El Presidente

The Ultimate Visiting Cuba Thread.

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With more anf more FOH members visiting Havana I wanted to put together the ultimate list of things to do, where to stay, purchase cigars etc. I will wrap it up in a PDF/posted on the site that you can share with friends and families. However I need you all to contribute (those that have been there).

Categories. Add address and contact details where you can ie... google it if need be. Always stipulate why

Lets make this a great resource!

1. Your favourite Hotel (nominate the city it is in)

2. Your favourite Casa Particular

3. Your favourite Place for breakfast

4 Your favourite Paladar or Govt restaurant for lunch

5. Your favourite Paladar or Govt restaurant for dinner

6. Your favourite Bars

7. Your favourite Nightclub (anything before midnight doesn't count!).

8. Favourite places to purchase cigars

9. Favourite place to enjoy cigars

10. Must sees during a stay.

Let's make it a great resource! If you can suggest any other categories please do so!

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1. Your favourite Hotel (nominate the city it is in)

I've only stayed in two but I'd recommend them both.

The Parque Central. Decent service, clean rooms, fantastic pool and view from the roof. Right beside Habana Vieja, very easy walk to Partagas/Conde de Vilanueva etc.

The Hotel Nacional. If you're going to the festival and want to meet people, it's the place to be. At some point, everybody attending will be on that terrace having a mojito. If ordering mojitos there, don't get them from the terrace bar, walk 20 yards inside to the Churchill bar. Same price and much, much better.

Rooms are a little shabby now but service is good and a decent enough shop in the basement.

2. Your favourite Casa Particular

Can't help you yet.

3. Your favourite Place for breakfast

Gato Tuerto or the Malecon with a bottle of white rum but neither of those are probably very helpful for normal people.

4 Your favourite Paladar or Govt restaurant for lunch

With a big group, El Aljibe is always handy. There's no choosing what to have. It's chicken. Very good wine selection.

La Barca, beside El Templete, nice and airy, decent service. Actually doing decent steaks if it's steak you're after in Cuba. Very good seafood.

5. Your favourite Paladar or Govt restaurant for dinner

El Guajirito, Zulueta 658. Very good food. Decor is southern spanish style "woodeny". Theatre space right beside it has flamenco rehearsals from 5-8 pm every weeknight. Lovely to watch while waiting on the food. Seafood special very good there. Wine list a little pricey but plenty of beer and cocktails. Will handle a group of 10 - 20 no problems.

Vistamar in Miramar. Trying a mixture of Cuban and Asian. Had a chicken teriyaki there that actually tasted like chicken teriyaki. Very good service, great view and decent prices for a place with cloth napkins.

El Templete, very good seafood. Service better than average.

6. Your favourite Bars

Bar Monserrate, just down from the Floridita, hopping on a thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Great bands. Good mix of Cubans and tourists. Very good prices. Kept running out of Bucanero for some reason, the nights we were there.

7. Your favourite Nightclub (anything before midnight doesn't count!).

There's only one I'd mention, the Gato Tuerto, crawling distance from the Nacional. Great bands, service. Good prices. 5 CUCs in every night. No point getting there before midnight unless you really want a seat. Never gets too crowded.

8. Favourite places to purchase cigars

Enrique Mons shop, Club Habana in Miramar. Very good selection of aged stock. Calm, it's well outside the hustle and bustle. Nice lounge for a coffee/rum. Mons himself is a very very nice but you'd better have some spanish. Make sure you tell security on the way in that you're just visiting the cigar shop or you'll pay 10CUC each to use the club.

Conde de Villanueva, Mercederes Street, Habana Vieja. If Reinaldo happens to be there, again a really nice guy who will always make time for you. Some spanish very useful. Good selection of house cigars.

9. Favourite place to enjoy cigars

Courtyard in the Conde de Villanueva, Mercederes Street. Nice oasis of calm for that area, especially when you're in a dose of the horrors.

Terrace of the Nacional, any time of day. If it's not too windy and the band isn't too loud, there aren't many nicer places to have a cigar.

10. Must sees during a stay.

A walk along the malecon at twilight.

Sunrise on the Malecon, rum/company optional but preferred.

A walk on the Prado.

Habana Vieja, Plaza de Armas, Cathedral square.

Bacardi Building

Partagas Factory

RyJ shop, rum and a cigar with Hamlet at the bar if he's not too busy.

El Morro Castle

Let's make it a great resource! If you can suggest any other categories please do so!

If you get caught short, any time of day in Habana Vieja. The public restrooms in the lobby of the Parque Central (behind the stairs) are always spotless. Sit in the lobby for ten minutes and you'll see someone you know popping in to drop the kids off at the pool.

By comparison the toilets off the lobby in the Nacional generally have a soup of cholera culture on the stall floors.

I suppose this bit might need some editing for general viewing but this can be handy information.

