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Havana and Varadero, Cuba via Westjet Holidays from Canada.

Havana and Varadero, Cuba via Westjet Holidays from Canada.

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Old Feb 18, 17, 12:38 pm
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Havana and Varadero, Cuba via Westjet Holidays from Canada.

Havana and Varadero Cuba via Westjet Holidays from Canada.

YXX-YYC-VRA-YYC-YYX (paid)




In this report:

Westjet Airlines: Abbotsford Airport - Calgary
Westjet Airlines: Calgary - VaraderoOcean Patriarca, Varadero
Varadero, Cuba
Havana, Cuba
Westjet Airlines: Varadero - Calgary
Westjet Airlines: Calgary - Abbotsford

Links to my previous reports:

Malta (and the island of Gozo), Venice, Italy and Oktoberfest in Munich, via Air France Business Class (AF J, LH Y) Sept 2016

South Africa, Namibia, Victoria Falls, Mauritius & the UAE via Emirates First, Qatar Business (QR J, EK F, BA J, SA J, SW Y) April 2016

Dodging Volcanic Ash: A family trip to Bali / Singapore with my 11 year old (DL J / OZ J / KL J / JL J) July 2015
RTW#3 (J): Vietnam, Maldives, and Tackling India’s Golden Triangle. (AC/OZ/SQ/AI/TK), May 2015
Experiencing flying as a "Non-Rev", Australia Wine and Beaches, (AC J/Y, QF J) November 2014
Alaska Airlines First Class to Las Vegas, and a stay in the Aria Sky Suites “Penthouse” (AS F), August 2014
Family trip to Kenora Lake of the Woods Ontario via Air Canada Business Class (AC J). August 2014
Cathay Pacific First Class to New York, a sombre visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum & 4 days of eating in NYC. (CX F) May 2014
RTW #2 (J): The Khors of Oman - via Japan, Poland, & the UAE. RTW in Biz (NH J 787, OZ J, TG J, EY J, TK J, LH J). April 2014
South Africa, Safari in Maasai Mara Kenya, & Mauritius (UA J, SA J, XAK, LX J, AC J) Nov 2013
A family trip to Westin Playa Conchal, Liberia Costa Rica, (UA Y) Aug 2013
Buried Treasure: UAE Empty Quarter and Beyond to Huvadhoo Atoll, Maldives (UA Y, EY J/Y, Q2 Y), Nov 2012
RTW #1 (F): The Time Share Presentation, Spain, China, Thailand, (AC J, OZ F, TG F, LH J, LH F, AC Y) May 2012.
A visit to Macchu Picchu and Valle Nevado, Peru and Chile. (AC J, LA Y) Sept 2011
Travel after the Revolution of January 25, 2011. Egypt. (MS Y) May 2011
A Step Back in Time: The Twilight of Burma, a visit to Myanmar (MI Y) Sept 2010


Background:


Every year, Mrs WT73 gets herself a kitchen pass and takes a girls trip to Las Vegas with her friends. This year, in honor of celebrating an especially round birthday celebration in the group, it was decided to go to Cuba for a week to change up the scenery. Surprisingly, I was asked: would I be interested in tagging along to see what Cuba was like? Sure !

Part of my motivation for taking this trip was to see what Cuba would be like before it opened up to general travel. The tourism Visa restrictions were lessening with the United States in the twilight of Barack Obama’s term in the fall of 2016, and it wouldn’t be long before one of the largest markets in the first world would be on Cuba’s doorstep. Although a country doesn’t change overnight, it would be a great opportunity to see the country.

I didn’t pick any of the hotels in this report (or flights) so it’s strictly a report on what we found in Cuba without any miles strategy. This trip was arranged wholly through Westjet Vacations – the carriers vacation package program.

Please stay tuned.

