so that you will need reservations for lunch or dinner as this place is booked solid. You are welcomed with their house "anti-stress" drink that puts you in the right mood to soak it all in. Before dinner, we took a tour of their vegetable farm which made us appreciate our meal even more so. A lot of loving and care goes into our food.

One of the original organic farm to table restaurants in Cuba, this was one of the best meals we had. For starters, they bring you tostones and yuca chips. The first course is a delicious hearty squash vegetable soup. Next, the table fills up with a parade of dishes from beets, to tamales, rice with beans, fritters, grilled pineapple, lettuce and tomato salad. Then they bring you chicken and roasted pig. At this point, we just had to say STOP. "We can't eat any more food."

Carretera Al Cementerio KM 1 1/2, Vinales 22400, Cuba +53 5 8188581

Tobacco farm private lunch - How many times can I tell you that this was one of the best and most memorable meals we had in Cuba? The fact is we hiked for four hours to get here so we earned our meal. I had requested for roasted pig for the group many months ago and never expected Yaniel to deliver. He did and so much more. It was a windy day so we ate inside the tobacco curing shed, just adding the requisite ambience to our organic meal. We feasted on lettuce and tomato salad, yuca, rice and beans, fried potatoes, roasted pig, pineapples. It was divine. Naps on the hammock post lunch is optional but highly recommended.

To book this special experience for your group, contact Discover Vinales

FINCA LAS ERMITAS is located 3 minutes down the road from Horizontes La Ermita Hotel. Yaniel organized this dinner for us. It was our first meal in Cuba and we dined on Grilled Lobster and Ropa Vieja. Great meal and good service.

LA COCINITA DEL MEDIO - Yaniel recommended this private home/restaurant in Vinales for lunch. From their balcony overlooking the main street, we dined on Ropa Vieja, Filete de Pescado. All main courses come with vegetables, rice and yucca and we spent 16CUC pp including cocktails and coffee.

122 Salvador Cisneros, Vinales, Cuba +52 667 117 0902 Open noon to 11pm.

TRINIDAD DINING

EL CUBITA was recommended by our host and it did not disappoint. Clean, good service and tasty food.

Maceo #471 E/Simon Bolivar | Y Francisco Javier Zerquera, Trinidad 62600, +53 5 4306376, https://www.facebook.com/BarSantanderCubita/

CAFE DON PEPE is an open courtyard cafe with an extensive coffee menu. I had the Bombon Frio which was excellent.

Located at Piro Guniart, Frente al Museo de Lucha contra Bandidos, Trinidad 62600, +5301533767332

TABERNA LA BOTIJA is adorned with stone walls, wooden benches and slave chains. With a no reservation policy, the line stretches out to the street. The atmosphere is fun, at night they had a jazz band performing but the food is just OK, nothing special.

Amargura 71-B | esq. Boca, Trinidad 62600, +53 5 2830147

CAFE GIROUD is a casual place for lunch and specializes in pizza and pasta.

Rosario 403, Entre Media Luna y Real | Rosario 403, Entre Media Luna y Real, Trinidad 62600, +53 41 993818

SOL ANANDA is a colonial home built in 1750 turned into a restaurant. Dine in period furniture with beautiful linens and silverware. The food is as exquisite as the decor.

Real 45 | Frente a la Plaza Mayor, Trinidad 62600, +53 41 998281
Sol Ananda food

CASA SAN JOSE was also recommended by our hosts. The queue outside is indicative of its popularity. The food and service were excellent.

Maceo No. 382 | entre Colon y Smith, Trinidad 62600,

SHOPPING

CLANDESTINA - I had been stalking this store on IG for months so this was high on my list. It did not disappoint. Cuba is ridden with stalls selling the same product so it was refreshing to see originality in design, presentation, and merchandise. 403, Villegas, La Habana, +53 5 3814802

HABANA 1791 Perfumeria - Located in an 18th-century mansion at the corner of Mercaderes and Obrapía, this beautiful shop and laboratory sells 12 varieties of scents or colognes. The bottles are made by Cuban ceramists while others are imported. I bought the SON CUBANO scent in a yellow ceramic bottle. They sealed it with wax and wrapped it plastic and tape. However when I got home and unpacked it, some of the liquid had escaped so it obviously hadn't been sealed well enough. Still a nice memory for 18CUC but if you buy it, make sure its sealed properly.

Open: 9:30am-6pm daily, Free Admission, Address: Mercaderes #156, esq. a Obrapía, Habana Vieja

JOYERIA CONTEMPORANEA EN TITANIO is on the same street as Habana Perfumeria and worth a visit. All jewelry designed by Jorge Gil and made in Titanium.

CALLE CUBA #467A e/ Amargura y Teniente Rey, Habana Vieja Tel (+537) 8018222, (535) 2724428, www.jorgegil-jewellery.com, email: jorgegil79@nauta.cu, gil@enet.cu

Where we stayed

HORIZONTES LA ERMITA is a 3-star hotel built in the 60's and has 62 spacious basic rooms with air-conditioning, TV, shower and balcony. It's a short walk to town and much more private than Hotel Los Jazmines. Breakfast buffet was varied with a gorgeous view of the valley.