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From Keith based on his own experiences and some he has picked up elsewhere :stir:

________________________________________________________________________________

___________

Cuba Travel Tips – Cigar Info:

· The best place to buy authentic cigars in Varadero is at the "La Casa del Habano" facing the Cuatros Palmas hotel in Varadero [between the Palma Real and the beach]. (In Havana, it's at La Casa del Habano 520, entre Dragones Barcelona, Habana Vieja, La Habana. It's at the Partagas factory behind the Capitole – tours are $10 for about an hour, and tours in English are at about 10am and 2pm). For pricing, it's not possible to give you all of the prices. You'll find some ratings for common cigars so you can extrapolate for the others. Prices may vary from one boutique to another and also depend on availability but the variation is never more than 20 USD:

§ Bolivar Coronas Gigantes SBN 25$250

§ Cohiba Esplendidos Var 25$490

§ Hoyo des Dieux Cabinet 25$155

§ Partagas Serie D N'4 SBN 25$190

§ Punch Punch SBN 25$170

§ Hoyo Double Coronas ($154)

§ Punch Churchill ($143)

§ Hoyo Epicure Nº1 (SLB) ($109)

§ Cohiba Siglo III ($167)

§ R y J Exhibición Nº4 ($90)

§ Montecristo Especial Nº2 ($120)

§ Juan Lopez Selectos Nº2 ($118)

· With cigar stores in Havana, a much better known cigar store is the La Casa Del Habano at Fifth and 16. One of the managers is Carlos Robaina (son of the late Alejandro Robaina) and you can puff away in this clubby, elegant shop. It's a smaller store with dark woods, stained glass decorations with the names of Cuba's greatest cigar brands, a bar, a small room for private dining and plenty of cigars. They serve Cubita coffee, which 5 y 16 serves unlike any other place – with a tobacco leaf under the cup. Nice touch.

· Since 2004, when you buy a box of cigars in Cuba (more than 23 cigars in a box), you HAVE TO GET AN OFFICIAL HABANOS RECEIPT!!! The cashier will fill it out with your passport # and serial number of the cigar box. When you are leaving at the airport and you pass through Cuban Customs, they will ask you for your receipts and pass them under a UV light to make sure they are REAL receipts too! If you don't have a real receipt also, they will take your cigars away! So make sure you get a receipt when you buy your box! PS: You don't need an official receipt if you are buying a few single cigars or 5 packs, but why not ask for a plain cashiers receipt just to be safe.

· With cigars, look for 2005 or 2006 box codes. Also, 2003 was an excellent year, and 2008 is turning out to be even better.

· The LCDH at the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana has the new Cohiba Behikes BHK's. Many people wonder what these sell for in Havana, and these wonderful smokes (Cigar Aficionado rated the Cohiba BHK 52 cigar 94 points, and gave a score of 93 points to the BHK 54) sell for as much as $1,100 per box in Canada, but here in Cuba they are 180 CUC ($216), 238 CUC ($285) and 259 CUC ($310) per box of 10. It's a steal, and it shows why you can't find them in most other Cuban cigar shops.

· Pick up a bottle of Matusalem Gran Reserva rum, as well as the Ron Varadero Anejo 15 Anos Gran Reserva, and a bottle of the Legendario (Elixir de Cuba).

· Miscellaneous "must-see/must-do" cigar-related items in Havana:

§ Malecon at night. Drink, smoke and party with the locals. Good times.

§ Hotel Nacional - Stop in for a drink or 10 and a few cigars!

§ Hotel Sevilla - Nice lobby to just relax and have a few mojitos with a few cigars. Also, a nice LCDH in the "mall" area of the hotel.

§ Conde de Villenueva - Very historic hotel. One of the best LCDH's in town. See Reynaldo and ask about the custom rolled cigars. They are in the lockers in the back of shop.

§ LCDH 5y16 - IMO, the best cigar lounge in town!

§ Partagas Factory - My morning stop. Have a coffee with a cigar and do a tour of the factory. Also, ask for La China and her customs. Good cigars.

§ NH Park Central - If you can get past the security (a good tip will do!), go to the rooftop lounge/pool area to rest your feet, have a drink and smoke a cigar! Great view!

§ RyJ Factory - Factory is closed, but hear rumors it is re-opening, since renos are complete. Nice LCDH to relax in. See Hamlet for customs!

Cuba Travel Tips:

General info:

· $25 CUC departure tax, in cash, is due at the airport when leaving. Ensure you set this aside from your spending money, and set aside with your passports for leaving Cuba.

· *Warning: bring a copy of your passport if you are not comfortable leaving it with the front desk staff temporarily. Most resorts will take your passport and hang onto them for the initial 24-hours when you arrive – they need to copy down your passport information for their records when you check-in. It's a very good traveller's idea anyways to have a photocopy of your passport's photo/specifics page, so that you have a duplicate if your passport is lost. You can take this photocopy to a Canadian consulate if needed, and this will speed up the replacement process.

· A "Cuba Libre" is a basic rum and coke.

· Pack wet naps and tissue paper to take along with you when you venture away from the hotel in case you need to use a public washroom and also have small change (like 25 or 50 cents in pesos), because the washroom attendants expect to be tipped.

· Be sure to bring some lexan Nalgene bottles along with your Timmy's mugs – the Tim's mugs are great for drinks at your resorts, while the Nalgene bottles are nice for bringing some cold water with you on a day-excursion or a trip into Havana.