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Mar 11, 17 at 4:35 pm
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Old Feb 18, 17, 12:42 pm
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Westjet
Economy Class
YXX-YYC (Abbotsford International Airport Ė Calgary International Airport)
WJ 450
November 5, 2016
Booked: Bombardier Q400
Flown: Boeing 737-600
Departure: 6:00 AM
Arrival: 8:20 AM


After a 3 AM wake up, we left the house at about 4 AM for the 40-minute drive to the Abbotsford International Airport. Abbotsford is a bedroom community; a suburb of Vancouver that is about 1 hr and 20 minutes drive from downtown. Westjet and Air Canada have attempted flights out of here over the last twenty years with only Westjet surviving with any real frequency. It was absolutely pouring with rain on the drive. Itís also worth nothing that at the time of this trip, it had rained in Vancouver for 26 out of the last 28 days so we were ready for some dry and sunny weather.

Abbotsford is so small, that there is usually only one flight departing at any one time. We parked the car at the front loading zone and were able to unload the luggage AND check in without worrying about being towed or being detected by an over zealous security guard. I canít say that itís always like that, but it was quiet enough at 4 AM that it wasnít an issue at all. Abbotsford Airport is also a clean and bright facility, which has been spruced up since my last trip through here.









There were the usual three staff working on this date. We used one of the six kiosks (3 of which partially out of order and were unable to print baggage tags) and self tagged our bags. Westjet was quite strict on the weight and one of our fellow travelers had to re-pack when they were 6 lbs over to 50 lbs weight limit. The kiosk was offering upgrades to Plus; the Westjet business class equivalent in an economy seat with a blocked middle seat for this segment only for $50 per person. Yep Ė that clock reads 4:45 AM!



With only one restaurant in the public concourse area, we proceeded straight through security to the holding area. There was free wifi in the terminal.







There were only a few flights on the board today, with the furthest one being Puerto Vallarta by Westjet.



Westjet called boarding was called by zones. With seats in row 7 that were assigned at check in, we were in the last zone to be called.



We were scheduled to be on a Bombardier Q400, but they up gauged the plane as we got onto an older, and quite worn Boeing 737-600. For about 15 years, Westjet followed the Southwest model of having only Boeing 737 aircraft. They have recently branched out and acquired some used Boeing 767ís and some Bombarbier Q400ís for their smaller markets.



A photo of the plus seats on the way by. Itís certainly a seat that I canít get too excited about but similar to the business class offering in Europe. The up charge to plus for our package was $1,100 CAD per person, although they were being sold at the kiosk for $50 CAD for this segment at check in.



We found our seats in Row 7.







We had a slow departure today. The poor ramp attendants on the apron must have gotten completely trenched as it was pouring with rain outside.



Along with the wet climb, we seemed to have a bit of sleeting snow on the way up. The departure spotlights from the plane lit the snow quite a bit for a cool effect.



There was free television today from the seat back monitors. I settled on something light.



There was a coffee and water service with pretzels and water offered. I was pretty sleepy so I didnít partake.

We had a morning light landing in Calgary with a nice sunrise over clear skies.





We taxied to gate D70 in the brand new international terminal. We had carry onís and for the first time in as long as I can remember, we were run over by mothers and grandmothers in the aisle as they pushed past us from rows behind us to get off the plane while we were bringing our carry onsí down from the overhead bins. It made me long for the orderliness of the business travelers on Air Canada.



Overall, Westjet has a more cheerful attitude than the legacy carriers. Most of its employees own stock in the company and their motto is ďOwners CareĒ. The compensation system really shows through in the service levels. Unfortunately, they donít seem to be catering to the business travelers all too much. As such, the flights are filled with family travelers, which can tend to make the seasoned traveler like my self a little irritated Ė especially on these 4 AM flights!
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Old Feb 18, 17, 1:18 pm
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Westjet
Economy Class
YYC-VRA (Calgary International Airport Ė Varadero Cuba)
WJ 2390
November 5, 2016
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-800
Departure: 11:20 AM
Arrival: 6:45 PM


We disembarked our connecting flight and after a few lefts and rights, we were at the international passageway that led us to the new Calgary International Terminal. The Calgary International Terminal has been under construction for several years and was finally opened in October 2016. The timing is a bit off as being an oil and gas town, the economy has recently taken a downturn with many lay offs. It wouldnít be a Canadian airport without an owl or a beaver model.









The space is bright and airy and featured the usual shops, a Starbucks, a Subway and an A&W restaurant.

There was also a Lammleís Western Wear shop, which is a franchised Albertan staple. It features authentic Western cowboy wear. Their cowboy hats can go over $300 CAD depending on the styles.



