Cuba

Before you go:

Cuban Visa at the airport:

  • Delta – $50
  • Spirit – $75 (online); $100 @ airport
  • American – $100 @ airport ($85 by mail)
  • JetBlue – $50 @ airport

Cuban Visa in DC -If you live in DC, you can get a visa from the consulate for $50 – this will save anywhere from $25 – $50 depending on the airline you travel compared to a visa obtained at the airport/online.

Go to the Cuban consulate at 2630 16th St NW, Washington DC. Their hours are: 9 AM – 12 PM (not open on Cuban holidays)

Processing time – 1 WEEK, so you will need to submit visa application a couple of weeks before you travel (at least). You will need to take:

  • 1 photocopy of passport – first 2 pages
  • 1 passport photo
  • One completed application form (save image at the end of the blog, print and fill it out). You will need to know where you are staying and a contact name if it’s a casa particulare.
  • Copy of airline itinerary
  • A postal money order for $50 (from USPS) IF APPLYING IN PERSON, add an extra $20 for someone else to submit on your behalf. Also be aware that the USPS does NOT accept credit cards for postal money orders, so take cash or debit card!

Print everything – airline ticket details, any tourist material, casa bookings detail etc.

Exchanging money when you get to Cuba:

At the Airport: OPEN 24 hours – At Jose Martí Havana International airport CADECA can be found outside of the arrivals terminal building. There are 2 CADCEA bureaus, one to the left and one to the right of the arrivals exit. There are also CADECA bureaus at the check-in area on the 1st floor.

In Havana: The main branch of CADECA in Havana is on 257 Obispo, Havana Vieja open Monday-Saturday, 8.30am-8.30pm and Sunday 9am-7pm, you can exchange most currencies here, including ‘moneda nacional’ and there are ATM machines.

What to take:

  • Essential Tech:
    • Cuba guide eBook (best as you can search through it) on your phone or a paper copy.
    • Save offline maps of Cuba if possible – I used maps.me
    • Download and watch the Cuba Libre documentary from Netflix – it will add an extra dimension to everything you experience while in Cuba.
    • Google Translate – offline version of Spanish translations.
  • Toiletries – quite hard to find these there, so take enough for trip
  • Toilet Roll – optional – most places have this.
  • Mosquito repellent – if you will do any amount of hiking.
  • SunScreen, a good sun hat
  • Beach Trip – Travel Towels (Turkish); flip flops
  • Candy snacks for longer bus trip
  • Small gifts for locals if possible.

Helpful Links

Cubanacan office telephone numbers – Once you are there, you can book Transtur bus tickets, taxis, day trips and more here.

The Capri Hotel opposite the Nacional Hotel in Havana sells Transtur bus tickets. Transtur is one step up from from Viazul (used by most travelers).

Cuba Blog Links 1

Havana

Day Trips from Havana

    1. Bird watching in the Zapata Peninsula
    2. Snorkeling: Bay of Pigs / Palay Larga – its 2 hours by car.
    3. Beach Fun: Day trip to Varadero – buses cost about 10 CUC, the trip takes about 2 hours each way and you can spend a full day at the beach
    4. Day Trip to Vinales valley – buses cost about 12 CUC, the trip takes about 2.5 hours each way. The valley is simply stunning: mogotes (isolated hills that have a very rounded shape), traditional tobacco plantations, numerous caves and a pretty and tranquil little town make it a perfect place to relax and have lunch. The bus leaves Havana in the morning, typically with a short stop at a tobacco plantation. Once you are in Vinales, there is a sightseeing tour by bus that’s reasonable and takes you to all the sites. Take the bus to the Indian caves and get a tour, then back in Vinales for a meal and the trip back to Havana.
    5. Jibacoa, or more properly Playa Jibacoa, is a fishing village in the Mayabeque Province of Cuba. It is located in the municipality of Santa Cruz del Norte, at the mouth of the Jibacoa River, 60 km east of Havana. This also seems ideal for a day trip. with diving and snorkeling options – the coral reef is apparently large and quite close to the beach so no need for a boat. Take a look at this site for more info. Here’s another site.
    6. Havana Architecture Tour

Day Trips from Trinidad

Snorkeling on Playa Ancon – this beach is great for swimming and snorkeling – ( 20 minutes from Trinidad).

Other day trips to sugar plantations etc.

Topes De Collantes national park

BUS SCHEDULES

Transtur/Cubanacan – this is the preferred bus service; better buses etc.

cubabuses

Viazul -National bus service, acceptable and can be booked online as well.

viazulcuba

Havana only:

Day 1 – Havana arrival late afternoon – check in to AirBNB, get bus tickets if needed, drinks at El De Frente, dinner at Dona Etuimia together, then perhaps a jazz club?

Day 2 – Havana – Breakfast at Cafe El Escorial; walk around old Havana squares, see Camera Obscura, walk to market by the wharf, get beer/lunch at micro brewery. More sightseeing (perhaps the squares) – head over to Vedado, see the Nacional, and get early dinner at Mediterranean restaurant in Vedado, spend evening at Fabrica del Arte.