· Generally, paladares (which are small, privately-/family-ran restaurants, primarily found in Havana and Varadero) are limited by the government to only 12 seats, with few exceptions. They are small and unassuming, but wonderful.

· To make international calls, use ETECSA card phones. Calling from your hotel room means exorbitant fees.

· Do not bring USD, as it is virtually worthless in Cuba – due to the embargo, the USD, and only in the few places that will accept it, in Cuba has an almost 20% of devaluation against the Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC).

· All monies need to be exchanged at the "Cadeca's" (banks), from Canadian/Euros, into CUC's.

· The "Cuban Convertible Pesos" (CUC) is the "tourist peso", the dollar form that generally all prices are listed in. Now, there are actually two pesos at use in Cuba – the CUC, and then the citizens' peso. While they look similar, they are vastly different in value. The CUC is basically the exact equivalent of worth as a US dollar – whatever your current money's value on the world market compared to the USD (think CAD to USD), then that is the value that you will get for your money in CUC's. (Think, Disney money – this is that while you can only use CUC's in Cuba as a tourist, you cannot use it in any other country in the world, nor can you exchange it back for your normal cash at the banks in any other country than those in Cuba. It's a currency only used on this island.) For the citizens' peso, its about 25-to-1 or so when compared to the CUC.

· All of the various U.S.-related banking items are not useable in Cuba, due to the embargo. MasterCard MBNA, American Express, and Visa Citibank – for each of these, the credit cards as well as the traveller's cheques, are not accepted in Cuba. Instead, from CAA or other travel agents, pick up Thomas Cook traveller's cheques if needed (explain you need non-AmEx traveller's cheques, for travel to Cuba). TD Visa, ScotiaBank Visa, and Royal Bank Visa are all accepted.

· There are no automatic teller machines in Cuba – you will need to go and be waited on at one of the Cuban banks, Cadeca.

· It is forbidden to bring any receiver-transmitters into Cuba (walkie-talkies, cell phones, satellite phones, PDAs, GPS units, etc.)

· When buying anything, at the resorts or otherwise, be sure to get the right change back, and specifically, ensure you are receiving actual CUC's in return. For example, if you give a $20 CUC bill for a $10 CUC item, ensure that you get a $10 CUC back, and not a $10 citizens' peso bill back (which really only then has a value of about 40 cents of a CUC dollar)

· Cremation is not practiced in Cuba. The dead are interred in marble crypts at the Necropolis Cristobal Colon in Havana. They are then reused - when another family member dies and needs the crypt, the recent -ahem- tenant is exhumed and removed to a smaller box.

· Good rum to buy – Havana Club "Cuban Barrel Proof" (excellent aged dark rum); and/or Anejo 7 Anos (very hard to find, but considered one of the world's finest rums).

· Viazul buses, are one of the better ways to get from area to area, covering most destinations of interest to travelers, in deluxe, air-conditioned coatches. Tickets for Viazul services are sold inmediately prior to the departure, and are usually quite a bit cheaper than resort-arranged tours. You can get full schedules on the website or at Infortur (Obispo Street, Old Havana, you can also buy the tickets here). Train travel is also very safe, and enjoyable, but avoid the bathrooms. If you want a unique experience, try taking "taxi particulares". These cabs usually have a small sign in corner of windshield, and there is no meter, so ask about prices first. No seatbelts either, and the roads in Havana are horrendous, so hang on tight, you're in for a bumpy ride.

· Cubans are fanatical about Baseball! Baseball is not simply a sport to them. It goes back to the late 1860's when it was probably first introduced by American sailors. Because it was banned by the Colonial Spanish government however, the Cubans embraced the sport as a sign of rebellion. (Spain wanted the Cubans to adopt bullfighting as was done in Mexico and other states they ran). That long history of the sport being MORE than just a game is evident at any game you go to. The atmosphere is party like and the fans very knowledgeable. The game is played at a very high level of proficiency and is well worth taking in a game or two while visiting, preferably with a Cuban group so the feeling of joy they have at the game is expressed.

· Especially in state restaurants and bars some employees like to gain some extra money by tricking you. E.g the total on the handwritten check is higher than the addition of the various items or there is only one number as total written on the bill. Always double check the bill and if necessary ask the waiter for the receipt of the registration machine, because there the waiters cannot cheat. NOTE – this is a very rare occurrence, as the vast majority of Cubans are honest, welcoming people, and Canadian tourists are gold/rock-stars to them, so the odds are more against it than in other countries. However, still be aware of this chance.

· Since 2004, when you buy a box of cigars in Cuba (more than 23 cigars in a box), you HAVE TO GET AN OFFICIAL HABANOS RECEIPT!!! The cashier will fill it out with your passport # and serial number of the cigar box. When you are leaving at the airport and you pass through Cuban Customs, they will ask you for your receipts and pass them under a UV light to make sure they are REAL receipts too! If you don't have a real receipt also, they will take your cigars away! So make sure you get a receipt when you buy your box! PS: You don't need an official receipt if you are buying a few single cigars or 5 packs, but why not ask for a plain cashiers receipt just to be safe.