All the flights leaving this morning were headed to sunny warm destinations. The board was full of Mexican and Caribbean locations.



The airport authority offered ďPet MeĒ dogs. Several volunteers were wandering around the terminal with leashed animals for the entertainment of kids and other stressed travelers. The support dog isnít too out of control yet here in Canada.



We didnít have any lounge access, although we considered visiting the new Calgary International Airport Aspire Lounge (run by Swissport). The access was 40.60 CAD ($30.75 USD). The lounge is also a Priority Pass lounge. We didnít visit but confirmed that Air Canada is also using this location as a lounge for their international services as there is no Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in the International Terminal (or the US transborder terminal for that matter).

Instead, we ended up a Chiliís for a full breakfast. It was reasonable priced and got us the energy that we needed. After breakfast, MrsWT73 felt like some wine so we went next door to the smallish Vin Room. The Vin Room offered an Enomatic wine system that kept the wines fresh.







There were over 50 wines available by the glass so we settled into a lounge chair and enjoyed the last of our 3 hour connection. I had a glass of Schild Unwooded Chardonnay from Australia, while MrsWT73 had a glass of bubbles rose. There was definitely something for everyone to choose from in the world of wine.





We wandered over to the gate area from the wine bar. The airport hasnít installed much seating around the gate areas and as a result, there is a lot of crowding around the gates. I think it's supposed to be a "call to gate" concept where you wait in the main area until the gate is posted; although it's not set up that way and North Americans probably aren't familiar with it unless they've happened to visit London Heathrow.







We boarded our flight today. There were lots of people with carry onís so we made sure we were near to the front of Zone 4 when it came time to board our zone.



On board, we were on the newer Westjet Boeing 737-800 today. The plane featured the usual 3-3 configuration with slim line seats. As we boarded, we found our way to row 8. I had paid $20 per person for seat assignments in advance for this segment to avoid getting separated and stuck in the middle seats on the way down. The general seat map opened at the 24 hour mark with free seats made available.









Either the plane was in really rough condition, or they just hadnít cleaned it that much. There were coffee stains on the table, discarded gum in the seat back pocket and lots of hair and fingerprint stains on the window.



As we settled in, there was an announcement that there was no in flight entertainment unless you had the Westjet App downloaded. We quickly broke out the App Store and downloaded the 42MB app so we could have access to tv and movies.

We had an easy departure out of Calgary today with a minimum of delays, despite the long taxi to the departing runway.







The flight featured Westjet connect. The wifi rates were 4.99 CAD for 30 minutes, a 3 hour pass for $8.99 and a flight pass for $13.99 CAD. The movies streamed well through the Westjet application and MrsWT73 was able to connect to work without any issues.

A buy on board service was offered. We each had a gin and tonic.



The Cuba tourist cards were passed out. These seem to be a bit challenging as the process is different everywhere you look. The guidebooks say to get them from the embassies in advance, but Canadian airlines seem to hand them out along with the tour packages. They are needed to enter the country but there wasnít any specific reference to it on our booking. You canít pick them up on arrival in Cuba so itís important to get them in advance. We ended up confirming that we could would be getting the cards on the flight through a call to Westjet reservations by phone.



I watched a little movie Independence Day circa 1995 but gave up because there was no where to rest the iphone and who wants to watch anything on a small screen anyway. I took a little nap and woke up around second service. They had run out of sandwiches so only cheese plates and salads. Thankfully, we were pretty full from breakfast so we didnít get stuck with whatever was left over.



When it came time to start out descent, I had my eyes peeled to the window to get my first glimpse of Cuba. When we came over land, it was very green and undeveloped. It reminded me of coming into Yangon, Myanmar in the era when the military junta was running the country. There was a complete lack of roads and other industrialized features surrounded by greenery end to end.







We landed without much fanfare or delay and saw our first view of the Varadero airport in a lovely communist color of red.





After getting stamped in, we picked up our bags and made our way outside to chance some money into Cuban Convertibles. The US dollar is of limited use here in Cuba. It is recommended to bring Canadian dollars or Euros to exchange to the local currency. The Cuban Convertible is tied to the US dollar in terms of valuation so there were no surprises there.













