|Note the temperature - at 7:30 on |
a July morning.
1) Weather: I was there in July, it was very hot and very humid, the prevailing wind was easterly. So maybe get a coach or flight to the east of the island and cycle back to Havana with a tailwind. Carry plenty of clean water with you. There has been cholera in Cuba, the tap water generally is not safe to drink. In villages and small towns there may NOT be bottled water available, when you see it buy it. Or use your chosen method to purify the local supply.
2) Traffic: Havana is not very busy and many roads are wide. In other places traffic is generally light, most trucks, tractors and coaches are courteous. One exception was the road to Santa Clara to Remedios, other cyclists and I found trucks passing dangerously close.
|Traffic in Havana - cooler than your normal stuff|
3) Accomodation: (a) Casa Particular: These are the Cuban equivalent of Bed and Breakfasts. Many are in beautiful old places in great locations. For about $25 you can get a big, clean en-suite room, often with two beds, cooling fans, air conditioning and a useful fridge. Do not expect tv or wi-fi, the internet is banned in private houses. Breakfast is about $4 and four star quality. They often offer dinner at about $8, which is expensive as you can eat out at a local restaurant for one or two dollars, but if they are serving something tasty it can be a great feast. I sometimes haggled gently to get a deal for the room, breakfast and dinner.
b) Touts: When you arrive in a town touts will often offer to show you to a Casa. They then expect to get a tip from the casa. The touts are sometimes dishonest and almost always unnecessary. Don't use them unless you are desperate. Instead download the mapsme app onto your smartphone along with the map of Cuba. This will show you where hotels are located. Where there are hotels there will be Casa. They do NOT exist in every small town. Go to the streets around the main square or plaza, you will find Casa Particular, they have a blue I symbol (or a blue H on its side). Casas with a red symbol are for locals only. Check that the Casa is clean and well maintained on the outside, peer inside as well and you should be able to get a good place.
c) Hotels: $60 +. More than twice as expensive as a Casa and half as good. Don't bother.
d) Campsites: July is high season for Cuban holiday makers, campsites did not let me in as they were for Cubans only. In Cuban low season (around December) it could be worth checking these - many have cabins as well as pitches.
e) Wild Camping: If you speak Spanish you can ask the local police where to stay. They will probably direct you to the local baseball ground. Or you can ask at a small café which has some land. The police may check you out as wild camping is not common. The beaches may be suitable for stealth camping, but take insect repellent as sandflies are common.
|With local currency, pizza cost $0.20|
3) Two Currencies: Buy your currency on arrival. Tourists mainly use convertible peso (known as CUC). Roughly $1 = 1 cuc. To take advantage of low local prices you also need "money nationale" (confusingly, also called peso). 1 cuc = 24 peso/money nationale. (The true rate is a little higher, but banks and money changers were always using this conversion.) Simply take a small amount of CUC and your passport to a bank and they will convert it to money nationale / peso. Then you buy food from street vendors and locals' restaurants at a fraction of tourist prices.
5) Shops: A Cuban proudly told me that his countries trading partners were: Bolivia, Venezuela, China and North Korea. There is not much in the shops unless you want womens' shoes or plastic household goods. Bring essentials like sun cream, insect repellent and other toiletries with you. In most shops there are only one or two food shops and these have little appetising stock. You can use your money nationale to buy food from street vendors, 5 or 6 bananas cost $0.20.
6) Internet: This is not widely available. In the cities you can go to the telephone office (ETECSA) and buy a Wi-Fi pass for 2 cuc for 1 hour, or 10 cuc for 5 hours; take your passport as they sometimes require it. If they are closed someone normally sells passes in the main square for 3 cuc. You can then use wi fi in the main square / plaza. Even better, most of these telephone offices have an air conditioned room with terminals where you can access the 'net in comfort and probably more security.
7) Safety: I found Cubans very friendly and helpful. There were some towns where I didn't hang around - too many drunks, no police. Local people also told me to lock my bike or put it inside, so theft appears to be a problem.
8) Best Bits: My favourite road was from Sancti Spritus to Trinidad and onto Cienfuegos. Havana is a beautiful, fascinating city, somewhere I will return to.
|When the blockade is properly lifted, Cuba will change.|