· Some guidelines for tipping:

§ Porter at the airport/hotel: 1 CUC

§ Waiter in a restaurant: 1 CUC or 5-10%

§ Musicians in a restaurant/bar: 1 CUC

§ Music CD of bands in a restaurant/bar: 10 CUC

§ Room maid: 1 CUC (for 3 days)

§ The woman in front of the toilettes: coins (10-25 cents)

§ Cleaning the rental car: 0.5 - 1 CUC

§ Security at parking lot: 0.5 - 1 CUC

Many families and their relatives are living off of the tips earned by family members in tourism, and therefore tipping is recommended. On the other hand, you don't have to tip if the service was not good.

· IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, CANADIAN GOVERNMENT CONTACTS:

You can obtain consular assistance and further consular information at the following addresses:

Cuba - HAVANA, Embassy of Canada

Address: Calle 30, No. 518 esquina a 7ma, Miramar, Havana

Tel.: (53-7) 204-2516

Fax: (53-7) 204-2044

E-Mail: havan-cs@international.gc.ca

Internet: http://havana.gc.ca

Cuba - GUARDALAVACA, Consulate of Canada

Address: Hotel Atlantico, Suite 1, Guardalavaca, Holguín

Tel.: (53-24) 430-320

Fax: (53-24) 430-321

E-Mail: honcongvaca@canada.com

Cuba - VARADERO, Consulate of Canada

Address: Calle 13 e/Avenida Primera y Camino del Mar, Varadero, Matanzas

Tel.: 53 (45) 61-2078

Fax: 53 (45) 66-7395

E-Mail: honconvdero@canada.com

For emergency assistance after hours, call the Embassy of Canada in Havana and follow the instructions. You may also call the Emergency Operations Centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885 or e-mail sos@international.gc.ca. To call collect from Cuba, dial 012 to reach a local operator. When you place the collect call, be sure to advise the Operator that there will be a recorded message which will indicate that collect calls are accepted.

Havana specific:

· If you want to take a trip to Havana, go to the "mall" and they have regulated taxi prices there. It is much better to travel by taxi stopping where you want to than to pay twice as much and take a bus tour. Old Havana is the better place to see, many are ho-hum about New Havana.

· Do go inside St.Peter's church, they also call it the sea church – amazing built in 1562 entirely out of sea rocks.

· Take a moped out, it is easy to see the area that way and you can get to the "mall" and 11th street market (the big one). DO NOT drive at night – lack of lights.

· In Havana, take a taxi, don't take the bus – taxis are cheap they are also regulated and the good ones will call into the dispatch to get a price for you.

· The Edificio Bacardi (the Bacardi Building) in Havana is definitely worth a look. Lonely Planet describes it as "a splendid art-deco relic of pre-revolution decadence, despite years of neglect".

· In Havana, go to The Malecon (waterfront barrier wall, with monuments), one of the most famous and picturesque sea walls in the world.

· In Havana, the Artisans Market is located on Cuba Tacon street, near the canal into the bay (open only on Sundays??).

· Tour of the Havana Club Rum factory - $5 (9am to 5pm, bar/restaurant open from 10am to 12pm). Located south on the canal into the bay, on Avenue de Paula San Perdo.

· One of the best "night clubs" in Havana is the Club Ipanema at the Copacabana hotel in Havana (night club with $8 entry fee w/ open bar Sunday to Thursday, Friday/Saturday its $10 with one drink).

· You must eat at the "El Aljibe" while in Havana, the must-see Cuban restaurant (paladar) specializing in savory roast chicken, black beans and rice. Located at Ave. 7ma entre 24 y 26, in Miramar, Playa. The house specialty is the roasted chicken served in a flavourful meat sauce (made from fermented orange juice and drippings from the roast chicken). After dinner, you can enjoy either Havana Club rum, or the rarer Matusalem Anejo Superior in a snifter, and with a cigar.

· There is also…

§ La Guardia

Calle Concordia No. 418

e/Gervasio y Escobar

Centro Habana

Phone: 624940

This is an inexpensive paladar, and one of the coolest places to eat in Havana. Located on the third floor of an eighteenth-century townhouse in central Havana, the three-room restaurant is in a converted apartment that features a balcony and beautifully carved cornices with wooden shutters. It's like a small, funky-yet-hip restaurant in New York's Soho or the Latin Quarter in Paris. Don't worry about the dilapidated entrance and stairway that lead to the restaurant; it's just part of the experience. (The 1995 Oscar-nominated Cuban film, Fresa y Chocolate, was filmed there.) The food is thoughtfully prepared with a delicate touch. On a given night you might encounter a tangy and savoury gaspacho soup or succulent fillets of snapper and grouper served with a buerre blanc sauce that shows just the right amount of lively acidity. Owner Enrique Nunez keeps a small but interesting selection of wines, mostly Spanish. A keen cigar smoker, he was one of the creators of the Cuaba brand. Carlos Rodriguez rolls cigars for the restaurant. The two are worth the trip alone.

· Miscellaneous "must-see/must-do" items in Havana:

§ Malecon at night. Drink, smoke and party with the locals. Good times.

§ Hotel Nacional - Stop in for a drink or 10 and a few cigars!

§ Hotel Sevilla - Nice lobby to just relax and have a few mojitos with a few cigars. Also, a nice LCDH in the "mall" area of the hotel.