After we changed money, we hopped on the bus marked by the representative and headed off to Varadero. It was a pretty straight forward experience and they were easily set up to handle the transfer system.
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Old Feb 18, 17, 2:09 pm
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Ocean El Patriarca
Varadero, Cuba


We found our Westjet holidays representative who identified the bus number for us. Varadero was really set up for the tourist experience and there were rows and rows of buses available at the airport.

It was about 45 minutes drive by bus along some rickety roads towards one of the 60 hotel resorts in Varadero. The highway was quite dressed up by comparison to other areas with full street lighting, no pedestrians and no homes. The homes that I did see were all quite similar in style and few people had cars, despite all having car park areas.

The Ocean El Patriarca was the first of four stops on our bus. We were unloaded and checked in. Our bags were placed on the golf cart and we were driven to our room.



The property advertised itself as a 5 star property according to the Cuban rating system and a four and a half star property with Westjet vacations. The property was at the level to be expected when dealing with Latin American properties Ė slightly less than what was advertised. The entrance way was not grand like the resorts in South East Asia and had a rather minimalist theme to it. These are some photos from throughout the stay.











The rooms here are 6 to a floor with 2 floors to a building. MrsWT73 didnít care much for the room. On arrival, there were a few insects wandering around the bathroom (large cockroaches and other insects from the shower drain) and the bathroom area appeared quite dusty from the white tile floor. She attempted to change the room but we were told that none were available.



The room itself was a large and comfortable size Ė not quite a suite. It was showing a bit of wear and tear for a property that was only 3 years old. There was a slightly strange color scheme happening here; contemporary with a retro theme.









The bathroom had the continued green theme throughout.





There were a few Cuban touches Ė the television was a strange Chinese brand that Iíd never heard of before Ė it actually had an on and off flip switch on the side, despite having a remote control. The host that showed us the room on arrival explicitly pointed out that it had Cuban radio available on channel 7. I ended up finding several national radio channels, consistent with old style communication before the wired internet days. It's also worth noting that Cuba just got wi-fi in 2016- it's limited to dial up speeds in the lobby of the property so there is no wired connectivity in the rooms.





Most of the voltage outlets were on the North American plugs, but had 220V scrawled onto the outlets.



The in room minibar featured Cuban colas and soft drinks. There seems to be no importation of Cokes or Pepsi sodas due to the economic sanctions and itís probably cost prohibitive to get them from other areas.





The resort had a reasonable pool, although it didnít face or have any ocean exposure. I am wondering if that was a deliberate design as a result of the tornadoes that pass through this region?











Cuba has been catering to Canadians. The host on our bus ride in indicated almost 70% of their tourist traffic is from Canada. Over the course of our trip, I wasnít all to impressed with my fellow travelers Ė I happened to see a lot of bad behavior; cussing, swearing across the pool, large amounts of smoking everywhere, yelling or shouting at other family members across a large pool. General debauchery and over indulgence that can be typical of the once a year holiday crowd. I'll admit at times to cringing at some American behavior when traveling through the USA, but now I was cringing at my own brethren.

The highlight of this resort in Varadero was the beach. The beach overall was in very good to excellent condition. The beach faced north so it meant spinning your lounger around to get the sun if you wanted more than your shoulders tanned. It was nicer than our beach in Costa Rica, although nowhere near as nice as some of the alcoves and strips in Hawaii (Makena Beach on Maui comes to mind).

Given that this is a developing tourist destination, there were limited amenities available at the beach. The entertainment was pretty much a volley ball net and a soccer ball that was available to be kicked around. The beach chairs themselves were in pretty bad condition. I think that they couldnít get replaced after they got worn down since the Cubanís just didnít have access to new ones. There were no zip lines, rock climbing walls or other over the top features youíd find at Mexican resorts in Cancun ; just the beach, the sun and all the simplicity that those two entail. This isn't a complaint, but rather something to expect if you visit.





















The Ocean Patriarca Varadero was adjacent to one of the national parks of Cuba. There was a Cactus Gigante that was next to the beach. The admission was 2 CUC ($2 USD). The admission to the Cactus was not included in the Resort Fee. Just kidding, the Cuban's haven't caught onto the ancillary charges just quite yet. The cactus was supposed to be over 200 years old.