Carretera de La Ermita km.1 ½. Pinar del Río, +53 48 796122, http://www.hotel-la-ermita-cuba.com

CASA DENSIL is probably one of the most featured Casa Particulares in Havana having been featured in Vogue.com, W and Marie Claire. I was thrilled we could book 2 rooms six months in advance. Located in Centro Havana, 2 blocks from the Malecon and 5 blocks from Old Havana. The owners Enzo and Densil have furnished this colonial home so tastefully. For breakfast we'd have fresh guava juice, coffee, fresh pastries, eggs, fruits, yogurt with honey - really lovely and delicious. Casa Densil has 3 colonial rooms and 1 rooftop suite, all can be booked through AirBnB.

Living Room
Stairway to the rooftop
Inner courtyard leading to rooms
Dining room and living room
Dining Room
Assorted china and silverware
Black and cream is the color scheme
Rooftop terrace is more colorful

AirBNB Links to booking rooms at Casa Densil are provided below. Cozy and Charming Bedrooms have the bathrooms on the upper level. Lovely has the bathroom on the same level.

CASA AMISTAD EN TRINIDAD is an oasis. Newly renovated, it is comfortable, spacious and tastefully decorated. Currently there are 3 rooms with 2 additional rooms under construction. The whole property can be rented through AirBnB. Oscar and Uriel manage the property with their dogs.

Indoor spaces
Outdoor spaces
Room near the Main Entrance
Room by the courtyard
Newly finished room by the courtyard
Soon to be finished room on the 2nd floor with magnificent views.

Oscar rents exclusively through AirBnB, links to book are below.

Guides

DISCOVER VINALES - Founder Yaniel Alvarez is a consummate professional, speaks and writes English fluently. I communicated with him via email and he provided us with airport transfer in a private van from Havana to Vinales, first night's dinner in Vinales, full day hiking tour including taxi transfers, private lunch in a tobacco farm, horseback riding, dinner at Finca Paraiso and full day's use of a private van to travel to Cayo Jutias and Havana. Everything Yaniel arranged was reliable, punctual and seamless. It was a pleasure to work with him and I highly recommend his services if you decide to visit Vinales.

with Yaniel Luis Alvarez, founder of Discover Vinales

I came across Sussette Martinez, art curator and guide, from online articles and contacted her by email. Sussette personally guided us through the Fine Arts Museum (Cuban art) and spent a whole day introducing us to Cuban artist in their studios. We all loved the time spent with her and highly recommend her. She works directly with private people and with select tour agencies. She can also organize Historic, Architecture, Art Deco, Shopping tours.

Sussette Martinez - tel: (537) 267 7989 cel: (535) 258 5678, sussem@gmail.com

I found Jorge Cuba Holidays online and spent months honing our Havana itinerary with him. Jorge organized our guide (Elena) for the walking tour, classic convertibles for our drive around Havana, cars and guide for the Cuba factory tour and Ernest Hemingway trip, R/T private transfer to Trinidad, and reconfirmed all my restaurant reservations. All the arrangements Jorge made was flawless, punctual and perfect.

with Jorge

Helpful Tips

Cuba has two currencies, CUP (Cuban Peso) and CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), 25CUP = 1CUC, US$1 = .87CUC. 1Euro = 1CUC. Tourists only use CUC, and it can get confusing so DO NOT change money at the black market. Only change money at the bank or hotels. Read your banknotes and make sure they say Cuban Convertible Peso.

Changing money is a hassle. The lines are long, the process is tedious and sleep inducing.

At the bank, waiting for our turn to change money. As i said, the process is sleep inducing.

Drink only bottled water. Be wary of where the ice cubes come from. To be safe, we were advised to drink beer from bottles and soda from cans.

Castro's Revenge, formerly known as Montezuma, struck all of us. We succumbed one day apart of each other so we can't point to any restaurant as the culprit. My Havana host said this was normal for tourists and advised not to take Imodium but to rather, let it flow. Think of it as a cleansing.

Negotiate the cab fare before getting in. Taxi fare from Centro to Old Havana around 5CUC, from Centro to Vedado between 7CUC-10CUC. Ask your host for cab fare guidelines.

Like changing money, buy cigars only from official stores. You can also buy cigars, rum and coffee at the airport. There is no longer any limit to the amount of cigars and rum you can bring out of Cuba.

Colorfully dressed women in the plazas of Havana expect a tip when you take their photo or have your photo taken with them. Even dressed pooches expect a tip, this is a tourist economy.

Service Charge in restaurants is 10% if its not already included in the bill. Tip your chamber maid, toilet attendant, tour guide, driver, musicians.

Go off the internet grid. Enjoy the real moment.

I took hundreds of photos and put them in two separate albums. Colors of Cuba and People of Cuba I call them. Please have a look if you haven't done so already.

See my Photo Essay titled Colors of Cuba

See my Photo Essay titled People of Cuba

Message me if you have any questions. I hope this is helpful in planning your trip to Cuba. Total cost of my independent 10-day trip including airfare, visa, accommodations, tours, transfers, meals, tips was $2500.

Created By
Tesa Totengco
Appreciate

Credits:

Cover Created with images by efes - "woman cuba cigar". All other photos from my Iphone7 with additional photos from Michael Girman and Frankie Drogin

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