CUBA – the complete travel guide

(Update October 2018)

Sharing info on a trip across Cuba is particularly challenging since things were changing so fast. After Barack Obama and the Rolling Stones had left, between us travellers it was consent that Cuba was standing at the dawning of a new era and that we were witnessing the last days of an expiring epoch.

 

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
Child of the Revolution.

But the truth of the matter is that it was only us foreigners having this impression and being all excited and sketching a great change. The local people were very dubious about it, and I can relate to that: when day in, day out you stand in line for the simplest, basic products, when even when you make a little money you cannot basically buy anything, when you don’t feel your personal life getting at least a little bit easier, than you probably see no reason to believe in some greater progress.

So anyway, we people from abroad felt witness to a historical moment and came in flocks (“before all the gringos will be allowed to go to Cuba and transform it into some kind of Caribbean Disney World” – everybody said so).

Until now, even after Fidel Castro’s death, nothing much changed in Cuba, and in the US Donald Trump is turning back the progress of world’s history. Maybe our prognosis was premature and things won’t change as fast as we hoped and at the same time feared.
Some facts: Cuba has a population of about 11.25 million people and a size of 109,884 sq km (approx. 42,426 sq mi). The climate is tropical, the official language Spanish (you might brush up yours on babbel) – and this is, of course, because Cuba used to be a Spanish colony.

In the 17th and 18th century, Africans were brought to Cuba as slaves to work on the sugar cane and tobacco fields. Cuba became an independent country, yet not fully sovereign due to the Platt Amendment that granted the USA the right to intervene at any time the interests of the US seemed impaired. This status – am I the only one who finds that bizarre? – was kept till 1934 and infamous Bahía de Guantánamo (Guantánamo Bay) is still part of this anachronism.

 

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara
More than half a century after the revolution, its heroes are everpresent: Posters of Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara decorating a pharmacy in Santa Clara.

In 1959, Cuban revolutionaries, guided by Fidel and Raúl Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos and Argentina-born Ernesto Guevara, aka Che, brought down the dictator – and US-puppet – Fulgencio Batista and founded a socialist state.
Although the idea of justice and equality, of health care and education for everybody, was a good and noble one, unfortunately, this revolution, too, was not only fair and square – and particularly the revolution’s pin-up Che was in charge of the re-education and the vision of the new man.

 

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
They often overdo it a bit with their honoring of the old swashbucklers: Here, the enduring Che is decorating a rooftop – and the lettering looks like an advertisement for really fast cars. And in all honesty, the slogan ‘Gentleman without blemish and fear’ does not make it better.

However, it was not the violation of human rights that lead to the still lasting US embargo, but the confiscation of companies and real estate owned by US-citizens and wealthy Cubans who eventually migrated to the US, mostly Miami.

 

Cash and Cards

There are two official currencies: The CUP (Peso Cubano) and the CUC (Peso Convertible). The CUC is pegged to the US Dollar, but be aware that when changing US$ to CUC, a fine of 10% is deduced. With other than US credit cards, you get money easily from ATMs, and there were ATMs everywhere I went, even in the smallest, secluded places.

 

byemyselftravelsbye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
People waiting at the bank in an invisible, thus strictly to be followed line.

The fact that Cuba has two parallel currencies makes things a bit more complicated, for travellers more expensive and cheating for locals easier. Still, I don’t get it why tourists pay willingly 1 CUC for using the bathroom in a country where it’s known that a teacher makes like 20 CUC a month. Aren’t these people thinking? How could this ever be the adequate price? I recommend – although it’s not legal – you try to get some of the local currency CUP (you get 25 CUP for one CUC). Many things have to be paid equally in CUC or CUP alike (e. g. a small pizza was 18 CUP or  0,70 CUC), but for instance, at non-touristy stores like the local pharmacy and the above-mentioned bathrooms, it’s handy to have a couple of CUP.

I need to point out that Cuba is, despite the difficult economic situation for the local people, rather costy, and the tendency of locals to milk the cow called tourists as much as they can make it even worse. So try to bargain, and if you have the feeling of being screwed over, you’re probably right. I got mainly cheated by (cab-)drivers, but I’ve heard all sorts of stories about shops, restaurants, etc. Although it’s hardly ever a big amount, for me it’s a matter of principle. I don’t like the feeling being taken for a moron.

 

Casas Particulares and Paladares

The best way to rest your head is to book yourself into a ‘casa particular’ since most hotels are run by the government and the employees are not so very service oriented. A ‘casa particular’ is someone’s private home licensed to rent rooms to tourists. Since the government has a firm grip on these private businesses, all the rooms are nice and meet international standards. The owners have to pay a certain amount to the government whether they rent the room or not, therefore they are keen not to leave rooms empty, hence the service is really good. It’s also advisable to eat not only breakfast but also another meal at the casa since the food is always better than what you get at (government run) restaurants. The only exception might be if you eat at a ‘Paladar’.

 

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
La Guarida where the movie Fresa y Chocolate was shot. You are seated in the original film set, but you also pay the equivalent of a Cuban monthly income for an average lunch; a high Cuban income.

A ‘Paladar’ is a legal, privately run diner. It can be a single table in a back room of a private home or a large, fancy and pricey restaurant. The food at Paladares is always better than at a restaurant run by the government, and since the owners have the interest to get and keep customers, they are friendly and attentive while waiters at the regular restaurant rather slack.

My plan was to see in three weeks at least the below-described places, visit sites and venues of historical and cultural importance, meet the people, hike, and bike a little in nature and hang out on the beach. Most travellers go from the Western part around Viñales to the center and end up in Trinidad. I managed to go all the way from West to East by busses but eventually did fly back to Havana.

I organized and booked everything – like accommodations, buses, flight – beforehand, which made travelling really easy and avoided problems, delays, and disappointments.


This is the route I’ve travelled….