Aside from the absolutely beautiful beach, I have to echo the general theme of Cuba; the food is absolutely terrible. With almost now sixty one countries visited Ė Cuba is by far among the worst of the lot. It's on par with Russia and China. However, unlike Russia and China, there isnít a fancy restaurant around when you decide that you want something else, so there is no escaping it. On the menu are odd items like sauteed cabbage and pumpkin making an appearance as an ingredient in many buffet items- for breakfast! They must rely on the ingredients that are available. Making matters worse here are the staff appeared to be vert tip motivated Ė the service can be quite slow. On the date of our arrival, placing an order for ďFrench friesĒ at the snack bar at 11 PM Ė we were told everything was 30 minutes. The food eventually turned up at 45 minutes later and had obviously been sitting out for quite some time as the fries were cool.

There were also some strange supply issues with the food. The resort would put out a deluxe menu item at the buffet (like fresh fish) and it would be gone within the first 45 minutes of a 4 hour dinner service. Often, there would be no sauces or condiments available (ie: mustard, mayonnaise, steak sauce). At times, Ketchup would make an appearance, but often the bottles were out for show, and at other times, they were only 1/8 full, on display like models and never refilled. The main condiment was salt and pepper, which we enjoyed in copious amounts. The supply chain of these items must not be very reliable as they frequently ran out.

Overall, the resort was what was expected. A five star property that was probably somewhere between a 3 1/2 star or a 4 star depending on your tastes. The beach was absolutely spectacular and a restful way to spend a few days. The experience as the days led on was particularly "Cuban", with a lot of surprises along the way. The challenges weren't any thing that couldn't be overcome, but rather subtle omissions or changes that made for an entertaining, unique and different travel experience.
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Old Feb 18, 17, 5:05 pm
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Great report of your trip so far - looking forward to the rest!
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Old Feb 19, 17, 8:43 am
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The ocean does not look so nice to swim in? I was expecting clear blue water with no waves.
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Old Feb 20, 17, 3:46 am
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Thank you for the TR, great photos!

To second what you said regarding food, Cuba is indeed the worst unless you go on your own to large cities and try samples from the local food scene.
The quality of food in resorts is mediocre at best.
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Old Feb 20, 17, 8:44 am
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thanks for the TR you even had one of my companies planes on the pic in VRA (it still needs to be repainted), this is typical hotel food supply with the supply chains they have, i will comment though, even though its bad, it had improved a lot... once on a business trip i was served deep fried spaghetti.

With the wifi, it's been around but not everywhere some hotels had since 2012, from what i saw, and my office over there had it in 2013.

Its part of the uniqueness of Cuba.

Hope you had a good time and look forward to reading the rest
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Old Feb 20, 17, 12:45 pm
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"After breakfast, MrsWT73 felt like some wine"

Wither we all were so honest.
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Old Feb 20, 17, 7:24 pm
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Originally Posted by Bretteee View Post
The ocean does not look so nice to swim in? I was expecting clear blue water with no waves.
It's the unsheltered Atlantic. Waves can be quite strong when they are in the right direction. Witness the Malecon in Havana which is mere kilometres west. Waves can be even bigger out east (eastern tip at Baracoa, or a bit further west on the north coast at Gibara). I will have to get my Cuba TR from April 2015 completed.

Last edited by YVR Cockroach; Feb 20, 17 at 7:32 pm
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Old Feb 20, 17, 11:05 pm
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A very interesting TR so far, worldtraveller73. Definitely not the usual FT place to relax on the beach.

Looking forward to the photo's of Havana.
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Old Feb 21, 17, 10:17 pm
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Originally Posted by 757 View Post
Great report of your trip so far - looking forward to the rest!
Thanks 757. This one was super easy compared to the other trips we've done. I can see why the rest of the 99% do package holidays.