Day 3 –

AM – Breakfast at Cafe Arcangel, then Sightseeing tour of Havana – including the fort and other attractions.

PM – Salsa Lessons,  Drinks at El Chanchullero, Dinner ??

Day 4 – Day trip to Varadero or Jibacoa – beach and snorkeling

Day 5 – Day Trip Bird watching in the Zapata Peninsula / snorkeling in the Bay of Pigs

Day 6 – Day Trip to Vinales

Day 7 – Pick up souvenirs; leisurely lunch, drinks – last dinner someplace nice.

Havana and Trinidad:

Day 1 – Havana – arrival late afternoon – check in to AirBNB, get bus tickets if needed, drinks at El De Frente, dinner at Dona Etuimia together, then perhaps a jazz club?

Day 2 – Havana – Breakfast at Cafe El Escorial; walk around old Havana squares, see Camera Obscura, walk to market by the wharf, get lunch at micro brewery. More sightseeing – Head over to Vedado, see the Nacional, get early dinner at Mediterranean restaurant in Vedad, spend evening at Fabrica del Arte.

Day 3-

AM – Sightseeing trip of Havana with Yosneil – including the fort and other attractions. Lunch somewhere at a place of his choice.

PM – Salsa Lessions,  Drinks at El Chanchullero, Dinner ??

Day 4 –

Day trip for bird watching in Zapata Peninsula / snorkeling in the Bay of Pigs or Jibacoa

Day 5 –

AM – Bus to Trinidad

PM – Plaza mayor and town of Trinidad

Day 6 – Day trip to Playa Ancon – for swimming and snorkeling

Day 7 – Travel back from Trinidad (potentially by taxi) , making stops in the Bay of Pigs for snorkeling or Zapata Peninsula for bird watching.

Dinner in Havana on return

EAST COAST

Baracoa 

Blog Links 1 2 3 4

Restaurant/Bar Links 1

Museum: Taino Culture

Hiking: El Yunque & Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt

After wading past the polished grey boulders of the Río Duaba, we started our ascent of El Yunque (the Anvil), the flat-topped mountain that looms 575m above Baracoa. Our path was scattered with tiny white flowers, like tropical snowflakes, and butterflies flitted in the light. Guide Andrés snapped a cocoa pod from a tree trunk – over three quarters of the country’s cocoa is collected in Baracoa – and we crunched into a bitter seed. A cute green Cuban tody – like a robin with a green paint job – watched us as we snacked.

And then it was on uphill, sweating up the incline, tramping on fallen avocados and mandarins, and stepping around resting snakes and monstrous millipedes.

From the summit, alongside high-flying scarlet dragonflies, we surveyed Baracoa’s bounty. The crystalline rivers Toa, Yumurí, Miel and Duaba flowed through lush, palm-rich forests towards the turquoise sea, and Baracoa itself sat handsomely by the harbour. It was a vision of a primeval paradise.

But if the view from El Yunque suggested some ecological Eden, further to the north of Baracoa, beyond the broad Rio Toa, we found an even more impressive cradle of biodiversity. The forests of Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt tumble down to the sea from the Sagua-Baracoa mountain range. The park is a World Heritage site and an ecological hothouse with a long tick-list of endemic species. As well as myriad miniature critters, I’d heard it was home to the Cuban solenodon, a snouty-nosed nocturnal mammal, and a handful of manatees that slurp the cool waters of Bahía de Taco, another bag-shaped bay sewn up by mangroves.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we saw neither solenodon nor manatee when we visited, but the abundant flora was every bit as fascinating as the park’s secretive fauna.

We walked a mountainous trail lined with gangly Cuban pines, hundreds of species of fern, pineapples and orchids. In the humidity, we soon grew thirsty and so Jorge, our guide, helped us out: “These bromeliads, here, trap water. When Fidel and Che were tramping through the Sierra Maestra during the 1956 rebel campaign, they were drinking water from these plants.”

Beaches: Maguana Beach / Playa Blanca

Music: Casa de la Trova – Central square for music. Trova – the sound of Cuba’s 19th-century troubadour musicians – is one of the deep roots of Cuban music, and the little venue in Baracoa, with its whirring wooden ceiling fans, ebullient MC and mojitos on tap, is one of Cuba’s best places to lap up its influence. Legendary salsa from Baracoa’s bands thundered into the night for foreigners and locals bent on the temptations of sensual dancing.

Baracoa to Santiago

Helpful Links  1

The viaduct, La Farola, is one of Cuba´s engineering wonders. The highest point of this road is 600m above sea level and boasts nine bridges hanging over steep cliffs. The route offers a spectacular view over a wide natural area, dotted with tiny villages and with Guantanameros and Guantameras along the roadside selling homemade Cucuruchos.

Over a distance of about 16km, sharp curves and steep slopes are frequent, requiring concentrated and unhurried driving. Leave well rested and early as there can be more precipitation in the mountains than in other areas, even during the daytime.