 

 

….and these are the places I’ve visited

(click on the caption or the picture)

 
 

 

 

 

TRINIDAD
bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara
SANTA CLARA

 

 

 

CAMAGÜEY
PLAYA SANTA LUCIA

 

 

 

 

SANTIAGO de CUBA
BARACOA

 

 

 

 

 

RATING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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The Great Cuba Robbery

I got robbed.

And eventually, I unveiled an even bigger theft.

These crimes happened in a quite and at the same time quite touristy place in Cuba.

Establishing my private witness protection program, I will neither specify the place nor giving you real names.

Still, this story will let your blood run cold!

For some crimes, it’s really complicated to file charges.

The Crime Scene

The very moment I stepped into the room, I felt there was something not right.

In Cuba, when you do not want to stay at a hotel, and believe me, you do not want to stay at a hotel, because they are all run by the government, and while not every aspect of socialism is bad, when it comes to service and hospitality and comfort, it actually is. If you need something or have a request, never forget that employees at these places earn next to nothing and don’t give a damn.
So what the savvy traveller does, is book her- or himself into a “Casa Particular”, a guesthouse run privately yet legally by some Cubans who can spare a room or two. Wonderful idea, great project, good to get in touch with Cubans and Cuban life.

Usually, you get a medium sized room with a heavy dark wooden bed, a mostly not matching nightstand, some kind of closet with a funky mix of wooden, plastic, and wire hangers. The room is either lightened by an old, dusty chandelier or a simple lamp from the 70s. Often the hosts try to make it look homey by adding decoration like plastic flowers or stuffed animals of the tacky fairground style.
Although this sounds rather humble, you realize that in Cuba it’s the next best thing to a room at the castle of Versailles as soon as you see how your hosts live in most cases: definitely less comfortable.

So after having spent a couple of nights in heavy dark wooden beds next to plastic flowers, you will understand my surprise when this host led me into a big, light room. I looked around with my mouth open: on a large, flat bedframe was a slightly smaller king size mattress that left enough space around it to use the frame as a bed stand. At the ceiling – instead of grandma’s chandelier – were rows of embedded LED spots. Where the hell did these people get all this stuff? The guy had a proud smile on his face when he saw my surprise and opened the matching closet – and as he opened the doors, lights went on and illuminated the closet’s inside – like in a fridge; or like in a closet at a very classy hotel room. I turned to the guy: “This is amazing! This is so elegant! It’s like a hotel room! A really posh hotel room!” The guy was shining with pride. He was standing between a sideboard and the bathroom door. “You’ll enjoy the best shower in all Cuba”, he promised pointing at the bathroom door. As I passed the sideboard, I noticed two water glasses, covered with paper lids that had the word “sanitized” printed on it. What’s going on here? Did these people actually order printed paper lids for their guests’ water glasses? Most Cubans own a couple of plastic cups – and these people sanitized glasses? Isn’t that a tad bit over the top for a Casa Particular?! The shower, by the way, turned out to be one of these big, square rain shower thingies.

The Robbery

Two days later, I get out of my king size bed, step into the glass cabin, turn on the water that drizzles in sad drops from some of the holes in the square shower thingy because unfortunately, Cuban water pressure doesn’t rise with the gadget. As I wet my hair and squeeze the shampoo bottle, there comes a tired ‘pfff’ and a small dab of shampoo. I’m irritated – the bottle was brand new when I got to Cuba, and I’ve washed my hair maybe seven times since then. It should be still almost full.  I squeeze and squeeze – nope, almost empty. How is this possible? And I’m sure I didn’t spill the content in my luggage, that I would have noticed.

Irritated I am drying myself and grab my body lotion. Hm, the container seems so light. And the lotion, too, was purchased for the trip and should be almost full. What is going on here? I’m fixating on what might have happened to the stuff – and suddenly it hits me bolt: someone emptied my toiletries!  Someone robbed me! I’m aghast.

This is an average store in the Cuban city of Santa Clara.
The problem of losing things in Cuba is not their cost or value – it’s that you can hardly replace them on the spot.

What are you supposed to do when someone steals your shampoo? It’s ridiculous. And annoying. And neither fair to me nor to the hosts.
I have to tell them.

The Interrogation

“Hola, Norman, ¿como estas, Luisa?” There they are, the slightly arrogant Norman who serves the breakfast treats as if he’s working on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship and his tiny wife Luisa who doesn’t get a certain agony and weariness out of her expression.
“I have a question: who is doing my room?”
“Me”, answers agonized Luisa, “why?  Is something wrong?”
She does. This is not what I’ve expected to hear. This is going in a wrong direction. If there is one person in this town who did not siphon off my shampoo, than it’s this pathetic tiny person.
“Ummm, it’s only you? You alone?” Nodding. “Umm, some of my shampoo is missing. Someone must have decanted it.” “It was not me!” She becomes agitated.  “It was not my wife!” Norman has her back.
Ok, what kind of dumbass do you guys think I am? Not one second did I suspect the landlady at this fancy place losing her reputation over shampoo.
But someone took it, and I don’t believe them that nobody got into my room.
They insist frantically that it’s only her having access to the room and they ask me over and over again if I’m sure, and I keep repeating to be sure and they keep repeating that they didn’t do it – which I’m sure of, anyway.

At one moment Norman goes to another room and comes back with a box full of small shampoo bottles, the size you buy for weekend trips or find in hotel bathrooms. “Look how much shampoo we have, we don’t need yours! “, does he bark in my face.
“But I never thought it was you guys”, I repeat – meanwhile a little exhausted by this terribly embarrassing situation.
“You know what, forget it, it’s not that important”, I try to escape this shampoo hell; meanwhile Luisa has tears in her eyes and looks more miserable than ever.

I go to my room to get ready when I hear someone knocking. As I open the door, there is Norman standing with his arms full of shampoo bottles of all kind of brands. “Look what guests left with us: all this shampoo! We don’t need yours. Take one, take anyone you like” and he’s pressing shampoo bottles upon me.
Ok, this is getting out of hands. I really have to control myself not to crack up laughing. This is absurd. Stop showing me shampoo! I don’t wanna hear about shampoo anymore.
“My wife is sick, she had to take pills for her blood pressure!” Ok, that’s enough. I have a shampoo trauma and will never wash my hair again.
I need to get out of here.