Originally Posted by Bretteee View Post
The ocean does not look so nice to swim in? I was expecting clear blue water with no waves.
Originally Posted by YVR Cockroach View Post
It's the unsheltered Atlantic. Waves can be quite strong when they are in the right direction. Witness the Malecon in Havana which is mere kilometres west. Waves can be even bigger out east (eastern tip at Baracoa, or a bit further west on the north coast at Gibara). I will have to get my Cuba TR from April 2015 completed.
Great points YVR Cockroach and Bretteee - this strip of Varadero had a long sand "shelf" that was right below water. It churned up the sand quite a bit as the waves came in and there was absolutely no snorkeling right from shore. The beach was the highlight of the part - instead of the swimming activities. It's perhaps also why there are no terrific Cuban travel brochures - there aren't those crystal waters to look at.

Originally Posted by redadeco View Post
Thank you for the TR, great photos!

To second what you said regarding food, Cuba is indeed the worst unless you go on your own to large cities and try samples from the local food scene.
The quality of food in resorts is mediocre at best.
Thanks redadeco. I agree with the food. I didn't feel like I received the true Cuban experience in relation to the food.

Originally Posted by aidy View Post
thanks for the TR you even had one of my companies planes on the pic in VRA (it still needs to be repainted), this is typical hotel food supply with the supply chains they have, i will comment though, even though its bad, it had improved a lot... once on a business trip i was served deep fried spaghetti.

With the wifi, it's been around but not everywhere some hotels had since 2012, from what i saw, and my office over there had it in 2013.

Its part of the uniqueness of Cuba.

Hope you had a good time and look forward to reading the rest
Thank you aidy. There is a lot of differing information in relation to Cuba. Our guide said 2016 for the wifi spots but he may have been referring to the public wifi areas in the parks that are drawing the crowds. It's hard to imagine that other locations didn't have it. It certainly adds to the mystique.

Originally Posted by Purim View Post
"After breakfast, MrsWT73 felt like some wine"

Wither we all were so honest.
Yes Purim - a holiday (or a weekend for that matter) are to be enjoyed. LOL. At least I've gotten used to it a little bit in our house

Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
A very interesting TR so far, worldtraveller73. Definitely not the usual FT place to relax on the beach.

Looking forward to the photo's of Havana.
Thanks for the readership DanielW - looking forward to your next adventure.
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Old Feb 21, 17, 10:36 pm
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Varadero, Cuba

Once we got tired of the beach, and the weather stopped co-operating (our visit was in hurricane season) we decided to do a little local exploring. We found a hop on hop off bus immediately in the Varadero tourist loop. We ended up taking the bus down the Varadero peninsula to the local mall. The mall was designed for tourists, and isnít where the locals actually shop.





The mall was built in the 1996 and is already looking really dated. The mall had some odd nationalistic signs of leaders in the past.









There were cigar stores doing a strong business as one of the main exports of Cuba.





I left the girls at this point and took a good look at the supermarket inside the mall. I wanted to get the answer to what did a supermarket look like in communist Cuba; especially a supermarket that caters to tourists?

The supermarket was full of tinned food from a variety of brands that I had never heard of. The produce section was completely non-existent and itís apparent that there is extremely limited access to fresh items. Most of the imports and tins appeared to be coming from Spain.







One area where the market was selling a brisk amount of was alcohol. This didnít really make much sense to me since most resorts in the area were all inclusive. A bottle of Havana Club rum was being offered at 5.20 CUC ($5.20 USD). Of note, there was no further discount at the airport duty free shopsÖ there must not be a taxation scheme on alcohol in Cuba.





As many know, there have been years of crippling sanctions against Cuba, which had resulted in heaps of old cars running about the country. The mall had several examples of them running around in the parking lot.







After the girls had completed their shopping at the mall, we left via the Hop on Hop off bus and headed down to Varadero town proper. The city is set up as a simple short grid that is about 70 blocks long and 4-5 blocks wide. We started at the eastern end near Calle 62, near the popular Calle 62 bar.





Varadero Centro is home to several older resort properties and other off resort souvenir stands.









It also has the Beatles Bar and Cafť. This place is reportedly popular with the party crowd, although it was pretty dead on our visit. The Beatles were popular among the underground music that was not allowed in Cuba during the full communist era.



We also got a look at some of the Bodegas that served the local population.



Before we headed back to the hotel for the end of the evening. Long line at hop on hop off bus stop tonight...