§ Conde de Villenueva - Very historic hotel. One of the best LCDH's in town. See Reynaldo and ask about the custom rolled cigars. They are in the lockers in the back of shop.

§ LCDH 5y16 - IMO, the best cigar lounge in town!

§ Partagas Factory - My morning stop. Have a coffee with a cigar and do a tour of the factory. Also, ask for La China and her customs. Good cigars.

§ NH Park Central - If you can get past the security (a good tip will do!), go to the rooftop lounge/pool area to rest your feet, have a drink and smoke a cigar! Great view!

§ RyJ Factory - Factory is closed, but hear rumors it is re-opening, since renos are complete. Nice LCDH to relax in. See Hamlet for customs!

Varadero specific:

· Don't be afraid to eat off the resorts – Cuba has safe food and water.

· For shopping in Varadero, take the double-decker bus downtown to the markets. These markets, while some may refer to their "touristy junk" that they sell, do actually have great values and lots to choose from.

· Go to Josone Park, and have the lobster dinner and the pina coladas. The cave is a cool visit also.

· It is also a good idea to pack a large thermal cup (like a Tim Horton travel mug for example) to use when getting drinks or water at the hotel bars, that way you don't have to make frequent trips back and forth. Use a Timmy's mug, or another non-steel/metal mug, as it's less of a "security" issue when your bags are being checked in at the airport.

· Bring a waterproof disposable camera, if you wish to do some amazing underwater shots while snorkeling, or on the catamaran excursions from Varadero to Cayo Blanco.

· At the Breezes Bella Costa, Thursday night is "lobster night", get there right at the opening at 6:30pm or you'll be stuck in a long line.

· Also at the Breezes Bella Costa, he catamaran trip from the resort is $75 CUC (about $100 CUC in the high season), and is very highly recommended:

From an online reviewer – "We did the Catamaran trip for $75 pesos ($100 pesos in high season , I think). I highly recommend this excursion. It was fabulous. You leave at around 8:30 am from the hotel. Takes about 25 minutes to get to the marina and get onto the Catamaran. All you can drink on the boat: rum, coke, orange, ginger ale/sprite, and water. You are also served a ham, cheese, and pickle sandwich (Cuban sandwich) an hour after leaving the marina. The catamaran is large with plenty of seats and room on the nets at the front of the boat. My only pet peeve was the bathrooms on the catamaran – filthy, small and no running water for washing your hands. Bring hand sanitizer! The first stop on the trip was snorkelling. The fish are beautiful. Different colours and shapes. The staff provides snorkelling gear, if you do not have any. Makes for great pictures if you have an underwater camera. The second stop was the dolphin encounter. The staff at the enclosure gives each person a life jacket and you step onto a platform (very slippery so watch out). There are little fish in the dolphin tanks that swim around your legs too. The instructor tells the dolphin (in our case, Nina) to swim up and down the line of people so that you can pet and touch her. Then she goes down the line and gives each person a kiss. You have the option, after she waves and sings goodbye to you, to purchase a picture for $10 pesos of her kissing you on the cheek. Well worth the money! The final stop was Cayo Blanco. Absolute paradise! The beach has the finest white sand and the water is crystal clear. The staff serves you a lunch of either chicken or seafood, rice, vegetables, and fries. The beach also provides an open bar. You have approximately 1.5 hours to spend at the island to swim, shop, etc. Then it's back onto your Catamaran to the resort. We arrived back home at about 5 pm."

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From Keith based on his own experiences and some he has picked up elsewhere :D

________________________________________________________________________________

___________

Wow. Reading through that, I have two observations on what I submitted.

Firstly, that the formatting of the Microsoft Word documents that I e-mailed to Pres, when copied into the posts here, does not translate too well with regards to formatting. Sorry to all here for that - damn incompatible Microsoft sometimes! A lot of that text was in bullets and such, and there's actually two different documents there - "Cuba Travel Tips" and "Cuba Travel Tips - Cigar Info". So, unfortunately, there's a fair bit of duplication between the two different documents.

Secondly, that some of this stuff is out of date. For example, ATMs are now found (although few and far between) in Havana and some other select cities, and Cadecas are not the only option for exchanging your money (although the most commonly found and easy for tourists), and also that cell phones are now allowed (with exorbanent rates and limited access).

And, lastly, I'd like to make a comment here. Not all of the text/info that's in those documents is exclusively mine. I created those documents to mostly help out some friends and family that were just simply going to Cuba for a "cheap vacation", and had really no idea what to do/see/buy. It was a way to condense a lot of info from a myriad of sources into a few quick pages of info, something that could be easily printed off and read on a plane flight if needed. So, some of it has come from the tips of some knowlegdable members on here, some of it from various online travel-tips websites, and some of it from my own observations/experiences. And, I know that some of the info might be useless for some members - like the Canadian-specific embassy/consulate info, and the specifics on some resorts in Varadero. But, I figured I'd submit those two docs to Pres to see if he thought that some of that info could be useful / beneficial to some of the members on here.

For every tip on there that's useless/out-of-date/no longer needed, I hope that something on there is equally able to help out a new traveller to Cuba.

Cheers and enjoy.