The Special Unit

While I’m walking down the old colonial street paved with cute old cobblestones, I remember that the way to hell is said to be paved with good intentions. It was by good intention that I wanted to inform these two that someone is stealing at their house; and it got me to shampoo hell! Beats me why they insisted it wasn’t them and obviously didn’t even consider for a second the help hanging around the house. I bet she has access to the room, too, but I didn’t want to add fuel to the shampoo….um, flames.

Wandering around, I spot the English couple I’ve met some days ago in Cienfuegos sitting in front of a small diner having coffee and sandwiches. Now that I’m sort of a public enemy, it’s nice to see familiar faces, so I ask if I can join them.

When travelling, it’s not unusual to meet the same people at every place you go over and over again. Most of the time, travellers go to the same spots. Therefore in Peru they call the route from Lima down to Titicaca “ruta del gringo” – very suitable.

So anyway, since I’m in distress and they are nice I tell them about the shampoo robbery and they are sympathetic and find I was absolutely right to tell the hosts about it. “Where is it you stay?”, asks the English lady and I tell her Norman’s and Luisa’s names. “This is where we stay, too! Got there yesterday evening. We have the upstairs room”, she cheers – only to immediately turning a bit edgy. “Oops, we have all our stuff there. I left everything open…” “I wouldn’t worry”, I soothe her. “After today’s fuss, you’re stuff will never be safer. You don’t think that now that all eyes are on this situation someone will take something from your room, do you? What’s much worse is that his wife has a heart condition. If she dies from this, I will have killed her over shampoo!”
We both giggle, and that lightens the mood a bit.

To make up for the calamity I caused, I now start to say nice things about our mutual hosts; how professional he prepares and serves the breakfast, how nice everything looks. “Yap, he actually is a professional. He used to work at the Iberostar hotel. Didn’t you notice: the spoons and the other dishes have the Iberostar logo on it.” No, I haven’t noticed. All I noticed was that everything is really very new and modern. The English’s room is not like that, though. As I describe mine mentioning all the details, they are impressed and seem to be a little bit jealous. “Yes, it’s really fantastic”, I emphasize and describe the spots and the lights in the closet and the square – thus low pressure -shower and the lids on sanitized glasses. “Like a hotel room”, I end my admiring/bragging.

A Bad Penny Always Turns Up

“Maybe it is a hotel room”, says the English lady.
We look at each other. My eyes are going wide and my jaw drops.
“Oh my god, you don’t think he…”, I stare at her in disbelief. Slowly remembering every bit, it dawns on me – the printed lids, this morning the box full of miniature shampoo bottles you find at hotels, all the especially for Cuba unusually state of the art stuff.
“You mean he got all that stuff from his former employer? Oh my god, and I told him ‘This is like a hotel room’…”
“But you were wrong: It is not like a hotel room, it is a hotel room. You are staying at an Iberostar room outside Iberostar!” she’s laughing.
“How….?” I cannot even finish the sentence, this is hysterical! “Well”, the English leans back and sketches the scenario coolly “they probably took a cart and a donkey and went there after dark. There’s an Iberostar just down the block. They didn’t even have to go far”. I feel like such a naive fool that I didn’t suspect anything, even not when I saw the überprofessionel paper lids promising me the glasses would be sanitized. Wow, this is unbelievable!

This is just an illustration. In no way am I insinuating that this gentleman is moving hotel furniture with his cart.

And then I remember that in Cuba this might not be such a big deal because Cuba is like a museum of the “really existing socialism”.
 Almost thirty years ago everybody in the former Eastern bloc lived like that, and here the signs are still there: the queues in front of every bank, phone company, the almost empty stores. The oblivious  – best case – to rude – worst case – employees of the state-owned enterprises who see no sense, let alone challenge in being service oriented or friendly to customers. And of course, the refined art to obtain things that are officially nonexistent or not available. The term is not stealing, it’s called “organizing”.

One of the pillars “really existing socialism” is built on: forming queues, waiting in line;
no matter what and no matter what for.

Someone is washing her sins away with my shampoo – “organized” from my room.

This story shouldn’t by any means hold you back from travelling to Cuba:

Read my inspiring description and extended information on this fascinating country.


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grub first, then ethics

I’m world’s most boring traveller. Because I’m interested in so many things that are happening by day – like watching everyday people shopping at everyday supermarkets and drug stores, walking down streets in average cities, but also spending hours and hours at exhibitions – I hardly get to know the places by night. Plus, like I already explained in an earlier post, there is also the indisputable disadvantage when travelling alone especially as a woman: A woman alone at a bar at night is rather conceived as very needy than very thirsty.

The Casa de la Música in Trinidad becomes especially at night a Club of the Lonely Hearts.


So the flock of proverbial sheep is trampling me into a sort of coma at around 9 p. m. which saves me from many displeasing situations particularly Cuba is known for.

People in Cuba are friendly, open and fun. They come to you on the street, all chatty, ask you where you’re from, how long you’ve been to Cuba, what you’re up to. Then they invite you to come with them to a restaurant or bar. And of course you answer all their questions, you’re openminded and openhearted, and yes, what a great idea to go to this local bar, how nice of their third grade cousin and their co-brother-in-law to join you lot – and at the end mysteriously everybody is gone or has no money, but hey, that’s no problem, people here have so little and you had such a great time, of course you pick up the tab.

If you’re sharp, you realize that this is a business in Cuba as soon as it happens to you for the first time. Some people need to pay a couple of expensive rounds before they realize that this is a popular scam. And some people find it doesn’t matter if they pay, what’s a couple of beers after all? Yes, I could also afford to pay someone a beer, but that’s not the point. I don’t like to be tricked into a situation where I have no choice but paying. It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of respect.