Varadero was a pretty small town that fell between quaint or tacky depending on your views. It was a place that wasn't really worth the visit from countries afar, but a great stop off when the beach got boring. It had a certain small town charm to it that hadn't been over run by commercialization. Either way, it's a place that you can take the parents when you swing through town.
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Old Feb 21, 17, 10:44 pm
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Havana, Cuba

One of the places that I wanted to see on this trip was Havana. I have to chuckle a bit at some of the other bloggers out there that visit Havana, Cuba for 24 – 36 hours and have a rough time during their visit. There is usually a complaint of how difficult is it to see everything, and that things didn’t run at the pace of North America. The challenge of Cuba is that it can be tough to get around on your own without the usual transportation networks. You really need to get your self a guide and a driver in order to make the most out of your visit.

Our traveling partners booked a van through a contact that they had identified on Trip Advisor. We each chipped in $50 USD a day for the van and the driver (6 of us total). For that we got a 12 hour trip, all gas and a day full of stops and guiding, along with an English speaking guide. This price point appeared to be a bit cheaper than what was offered through the resort tour desk.



Our travels would take us on a two hour drive toward Havana at 150+ km each way. We left the hotel at a reasonable 8:15 AM. The trip was along the scenic coast and took us away from the tourist zoned area of Varadero.









I was in the back row of the van today. There aren’t very many luxury options in Cuba so I’d imagine it could be far worse than this. The scenary was interesting as we rolled along the highway with other older cars all around us.







Our route took us through Mantanas. The town has a railway bridge built from the year 1904 rail bridge right on the water.







Our first stop was at Mirador del Bacunayagua. It was a natural halfway point between Varadero and Havana. There is a massive natural canyon here with a high bridge. When we stopped, there were heaps of private charters and relic cars near the gorge.



















At this location, there was a live band playing. Many of the drivers actually took to dancing to some of the music. It was a neat place to stop and emphasized the effects of music and dancing on the local culture of Cubans.







From Mirador del Bacunayagua, we continued on towards Havana. We eventually arrived after 1 hour, passing by the soccer stadium built for the Pan American Games held in Cuba in the year 1991. It was reportedly built for the games and never used again.





We drove down the Malecon, up past the North Korean Embassy and over to Revolution Square. Revolution Square is among the most famous squares in Havana and Cuba. It was the site of where the Pope addressed the nation and also recently the sight of Fidel Castro’s funeral. It contained some rather odd metal sculptures of Che Guerrera and other sayings on the sides of the government buildings that faced the square.











As always in Cuba, there were those on the private car circuit. All the rides were lined up for all too see and like super models, the subjects of hundreds of photographs. These cars appear in terrific condition and it’s hard not to be captivated by what they represent.









Our group left Plaza de la Revolution and headed through Havana Centro and over to the Capitolo Nacionacle. Our travels took us through the locals’ area of Havana with some dťcor and architecture of years past.





When we got to the Capitolo Nacionale, we got out on foot and started a guided walking tour through Havana Centro.









The area around Capitalo Nacionale was quite interesting and it looked like an engaging place to stay. We started at Parque Centrale, which contained the first statute to be erected in Cuba in 1905. The area around the Parque is reported to be the home of the new Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel Angleterra when it opens later in 2017.









We walked the short block over to El Floridita. El Floridita is the “cradle of the daiquiri”. It was reportedly created shortly after WWI, but popularized after Ernest Hemmingway visited in the 1930’s. There is a statute representation of him in the bar in the back.











We left El Floridita and walked over to the Paseo de Marti (Prado). The street was one of the first constructed outside of Havana’s walls and was intended to be as beautiful as the streets of Paris or Barcelona. It was a beautiful day for a walk. The building architecture down the street was simply stunning; a combination of old and aged world full of stories from an era past.























We wandered over towards Pavillion Granna. It’s an odd display of items of military importance to Cuba, including some of the missiles used to shoot down American spy planes.









Since there are no new American cars in Cuba, occasionally you can see an oddity such as this Chinese Geeley. These are all imported with over the top fees. Embassy car maybe?


Last edited by worldtraveller73; Feb 24, 17 at 4:59 pm
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Old Feb 21, 17, 10:45 pm
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Thanks for the report. In process of planning a Cuba trip currently. Much appreciated
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