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Yup. Also the limit for cigars without factura has increased. It is no longer 23. I am 99% sure it is now 50. I'll check the Cuban customs form I when I get in the house.

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Yup. Also the limit for cigars without factura has increased. It is no longer 23. I am 99% sure it is now 50. I'll check the Cuban customs form I when I get in the house.

Correct. I believe that the change went to more than 50 cigars total, and/or more than 23 different singles (although who would bother with 23 different singles is beyond me).

But yeah, it's 50 now. And, I've never gotten bothered by customs agents (in Cuba or Canada), with more than 50 bought, even when the rule was 23+. That said, it's still best to get the Factura receipt made - they're paid to do it, it doesn't cost you any extra money, and it's insurance for covering your butt to protect from any (highly unlikely but still potential) hassles at the airports in Cuba.

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Correct. I believe that the change went to more than 50 cigars total, and/or more than 23 different singles (although who would bother with 23 different singles is beyond me).

But yeah, it's 50 now. And, I've never gotten bothered by customs agents (in Cuba or Canada), with more than 50 bought, even when the rule was 23+. That said, it's still best to get the Factura receipt made - they're paid to do it, it doesn't cost you any extra money, and it's insurance for covering your butt to protect from any (highly unlikely but still potential) hassles at the airports in Cuba.

I have never been hassled up until this past trip (Feb 2011). Good thing I decided not to load up on customs or they would have been gone.

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After talking to a fellow cigar guy from here in the US who went to Cuba of course illegally for the Habanos festival, it is anything but a "cheap vacation". He had to fly out of Toronto, Canada and the plane ticket alone set him back 900 bucks. I believe he told me he spent 3 thousand dollars for 5 days there, but it was a once in a lifetime experience and if I can talk the wife into letting me go I would definitely do it.

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After talking to a fellow cigar guy from here in the US who went to Cuba of course illegally for the Habanos festival, it is anything but a "cheap vacation". He had to fly out of Toronto, Canada and the plane ticket alone set him back 900 bucks. I believe he told me he spent 3 thousand dollars for 5 days there, but it was a once in a lifetime experience and if I can talk the wife into letting me go I would definitely do it.

Cuba can be one of the most expensive places to visit for vacation.

However, staying in a Casa Particular at 30-50 CUC a night can knock the costs right down.

Get into the habit of going and purchasing booze and bringing it home. Have parties at your place occasionally.

Taxis are relatively cheap particularly if you cut a deal with a driver for your stay. Get his mobile and call him when needed.

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After talking to a fellow cigar guy from here in the US who went to Cuba of course illegally for the Habanos festival, it is anything but a "cheap vacation". He had to fly out of Toronto, Canada and the plane ticket alone set him back 900 bucks. I believe he told me he spent 3 thousand dollars for 5 days there, but it was a once in a lifetime experience and if I can talk the wife into letting me go I would definitely do it.

Sounds a little peculiar. Unless he bought a 1st/business class ticket from Air Canada, and booked 6 months in advance, there's no way that the price should have been that high. Many operators fly from Toronto to Cuba - Air Transat/Nolitours, Sunquest/Sunwing, etc.

My wife and I went with friends in January, and booked only about a month in advance (the closer you get, generally, the cheaper it gets), we got a 4* all inclusive at a Breezes for $721-ish. That's AFTER taxes - the pre-tax price was $532 or something like that. All in, return flights & hotel, etc. Even if we had booked that 6 months prior to leaving, it would have been right around $1k-$1200, for the whole package.

So, $900 just for his flight sounds off, to me at least.

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Nope, $900 is about right. I went legally from the U.S. for the festival last month and the round trip from SF to Miami was $430. The round trip from Miami to Havana was $320, so the total was $ 750. Factor in the $1400for the general package for the festival itself, and then hotels/taxi/cigars, and It's easy to see how you can spend $3K in 5 days.

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Wow. Reading through that, I have two observations on what I submitted.

Firstly, that the formatting of the Microsoft Word documents that I e-mailed to Pres, when copied into the posts here, does not translate too well with regards to formatting. Sorry to all here for that - damn incompatible Microsoft sometimes! A lot of that text was in bullets and such, and there's actually two different documents there - "Cuba Travel Tips" and "Cuba Travel Tips - Cigar Info". So, unfortunately, there's a fair bit of duplication between the two different documents.

Secondly, that some of this stuff is out of date. For example, ATMs are now found (although few and far between) in Havana and some other select cities, and Cadecas are not the only option for exchanging your money (although the most commonly found and easy for tourists), and also that cell phones are now allowed (with exorbanent rates and limited access).

And, lastly, I'd like to make a comment here. Not all of the text/info that's in those documents is exclusively mine. I created those documents to mostly help out some friends and family that were just simply going to Cuba for a "cheap vacation", and had really no idea what to do/see/buy. It was a way to condense a lot of info from a myriad of sources into a few quick pages of info, something that could be easily printed off and read on a plane flight if needed. So, some of it has come from the tips of some knowlegdable members on here, some of it from various online travel-tips websites, and some of it from my own observations/experiences. And, I know that some of the info might be useless for some members - like the Canadian-specific embassy/consulate info, and the specifics on some resorts in Varadero. But, I figured I'd submit those two docs to Pres to see if he thought that some of that info could be useful / beneficial to some of the members on here.