In Cuba, no favour let alone service is free. For nobody, nor for you neither for Cubans. When someone recommends or arranges something, a commission fee is due, and that goes without saying. Remember: Most people in Cuba have next to nothing and there is no improvement on the horizon. So they grab whatever they can get. On my flight from Baracoa I saw a lady on the plane taking this little seat cover that’s under your head, this little piece of cheap fabric they put on the seats. She’ll probably never use the thing, but that’s not the point. When you have nothing, everything seems to be valuable. You or your neighbor or your third grade cousin might need it one day.

Of course Cubans are Latinos so they stare, whistle and holler in this very seldom flattering, mostly unnerving fashion. Plus there is the phenomenon of the ‘jineteras’ and ‘jineteros’. Jineteros can supply you with all sort of service: they are often touts and take you to bars and restaurants or arrange a casa particular for you (for a tip that you don’t even realize since it’s descretely added to your bill). They can provide you with more or less real Cohibas at a more or less good price. They can hook you up with a lady or a man – or even function as your special lady or man. So the trade of a jinetero is very diverse and never very decent. Jineteros and jineteras break rules; and unfortunately they also break hearts.

Often the lines between prostitution, ‘jineterism’ and genuine affection are blurred. People meet, people get involved, people are happy, people fall in love. Then one of them leaves, the other can’t – and doesn’t know whether they will ever meet again. Then there are old parents and siblings with very low income, there are kids to provide for, so why not take a little something from your special someone who allegedly has so much? Most of the time it’s not plain cheating, determined exploitation, ruthless lies. There can be genuine feelings, and still there is the desire or need for material things. What makes these situations so complex is the irreconcilable economic imbalance.

Hence it’s evident why these phenomenons, that are also found on other Caribbean islands like for instance Jamaica, are so distinctive in Cuba: Tourists have money and local people don’t. Tourists want a good time and possibly a romantic illusion and local people have that in abundance. It’s the law of the market, the balance of supply and demand; a very capitalist thing in a very socialist country. Only that there are feelings and dignity involved, and that makes the deal more complex than other trades.

“Grub first, then ethics” (Bertolt Brecht)

Interestingly I’ve met mostly guys travelling by themselves who were disappointed and hurt by Cuban women because after months or even years they have found out that their girlfriends were involved with other men – foreign or local. That they haven’t told the truth regarding their job, marital status or number of children. These guys never showed the minimum understanding of the situation these women were in. I don’t even expect understanding let alone excuses for the women’s behavior. I think if they had acknowledged the circumstances and the different standards, they wouldn’t feel so betrayed by the woman on a personal level but understand that it’s the life conditions that hardly leave choices. Right choices.

This behavior is not nice and not honest and not fair. But it derives from the fact that life is not nice and not fair – especially for Cubans. Even here in the industrialized countries there is this saying that it’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is with a poor. What can be expected from someone who sees her or his only chance for change in getting involved with some passing foreigner? And this attitude, forwarded from generation to generation, leaves traces and determines relationships from the beginning on.
I dislike it as much as you do, and I particularly don’t like the fact that it makes me distrustful and cynical.

I’ve heard from people who were coming to Cuba time and time again and had build up friendships over the years. And then they were extremely disappointed and frustrated by their friends who supposedly let them down when it came to negotiations with vendors or drivers. They took the vendor’s side or accepted the driver’s overpriced fare. Yes, this is frustrating, yes, friendship is a nice and important thing. But imagine you live there, you see no way to ever leave, you live around these vendors and drivers, you might depend on them next week – because the scarcity makes people extremely dependable one on another – would you stand up for this – in your eyes – super rich gringo coming to your country for a certain time? Maybe you would, and there are many Cubans who do and who dislike any form of cheating. Because they are honest. Or because they don’t want a bad rap in the world. Or both. But I can’t blame those who pick their neighbor’s side.

People should not blame Cubans in the first place for being like this, they should blame the circumstances, the unfairness, the enormous imbalance of economic power, the struggle that’s going on for decades. The offenders were the victims – and still are.

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” (Karl Marx)

My personal solution? I don’t get involved. I do spend time with people talking, laughing, being nice and friendly, but I don’t expect them to see in me more than a passing visitor, more than a tourist, they don’t disappoint me by not making me their personal friend. I don’t ask them for commitment.

While I show indulgence regarding the stories of defeated love or desired friendship, I’ve heard stories that made me sick to my stomach. I met this guy Andy from Germany who is a dedicated Salsa dancer and came for the first time to the motherland of his passion – exclusively to dance the time away. My very last evening in Havana I went out with him – first to the inevitable Floridita, eventually he wanted to dance at the hotel Inglaterra.

We were sitting on the verandah fenced by boxtrees, overlooking the Parque Central. The hotel’s policy seems to be that they do promote only female prostitution, since there were very uncomplicated ladies sitting around or shaking their proverbial money maker while two young man who had come to dance with female tourist were immediately kicked out.

What was shocking were the young girls – some of them in the company of their mothers – standing behind the fence peeping between the boxtrees at the people on the verandah. Pointing this out to Andy, he laughed bitterly. “That’s nothing. Yesterday I was dancing with a girl that claimed to be 18 although she looked much younger. She was at the casa de la musica with her father who immediately started to interrogate me if I had a girlfriend, if I didn’t want another, a Cuban one. The girls was just sitting there saying nothing, waiting to be paired off.”

byemyselftravels
Buy one, get one free? No way – there is another person taking the picture of me at my only night out in Havana.

He had it with Cuba, he was completely disenchanted. And when I tell you the story that happened to him on one of his first days in Havana, you won’t blame him: Some guy approached him on the street inviting him to his daughter’s birthday. Of course Andy denied, but the guy insisted, having a foreigner at her party would make the daughter’s day. So after a while Andy though, what the heck and gave in. As they reached the guys house which must have been a total dump, there was no party. The guy called a girl that according to Andy must have been about 15 years old and told him he could get it on with her for a good price.
Ok, neither Brecht’s nor Marx’ quote can be an excuse for that!