Following the road will lead you directly south to Playita Cajobabo (national monument). The provincial coastal road continues to Imias, a semi desert area. You can make a coffee stop at the Ranchon (in Spanish, a ‘Ranchon’ is typically a roofed construction, usually made of wood and a thatched palm-leaf roof). Next on the map is San Antonio del Sur and then the road bends inland along Guantanamo Bay, to Guantanamo. After Guantanamo, it takes another 90km to Santiago de Cuba city.

Santiago Day Trips – Gran Piedra

About 25 kilometers southeast from the city, Gran Piedra (Grand Stone) is a large volcanic rock perched atop a mountain, which affords spectacular views over misty peaks and coastal plains. The drive to Gran Piedra, though a little hair raising, is worth the effort. A 12-kilometer road winds up to the Jardin Botanico from the main coastal road in Parque Baconao, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of lushly-cloaked mountains and golden beaches. Here, visitors can admire a variety of orchids and other tropical plants. At the end of the Jardin Botanico is a seemingly never ending set of stairs that leads up to the 1,234-meter-high peak of Gran Piedra and breathtaking views. The area is sometimes hazy in the afternoon, so it’s best to plan an ascent during the morning hours.

Architecture in Cuba: Havana

It’s well known that traveling to Havana is like traveling back in time: the weathered buildings, the old classic cars and the rich history standing out as top lures on your visit to Cuba. It’s less known however, that at the beginning of the 20th century, the Cuban capital was spectacularly rich – not unlike Newport’s Gilded Age – in which Havana underwent an extraordinary boom period, architecturally enriching with international influences such as art nouveau, art deco and eclectic design.

To this day, Havana is one of the most architecturally diverse cities in the world, and safe to say, a city photographer’s paradise. Its buildings clearly mirror its social and political history ever since the Spanish colonial times, up to the more modern present day.

Colonial & baroque period

Colonial architectura Plaza Vieja Old Havana.jpg

Ever since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, Havana became a key transshipment point between the Old World and the New World, with resources being brought from the colonialists into and through the city. As a result, Havana was the most heavily fortified city in the Americas. Most examples of early architecture can be seen in military fortifications such as La Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana (1558-1577), located at the entrance of Habana Bay, which now acts as symbol of the wealth at that time.

Palacio de la Ursulinas Arab Revival architecture.jpg

The biggest impact the different cultures had upon the Cuban capital can be seen in Havana’s colonial architecture, with a strong Moorish and Spanish influence, including Italian, Greek and Roman styles.

Baroque architecture Catedral de la Virgen Maria Havana.jpg

Photo by Dean Ayres, © some rights reserved

The Convento de Santa Clara is a good example of early Spanish influenced architecture, while the Cathedral dominating the Plaza de la Catedral (1749) is most representative of Cuban Baroque.

Neo-classical period

The beginning of the 19th century and the now implanted Spanish influence, brought upon the unequalled recurrent arcades, with many interior patios similar to the designs in Seville, Cadiz and Granada.

Havana Vedado Building.jpgHavana Vedado architecture.jpg

Neo-classicism soon took over and influenced buildings all over the city. The Aldama Palace (1844) is considered the most important neoclassical residential property in Cuba, one that exemplifies the look of this period: columns facing spacious courtyards and French inspired lavish interiors. The peak of Neoclassicism came with the construction of the Vedado district (1859), a neighborhood rich with notable buildings.

Art Nouveau, Art Deco & Eclectic influences

During the first decades of the 20th century, Havana expanded more rapidly than at any other time throughout its history. Havana became – along with Buenos Aires – the finest city in Latin America. This prompted Havana’s architecture to be infused with the art nouveau, art deco and eclectic styles from abroad. Not only that, but the 1902 Real Estate Record and Guide imposed strict levels of regulation: balconies, ornaments and even colors required approval, while the architect had to present an elevation drawing of the entire block, to make sure the house was aesthetically agreeable within the neighborhood.

Paseo Boulevard Hotel Parque Central Havana.jpg

Wealthy districts quickly came to existence, such as Miramar, set out on the American street grid pattern and home to diplomats and foreigners. Prado Boulevard became a Fifth Avenue of sorts, while the section around Obispo and O’Reilly Streets was home to so much banking construction that it was nicknamed “little Wall Street.”

Capitolio Havana.jpg

The 1912 Spanish Railway Terminal, with its twin towers, terra-cotta medallions and broad waiting room, as well as the Capitolio, an exact replica to half its size of the Capitol building in Washington DC, are a good example of the eclectic style.

Havana Artdeco Bacardi Building.jpg

Photo by Sue Kellerman, © some rights reserved

The Lopez Serrano Building (1932) by Ricardo Mira is Cuba’s first tall building, inspired by the Rockefeller Centre in New York, while The Edificio Bacardi (1930) is one of Havana’s most outstanding buildings and the best example of Art Deco.

So take the leap and step back in time, for just 90 miles off the coast of the United States, there’s a fascinating aesthetic journey waiting. Whether it’s discovering Old Havana – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – or the eclectic styles of the more present days, Havana’s architectural diversity won’t disappoint!

Cuban Visa Application Form

cuba_visa_application_2017

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