For every tip on there that's useless/out-of-date/no longer needed, I hope that something on there is equally able to help out a new traveller to Cuba.

Cheers and enjoy.

Thanks for taking the time to do that Canuck...while never having been, or likely being able to go for quite sometime, I did enjoy reading it...it's really quite informative.

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wow Keith, epic guide there, some info you won't find in any tour books.

to elaborate on the Bacardi building further, you can pay 2-3 CUC to the security guard, and you can take the elevator to the balcony of the Barcardi Tower, the size of the balcony is about the size of a bedroom (might get crowded in high season) but the views are spectacular up there.

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I agree with Prez. Cuba can be an expensive place to travel to, especially for 1st time travelers who may not know the ropes. $3k for a week stay seems right in line as far as I am concerned.

There is no doubt that you can find some good AI deals as CanuckSARTech has mentioned but the experience is very different than a trip where you are not staying on a resort. If you want to see Cuba, then see Cuba! You aren't getting the same experience on an AI resort. :rolleyes:

Don't get me wrong, I love AI resorts. The wife and myself do a trip every winter to an AI resort, but we refuse to go back to Cuba for this type of vacation. We made that mistake back in 03 and vowed never again! Our AI trips are reserved for other Caribbean countries. To each his own though.

Back on topic.

A flight with AC is going to run you $600 plus (taxes in) from Toronto to Havana, return. That doesn't even include the flight from the US destination to Toronto. 5 nights in a nice hotel (NH Parc/Nacional) is $650.00. Food, booze, cigars and you are easily at $3k for your trip.

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Don't get me wrong, I love AI resorts. The wife and myself do a trip every winter to an AI resort, but we refuse to go back to Cuba for this type of vacation. We made that mistake back in 03 and vowed never again! Our AI trips are reserved for other Caribbean countries. To each his own though.

Tarks. If you don't mind my asking. What was it about Cuba's AI's that put you off? I've never been to Cuba at all and was wondering about trying an AI trip first to see what its' like. I've gone to AI's in Mexico a dozen times and found those to be stellar. What's your impression on Cuban AI's? Where did you stay? You can PM me if you prefer.

THX

Frank

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In a nutshell, take a 5 star in Cuba and knock 2 stars off for Mexico. So a Cuban 5 star would be equivalent to a 3 star in Mexico. When the wife and myself go on an AI trip, we want to be pampered with service, food, top shelf liquor etc. It has taken us years to find the "right" resorts that fit our needs. That's just us. We are very particular when it comes to AI vacations. We have learned that you really get what you pay for in the AI world. Cuban AI's just didn't do it for us. IMO, Cuba has a bad wrap for its food due to the AI resorts. The food is horrible.

Our 1st trip to Cuba was Varadero in 2003. We did the day trip to Havana and fell in love with the city and its vibe. Thank God we did the day trip or I probably would not have gone back to Cuba. We vowed that if we ever came back to Cuba it would be Havana. 8 years later, and after many trips to Havana I still feel the same way. Can't wait to get back in Nov! :rolleyes:

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Going to Cuba is something special for me, not so much because of the cigars that I'll be smoking but because of the people I'll be meeting each time I travel to this beautiful country.

Many on this thread have given great info on where they went and the impressions they have of Cuba,some for the first time, others more often, but all have had a different experience and that's part of the pleasure.

Some go to Cuba with their wife, others not, I'm one who has never gone to Cuba with my wife, simply because my wife doesen't necessarily feel the need to go that far to tan on a beach and I'm not one to lay on the sand all day with a cocktail in one hand and a cigar in the other.

I have the need to get to know people, share things with them and learn from different experiences. So for me, here is a concentrated view on my trips to Cuba and how I see things, again, MY views, not necessarily the best for others, especially if you're someone who needs a lot of sleep.

First, on Rob's list is, my favorite Hotel, well already I have a problem because I have only been to 2 hotels in the 4 times I've been to Cuba and both times were on my last trip in 2007. I've always stayed in a Casa Particular, but I'll get to that on the 2nd question.

The few Hotels I've stayed in have never been Huge & Luxuriant but Quaint & Cosy and calm, but of course, with all the comfort. One such hotel is in the city of CAMAGUEY in the central eastern region of Cuba ,550km from Havana, the hotel is "Hotel Colon" on the Calle Republica No. 472, which is the main street in downtown Camaguey.The Hotel dates from 1927 and the building combines baroque and neoclassical architecture , a very beautiful and comfortable place, here are some Pics.

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An other beauty is in Havana, the Hotel is called ," HOSTAL LOS FRAILES ", Calle Teniente Rey No.8 e/ Oficios y Mercaderes, La Habana Vieja,just a few meters away from the church San Francisco on the old square. The Hotel was the former mansion of the fourth Marquis and captain of the French Navy, Don Pedro Duquesne. great little Hotel with a beautiful interior courtyard with vegetation and natural fountain great for breakfast and a morning cigar, the rooms are quaint and comfortable. The Bar is beautiful. Here are a few pics.