At the end of this post I’d like to stress the fact that although almost every Cuban is facing economic hardship, there are many, many people who do not cheat, who do not take advantage, who do not sleep with tourist for their gain. I just didn’t write a post about them. So go to Cuba, meet the people, have a good time, but don’t expect the place to be perfect for you when it’s far from that for its own inhabitants.

Because something has gone very wrong that in 2017, I can cite two communist visionaries to describe the mischief in Cuba.

This by no means should hold you back from travelling to Cuba!

Read my inspiring description and extended information on interesting places in Cuba – that I’ve travelled bye:myself.

Complete Guide to SANTA CLARA

(Update October 2018)

After the touristy amusement park that is Trinidad, the bus “back to Cuba” took me to Santa Clara, mostly known for its historical sights like Che Guevara’s mausoleum and the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado, a train that transported weapons, ammunition and provisions for Batista’s troops. But they hadn’t reckoned with brave Che Guevara and his men who raided the thing. Cuban artist José Delarra created a memorial of four authentic wagons.

The memorial Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a. m. to 5.30 p. m.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara
José Delarra created also Che Guevara’s mausoleum that he’s sharing with some of his fellow fighters. It’s located at the other end of the indeed extensive Plaza de la Revolución.

Coming back from the Armored Train Park towards the city center, you cross the Rio Cubanicay and to your left is a small, very charming coffee bar called Café-Museo Revolución.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara
Nope, this is not somebody’s living room, this is a Café where you get very good….café – and you don’t get bored sipping it since there is so much to see. If this was around the corner from my flat, I’d be a regular for sure.

You should definitely stop there for coffee and a curious look around.

Café-Museo Revolución
Calle Independencia 313
50100 Santa Clara
Phone: + 53 – 5 – 2511017
The café is open from Monday to Saturday from 11 a. m. to 11 p. m.

At the mausoleum, I couldn’t help but remember how I waited over an hour in the sun in front of the Etecsa phone company in Viñales to buy a scratch card for the internet. Well here, at the museum, were standing three ladies barking at everybody who used the wrong door to appreciate the late Ernesto Guevara’s belongings and life story. Apart from the fact that people would have found out pretty fast that they started the tour at the wrong end of his lifeline, I believe that one woman barking orders to use the other door would be enough. Nope, three women standing side by side barking that Ernesto’s life began with his birth and not his death.

The mausoleum is open daily from 8 a. m. to 9 p. m.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara
Colorful streetlife on the street Céspedes.

Besides these two main touristy spots, Santa Clara surprised me with lots of – compared to other countries of course fairly one-sided and ‘tamed’ – street art.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara
Surprisingly in Santa Clara many ‘murales’ emphasize the importance of a strong, objective press.

There is a pretty curious sight in Santa Clara – it’s a streetcorner dedicated to the Beatles. Obviously, it’s not as famous as all the memorials dedicated to this other boy group – the trio Castro, Guevara, and Cienfuegos – hence still worth a look.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara
Created on December 8, 2014 – the date John Lennon was murdered – by artists Guillermo Pérez Alonso, Wilfredo Rodríguez, and Liván Díaz to honor this band that – yes: revolutionized – the world of music.

Another nice thing to do is just walking around, observing Cuban life, visit a cigar factory (you have to buy the ticket one day before your visit) and buy some cigars. A perfect spot to do so is

Fabrica de Tabacos Constantino Pérez Carrodegua
Calle Maceo 181
Santa Clara

A sure place to buy some really good cigars is just in front of the factory – not cheap, no cheat.

La Veguita
Calle Maceo 176
Santa Clara

Like every decent Latino city, Santa Clara also has a central park, here it’s called Leoncio Vidal after the Cuban revolutionary who fought for Cuba’s independence in the late 19th century.

At the south-west side of the park is the famous Hotel Santa Clara Libre: Built in 1954, it is Santa Clara’s highest building and was therefore used by the revolutionaries as an observation point. Today, it still is a hotel and on the ground floor is a movie theater called after Camilo Cienfuegos; there was probably already too much Che in the city so they picked his rebel buddy to name the cinema.

Although this is a big hotel with air condition and what not, you’ll be always much more pampered if you stay with a family at a Casa Particular, take it from me.

Talking ’bout private businesses: One of the best restaurants with excellent food, friendly service and a very pleasant live background music I’ve been to in all Cuba is the Florida Center, located about two blocks East of Parque Vidal on the calle Colón. They are also a casa particular on calle Maestra Nicolasa, so don’t get confused.

Florida Center
Maestra Nicolasa 74
Santa Clara
Phone: + 53 – 42 – 208161


This map should show you all the places worth visiting and mentioned in this post:



Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!


If you choose to pin this post, please use these pictures:

 



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santa Clara



Complete Guide to TRINIDAD

(Update October 2018)

Synonymous to Cuba, Trinidad is its own cliché. The traveller finds exactly what he expects and that makes it so void and boring.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Here you have it all: The cobblestones, the colorful houses, and the indispensable oldtimer – ¡Bienvenidos en Trinidad!


Yes, the streets are paved with cobblestones, yes, the facades are colonial and brightly painted, yes, the antique shops are filled with – who would have guessed? – antiques, yes, at the casa de la musica the musica is great and jineteros (in other countries they are called gigolos) are waiting for tourists to dance Salsa and get their drinks paid.

Everything in Trinidad, at least in the central neighborhoods, is made for tourists. Everyone wants a piece of this huge, yummy tourist cake, but it is a tad bizarre when an old man is walking around with a donkey that’s wearing a sing “foto 0,50 CUC”. He and his donkey probably have walked these stupid cobble stones for ages – and then one day he understood that this could be a lucrative tourist attraction. Or people who offer CUP with Che Guevara on it demanding a tenfold of the coins’ worth. Or a gentleman walking around in a caricaturish Zoot Suit volunteering for pictures – I don’t know how much he charges since he did not have a donkey with a price tag on it.
All this is understandable, but it’s not good. Not for the tourists, not for the country and on a long term not for the Cuban people. 

