November 2, 2012 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Cuba - What shouldn't I miss?

I am taking a three week trip to Cuba with a spur of the moment itinerary. I will most likely be using Viazul (bus) for travel between cities. Have you been to Cuba and would be willing to recommend something you experienced there? I will stay in "Casa Particulares" when possible and hotels otherwise. I am traveling solo. All suggestions are welcome. I am starting and ending in Havana.
posted by snowjoe to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I saw a moonrise on the Malecon. It was pretty magical. I also really enjoyed walking around in Chinatown in Havana, but it's been about a decade since I was in Cuba, and I heard that the Chinatown is really different now. I also really enjoyed Matanzas.

How fluent in Spanish are you? If you are fluent in Spanish and want to engage in some bartering, bring stuff from the US to trade in the local markets or to gift to folks. IDK what you'd bring now, but when I was there, popular items included aspirin, condoms, notebooks, sneakers, and good quality bras for busty women.
posted by spunweb at 10:43 PM on November 2, 2012

The bra thing might have been less sketchy because I'm a busty woman myself...
posted by spunweb at 10:54 PM on November 2, 2012

I loved the town of Trinidad and the remote and beautiful Baracoa.

Brush up on your Spanish as you'll need it. Seconding, bring useful things for trade and gifts. Books, fishing line.
posted by iotic at 2:51 AM on November 3, 2012

Visit Hemingway's house.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:39 AM on November 3, 2012

Vinales in the west is a good place to go. Strange limestone landscape with lots of caves and such. We stayed here which is a modern hotel, and doesn't have much character, but has amazing views of the valley and a decent pool. Food was rubbish, but then, that's Cuba.

Seconding Trinidad too, beautiful old town.

My favourite casa particular was this one in Santa Clara. It was seven years ago now, but looking at the photos, still has the same bed. Hope it has the same owner, a lovely chap who cooked the best food we had the whole time we were there. Proper good, not just "good for Cuba". Santa Clara is a decent enough town, good for the Che Guevara mausoleum, which is worth a trip if you're in to that sort of thing.
posted by ComfySofa at 11:23 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and T-shirts with writing on seemed to be one of the most popular items people wanted. And pens.
posted by ComfySofa at 11:26 AM on November 3, 2012

Have a cocktail at sunset in the back courtyard of the Hotel Nacional in Havana.
posted by trip and a half at 1:19 PM on November 3, 2012

The tastiest food I had in Havana were ropa vieja (at a paladar called "La Julia" in old Havana) and fried rice from one of the busier street vendors (they serve it in a little cardboard box with no spoon, so do like the locals and use the ripped lid as a scoop). Both are things I would happily eat even here in Toronto. I generally found that the less visually appealing dishes (stews, beans, etc.) were the tastiest, whereas the various pizzas/fried things were ... not so good.

The coffee everywhere was fantastic -- rich and strong. Try aged rums, even if you don't like rum much generally. There's a world of difference between the standard bar-rail stuff here and a 7-year rum. And if you like it, it's so cheap to bring home (if you're allowed to do that).

Agree that over-the-counter meds and personal hygiene items (esp. sanitary pads/tampons, condoms, razors) are very much appreciated. (I left them for the owners of the casas, or staff at the hotels.) Little individually wrapped hard candies were popular too (would leave them along with the tip at bars/restaurants, or just share with friendly strangers).

Re: gifts -- Once I brought school supplies (crayons, pens, english-spanish picture books, etc.) to a church that was a little out of the ways and the people there were so, so appreciative. (I'm not really religious, but they didn't mind one bit.) If I went again, I'd probably focus my efforts on that kind of thing. Good idea to learn/write down a phrase in Spanish ("these are gifts for the children", etc) because people outside of the tourist industry don't generally know much English.

I never got sick from the food, but the tour guide at the resort mentioned that for some people, the dairy was a problem. Not because it was pathogenic, but just because it was pasturized differently. So if you're sensitive, easing your way into the ice creams, etc. might be wise.

Looks like you'll be there during the cooler season, but you might consider bringing one of those Chinese/Japanese fold-up paper fans. I'm bad with heat, and the fan helped a lot in keeping cool.

Hope you have an awesome trip!
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 1:19 PM on November 3, 2012

Walk along the Malecon in the evening, sit on the stone wall where the kids jump off to swim in the ocean while little fishing boats venture out into the bay.

If you wander through the neighborhoods between the Colón Cemetery and the Viazul station, the houses and apartment buildings will remind you of mid-century buildings in Hollywood.

You probably already know this, but since your location seems to be Glendale, you will not be able to use any plastic issued by a U.S. bank. The foreign currencies that you will be able to exchange for CUC are: U.S. dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros and Mexican Pesos. Period.
posted by univac at 1:02 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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