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As I've said above, when I'm in Cuba I mostly stay in a Casa Particular, why ? well for me, there's no better way to learn about the cubans and the way they live then to live in their world and not in a hotel filled with neighbors from France, Belgium, Germany or even the USA. As I've said, if that's what I want, I don't have to go that far to see them, I'll just visit around beautiful Europe . I organize and reserve my Casa through an Association here in France called " Cubasi France" that has been doing humanitarian work in Cuba for the last 30 years or so. All of the Casas that I stay at are affiliated with this association and it's a guarantee of all comfort and staying with honest families and people. Some of these Casas are the home of,

Dr. Luis Biosca PhD, Ave de Los Presidentes,Habana, building next to the Hotel Presidente.

Blanca -Josefina, Linea 470, E y F, El Vedado, Habana

Nely Santander Hernandez,Calle 2da, e/ Simon Bolivar y Zerquera, Trinidad, S. Spiritus.

Marthica y Papito, Juaquin Perez, Vinales, Pinar del Rio.

Etc.etc .Here's a Breakfast Pic. in Trinidad.

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OMG !!! now he wants to know about Breakfast. ok , for Breakfast, I have the habit in Havana of going to a small Bar & Restaurant on Calle Obispo y Compostela, called , " La Dichosa" great music bands from dawn to sunset, you can also have a nice lunch if your not in a hurry. here's an example of the place.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygmPaMuuMj8...ature=relatedWZ

As for some nice Restaurants, the ones on this thread are very good, such as the ones from Ryan. I have a few that

Are a bit off the ordinary path. One that I enjoy a lot is the «Casa de la Amistad » at Paseo No. 406 e/calle 17 y 19

Vedado, Havana. A beautiful mansion dating from the 30’s, magnificently tiled walls, marble floor , crystal chandeliers, spiral staircase,very good food and very cheap ,beautiful bar but now what makes this casa special is it’s gardin and every night bands that come and play , fantastic atmosphere with great cuban son.

Another great place is at EL MORRO FORTRESS, at « La Divina Pastora » beautiful view of Havana from the other side of the waters, great food served outside in wounderful surroundings, don’t leave without having a cocktail at the , »El Mirador Bar ».

Bars are very easy to find in Havana and in general quite good , some are expensive and others, which are less filled with tourists, very reasonable, one reasonable bar is, « The two Brothers » or " Dos Hermanos" next to the Havana Club rum Museum.

Great drinks late in the night, great music with local bands that really makes you sweat.

Well, that's it for the moment, as for cigars, lots of great places, but I would always advise to get yourself some great tasting customs made for you by a good roller at the factories or rollers that are at hotels. Nothing better .

Thanks for reading,

Guy

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There's some really great info in this thread,if you are planning a visit to Cuba.

I have been,but not as frequently as others here,and it was a while ago!

This info would have been invaluable,had I known befor leaving.

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After talking to a fellow cigar guy from here in the US who went to Cuba of course illegally for the Habanos festival, it is anything but a "cheap vacation". He had to fly out of Toronto, Canada and the plane ticket alone set him back 900 bucks. I believe he told me he spent 3 thousand dollars for 5 days there, but it was a once in a lifetime experience and if I can talk the wife into letting me go I would definitely do it.

WOW your friend got ripped off. Our entire 7 week package at an all-inclusive resort in Varadero cost us $740 each. That includes medical insurance (Global/Under60) and return air fair. (Toronto <-> Varadero)

Don't buy the first thing that comes up in online searches. Sunwing airlines and iTravel2000 (tourist agency) have some great packages. That's who we booked under.

El Presidente / Keith: THANK YOU SO MUCH for the Canadian-specific emergency/embassy information !!!

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if you don't want to remember all the info on this thread you could always hire a tour guide, strongly recommend if this is your first visit. They can show you what only the locals know, avoid the touristy places and experience the real life of Havana. I used Jorge and his company last time I was in Havana, emailed him a week prior to my visit, and he arranged a tour guide at my door the morning after my arrival. Only cost around 10CUC per hour

Jorge's email : jorgeguide2004@yahoo.es

While the Floridita and the Bodeguita are the must visit bars in Havana, I personally prefer Cafe O'Reilly on O'Reilly Street, Habana Vieja. Better mojito imo (cheaper too) and nice view from the balcony seats.

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WOW your friend got ripped off. Our entire 7 week package at an all-inclusive resort in Varadero cost us $740 each. That includes medical insurance (Global/Under60) and return air fair. (Toronto <-> Varadero)

Don't buy the first thing that comes up in online searches. Sunwing airlines and iTravel2000 (tourist agency) have some great packages. That's who we booked under.

El Presidente / Keith: THANK YOU SO MUCH for the Canadian-specific emergency/embassy information !!!

Keep in mind, you are comparing 2 completely different trips. To say someone got ripped off is a little harsh. Take into consideration that he was there for the festival. Pricing is generally more during this time. You paid $740 and your going to get a $740 worth of trip.

I have learned through out the years that you get what you pay for, regardless of where your travels are. I hope everything goes well for you with Sunwing. I have flown with them twice and that is enough for me. Flight delays, direct flights turning into milk runs etc. No thanks.

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