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
It’s a curse – but real life can be so picturesque.

So go, walk the cobblestone streets, take pictures of the colonial facades, climb the tower of the Convento de San Francisco de Asis to get a wonderful view at the city and its surroundings. But do it preferably either in the morning or in the later evening when at least the groups and day trippers are gone. I’m not promising you to be there by yourself – ever; but at least all the pushy awing will be gone.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
View of the city and its rural surroundings from the Convento de San Francisco de Asis.

Of course, everything is beautiful here – and the center of beautiful is the Plaza Mayor.  On its north side is the old Casa Padrón that today houses the Museum of Archeology. On the east side are the Palacio Brunet, built in 1812 by José Mariano Borrell y Padrón and now housing the Museo Romántico, the Romantic Museum. Next to it is another neoclassical building which was completed in 1892, the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad, Church of the Holy Trinity.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
The Casa Azul’s backyard and in the backdrop the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Now, on the south side of the square is a light blue building – hence also known as the Casa Azul, the blue house – that houses the Museo de Arquitectura Colonial, the Colonial Architecture Museum. As a matter of fact, it used to belong to the wealthy Sánchez Iznaga family and shows practically their belongings; so don’t expect a museum in the sense of….museum.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Modern art on crumbling walls at the Galería de Arte Universal Benito Ortiz – I see that every other year at the Biennial in Venice; you’re on the right track of artsy hipness, Cuba!

Being an art enthusiast, the building on the west side is my favorite: There you find the Galería de Arte Universal Benito Ortiz which is far more than just an art gallery. It’s rather a cultural center where also young artists find working spaces and the opportunity to exhibit their work. The exhibition of traditional lace handicraft from Trinidad on the first floor is not to be missed.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
The Plaza Mayor surrounded by all these iconic buildings mainly in yellow and blue. At the end of the street the famous Convento de San Francisco de Asis  

If you are into antiques, the Calle Desengaño will be just perfect for you: Peeping left and right into houses, shops, and galleries, you’ll see the most amazing things.
Walking further north, you’ll get a glance at what real life in Trinidad is like since here live more of the black folks who obviously do not get such a big share of the fat tourism cake.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Casa de la musica – on this square, locals and tourists alike enjoy really good bands and sway to the rhythm of salsa.

Every Cuban city has a casa de la musica and a casa de la trova. What makes Trinidad’s casa de la musica more agreable is the fact that it’s not a casa but a court so that you enjoy the musica and your mojito in the fresh air with the moon and the stars above – and that’s pretty nice.

If you need more – and most of all more original – party time, check out the Discoteca Alaya which is actually located in a cave. Very unique party experience.

About 15 kilometers west of Trinidad is the Playa Ancon – some say it’s wonderful, others find it to be Cuba’s worse beach. Find out for yourself by either cycling on a rental bike – good luck, it’s Cuba, hence it’s hot and the roads are…Cuban – or taking a shuttle bus. You can inquire about the exact hours at the Cubanacan office on calle Frank País. Of course, there is also the option of going by cab, but then you should be carpooling with others.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Cycling on the cobblestone streets – you better get your butt padded.

A really nice tour is a trip by cart and horse to the Valle de los Ingenios. You get to climb to a waterfall and take a refreshing dip, you get to sample some ‘Guarapo’, juice pressed from sugar cane, and you learn a lot about the sugar cane history and industry in the region. It’s a nice day out.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
There are different ways to explore the sugar mill valley: On horseback, by horse cart….
bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
….and there is even the option to take a train – which some say is nervewracking slow.
Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!


If you choose to pin this post, please use these pictures:




bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana



Complete Guide to BARACOA

(Update October 2018)

I was very glad that Baracoa was my last stop in Cuba. Although it was Cuba’s first Spanish settlement – some say in 1511, some 1512 – and even used to be the capital from 1518 to 1522, until today it’s totally secluded and cut off from the rest of the island by a mountain range with only one road.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
View of Baracoa and the Bahia de Miel, the Honey Bay, from the Hotel El Castillo.

Wrapping me in its relaxed, homey atmosphere, Baracoa would have spoiled me for the rest of Cuba.


It is located on the westernmost tip of the island in the infamous region of Guantánamo.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
I presume you don’t blame me for having spent every day at a couple of hours on this beach.

It’s this mix of local everyday life, some mildly touristy facilities and lots of time and space to create your own blissful vacation.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
Lobster overlooking the ocean where the good people of Playa Maguana caught it just minutes ago.

The village itself is nice, but of course not very exciting.

But the surroundings are just exquisite: the ocean, mountains, rivers, wild beauty of nature.

Baracoa has a city beach which is not very nice, but as you keep walking east, you get to the pretty secluded Playa Blanca.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
Beats me why they call a beach full of black rocks Playa Blanca.

But first you have to cross a bridge over a river – which is incomplete, so that there is a boat waiting at one end of the rotten bridge, picking up passengers and taking them to the other side. Quite fun – and very Cuban.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
Necessity is the mother of invention – I assume this slogan was created in Cuba.

Although everything is nearby, due to the terrible dust roads with huge potholes it takes a while to get for instance to paradisiac Playa Maguana or the Parque Alejandro de Humboldt.

To get there, just take a jeep at the Parque Central. There are also travel agencies organizing trips – whereby ‘organizing’ isn’t the correct word. Since these agencies are government owned, the employees are not…overambitious. While in Cienfuegos my day trip with Cubanacan was just great, in Baracoa there either was nobody at the office or for some reason they were not able to book anything or….finally I organized my rides and trips with the guys hanging around the main square.

As a matter of fact, the son of my hosts in Baracoa is a biologist and offers tours to the Parque Alejandro de Humboldt. If you want to check with him, please refer to this post’s rating section where you find all the contact details I was able to get.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
 Alejandro de Humboldt overlooking the Parque Nacional that the good people of Baracoa named after him

Serious hikers will enjoy a tour on the 575 meters high mountain El Yunque – located about seven kilometers west of Baracoa.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
View of El Yunque…from where you have a grand view.

A very nice day trip goes first to a cocoa finca; cacao, coconuts, and bananas are the main products from this region. On the finca, you get to see how cacao grows and how it is proceded. You can also stock up on cocoa products like beans, powder, cream, and of course chocolate. Unfortunately, I must say that I got to use only the beans that I did grind together with coffee beans which give the brew a chocolaty taste. The rest rotted pretty fast, even chocolate stored in the fridge had some sort of parasites in it. But maybe it was just bad luck.

Another good option to try chocolate from Baracoa is in the town center: At the Casa del Chocolate on calle Maraví you can sample it in drinks and foods – but don’t expect a smile or ambitious service: It’s a government-owned place.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
Cocoa fresh from the tree.

The trip continued to Río Yumurí where a boat took us to some small islands where we were floating with the current of the clear, ice cold river.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
Floating in ice-cold waters certainly was refreshing.

At sunset, there’s no better place to be than at Hotel El Castillo way up high over Baracoa. The food is…sorry to repeating myself: it’s a government-owned restaurant…not good. But have a mojito – as always for 3 CUC – and just enjoy the view.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
Buenas Noches, Baracoa!

It takes about four hours to get to Baracoa from Santiago, and it takes an entire day to get from Baracoa to Havana. But there are domestic flights from the Gustavo Rizo airport. However, if you have an international flight from Havana, I recommend to include a time buffer of at least 24 hours; at least. I had two nights before my flight out: I got to Havana in the morning, left my stuff at the Casa Particular, spent the day on one of Playas del Este, had a nice dinner and a last mojito and left the next morning. If for any reason the flight was canceled, I’d had more than 24 hours to make it to Havana by bus or by cab.
Actually, I’m sticking to this timing anywhere in the world – and definitely in Cuba.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa
A truly tropical journey from Aeroporto Gustavo Rizo.


This map should show you all the places worth visiting and mentioned in this post:



Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!


If you choose to pin this post, please use these pictures:



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Baracoa



Complete Guide to PLAYA SANTA LUCIA

(Update October 2018)

In Santa Lucia, like in Camagüey, I ended up at a Casa Particular that I’ve never booked, hence I cannot tell you the people’s name.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Playa Santa Lucia Camagüey
Secluded and very, very nice: Playa del Coco.

This happened to me a couple of times although I’ve booked every accommodation by Email weeks ahead.

I have the impression that people just take everybody in who shows up at their door step and transfer the people that were booked for that period to their relatives or neighbors. Since the legal casas are strictly controlled and all the owners are nice, this is not a problem (and you certainly don’t end up squatting on the street), but it is a peculiar practice.

Anyway, this casa was located at the entrance to Santa Lucia where there is basically nothing, and the beach is not very well maintained. But of the two days there, I spent one on Playa del Coco. Now this beach, although not very long, is synonymous for paradise; very, very beautiful. You have to drive about 10 miles along a bumpy dust road, though, so it’s not so easy to reach, but absolutely worth it!

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Playa Santa Lucia Camagüey
Oh, these colors! Ah, this water! Don’t let the big tourist companies spoil Playa de Coco!

The second day I’ve spent on the beach in front of the touristy hotel Villa Coral Club. This is an ok beach, not comparable to the secluded paradise of Playa del Coco, but still nice.

And that’s it for Santa Lucia: If you want to stay only for a couple of days on the beach, go diving and have a cocktail at one of the hotel bars, this is a good spot since you get here by Viazul from Camagüey in under two hours. It’s not suitable for an all beach vacation, but I find that an all beach vacation in an interesting, inspiring place like Cuba is a waste of time, anyway. paradisic days

A little tip: If you need to do your banking or intend to buy a scratch card for the internet, do it here. Since all the tourists (mainly Canadian) seem to stay at their all inclusive hotels, there are neither queues at the bank or ATM nor at the Etecsa office (on the main road close to the hotels).

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Playa Santa Lucia Camagüey
Until this day I’m not sure if I was supposed to stay with these people and if the other ones, where I actually had booked a room, aren’t still waiting for me, my hosts were really lovely and sweet  –  and so was the farewell-cake they made for me and the lovely couple from Chile that stayed there with me.

Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!


If you choose to pin this post, please use these pictures:




bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Playa Santa Lucia Camagüey


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Playa Santa Lucia Camagüey


Complete Guide to HAVANA

(Update October 2018)

I know many people who just love Havana. The fun, the sun, the salsa, the malecon. Well, I’m not dancing salsa and I’m certainly not dancing salsa in Cuba where even a one-legged veteran sways way better than me. So I’m focussing on the city by day, and although there’s a lot to see, I didn’t find Havana very charming.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Synonym for Havana – the inevitable malecon

But charming or not – it’s one of world’s mystic dream destinations, so here comes a guide.

There is a well maintained historic center, it is on the Unesco World Heritage list – and therefore well maintained. Otherwise, Havana is nice if you like rotten. I normally do like rotten, but I dislike rotten with rotting food and dogs and their excrements. My highlight of rotten was when I – and many, many other people – was walking down a street and all of a sudden there was a deafening noise. No big deal, just a balcony (!)  that fell down on the walkway. And since God likes Cubans and doesn’t want anybody to get in trouble, nobody got hurt.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Rotten to the core – literally.

Havana is a big city – Cuba’s capital and home to more than 2 million people. Although it is divided in fifteen boroughs, most travellers stick to three of them: The brushed up Habana Vieja – the historic center that, of course, is also on the list of world heritage sites.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Everything you imagine is Cuban, Habana Vieja will give to you.

Adjacent to it is the Centro – which is probably the most Cuban part. There is not much to see but crumbling buildings and lots of garbage.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Well, as the sun sets golden over one of the endless streets stretching across Havana’s Centro, even this part of the city looks mystic.

And then there is Vedado, a rather bourgeois, posh, a bit boring neighborhood with the biggest share of socialist architecture.

Actually, one of the architectural atrocities is the Edificio FOCSA, a 121 meters high skyscraper built in the mid-1950s. There are apartments and stores and two radio stations – but most of all, there is a restaurant and a bar all the way up. Since these are government-owned businesses, prices are pretty civil – the mojito with your million dollar view is 3,50 CUC.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Drink with a view.

Of course one can fill two to three days with either cheesy pseudo sultry Caribbean “cuba in the 50s”-activities like being chauffeured up and down the boulevards in one of the old American street cruisers. And if that alone isn’t tacky enough, they now have pink painted ones with hello kitty on it; I ‘kit’ you not!

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Is this what will come after the revolution? Well, hello kitty!

Besides the fact that I’m not so fond of Kitty, I also find it a bit obscene to pay the equivalent of an average Cuban monthly income for one hour in this tacky vehicle.

What I like are the hop on-hop off buses you can board at the Parque Central. They cost 10 CUC for a day which is far more than you’d pay for a local bus, but they bring you conveniently to all the places of interest you want to go. But to avoid major disappointments, look at them as means of transportation since the explanations are….expendable.

There are three routes: Route number one is really only for those who are lame or extremely lazy since it cruises Habana Vieja – which everybody with two feet can easily explore walking.

Start at the Parque Central, take a look around, see the Capitolino and the legendary Hotel Inglaterra and then walk down the Paseo del Prado.

As you turn right at the Calle Trocadero, walk one block to get to Havana’s most important museums.

There are so many really good paintings – that nobody gets to see since they are not
published in books and it is forbidden to take pictures. What a waste.
(Photo: Caseyjd, Selfportrait of Jorge Arche, straightened and trimmed, cropped to 5:7, CC BY-SA 4.0)

There is the really good museum Palacio de Bellas Artes, that hardly any traveller visits.

The entrance fee is 8 CUP for locals and 8 CUC for visitors and it gives you access to two buildings.
What’s annoying is that there is neither a good catalog of the vast permanent collection nor a selection of e. g. postcards or brochures; and you’re not allowed to take pictures.

Actually, in every hall, there is at least one guard who barks loudly “no pictures” as soon as you look at your phone to check the time. They bark it with a heavy Spanish accent and make you feel like a villainous contra.

I remembered these good people very often on my trip through Cuba: every time I had to wait for hours at an Etecsa office to buy an internet card and there was one single person sitting there moving very, very, very slowly, taking shorter or longer breaks for no apparent reason – or the time when I almost missed my intercity bus because the one and only lady supplying passengers with tickets had to have her lunch that very moment, and – well, there were many situations when I remembered that these offices were not understaffed because there is no labor force in Cuba but because the labor force is divided in a moronic way.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Young pioneers – please promise me that you’ll never become bitter old bats barking in museums!

I know that this was – and obviously still is – a problem in socialist countries, but I don’t understand why, since it has nothing to do with the system itself. Marx didn’t command that there ought to be many people uselessly barking at museums while important and frequented institutions such as the post office and the bus company should remain understaffed, did he!?

Anyway, back to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which is really big and packed with the exquisite Cuban artists such as Jorge Arche, whose work would be considered “The New Objectivity”, Marcelo Pogolotti’s modernistic, Bauhaus-ish paintings glorifying the working class, pop-artist Raúl Martínez’ expressive, colorful canvasses, to point out only a few.

The Palacio can be visited from Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. and Sundays from 10 a. m. to 2 p. m.

The same ticket grants access to the older building, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which is located next to the Parque Central. Its main focus is on international art – and the most picturesque part is the beautifully painted ceiling that slowly falls apart. Through the gaps you can actually see the sky and birds are nesting on the wall’s edges – it’s sort of a morbid beauty, thus certainly not on purpose.

Talking about museums – there is, of course, the Museo de la Revolución not to be missed. Guess what I’ve learned there: La revolución was a good thing and the boy band around Fidel good and brave people.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
The neoclassicist museum building used to be the Presidential Palace of all Cuban presidents from Mario García Menocal to Fulgencio Batista.

As a matter of fact, regarding what was going on during Batista, of course, it was right to change things, to grant people free healthcare, to give them access to profound education (although Cubans have much less access to information, to certain literature etc. they are impressively educated and well informed). It’s just that the information at the museum are not very balanced and the red flag is hitting you right in your face and the crude propaganda adds a caricature feel to it.

The museum can be visited every day from 9.30 a. m. to 4 p. m.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Che, Ernesto and Camilo Cienfuegos – this sculpture makes them look like a boyband.

Around the museum are more memorials like the Granma, a yacht that brought revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba; today, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party is named after this old lady.

If there were only one street to walk in Havana – it would be Calle O’Reilly that connects on about one mile the Prado with the very center of Habana Vieja, the Plaza de Armas with all the historic buildings around and the charming atmosphere, created mainly by the numerous booksellers around the park.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Plaza de Armas – let’s get a bit philosophic: Books can be weapons, too….

To learn more about Havanas past, there is a nice museum in the square’s vicinity – the Museo de la cuidad, focusing on Havana’s colonial past, showing furniture, personal items, and photos.

Walk down south along calle Obispo which runs between rows of really beautiful houses – well maintained since that’s the price of being on the UNESCO world heritage list. There are cafés and small shops and it’s cute and has very little to do with real Cuban life.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Fuente de los leones in front of the Basilica at the Plaza de San Francisco,

At the Plaza de San Francisco you might want to turn right into calle Amargura to either visit the Museo del Chocolate or sample Cuban chocolate products – including their very rich hot chocolate – at the Casa del Chocolate; or both.

If you turn left into Calle San Ignacio and follow the street all the way south, you’ll get to the Mercado Artesanal – a dorado for those who enjoy Caribbean handicraft and art in bright colors.

Just so you get to see another street with similar buildings, walk back up on calle Cuba and turn right at calle Muralla which takes you to one of the most important squares in Habana Vieja, the Plaza Vieja.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Already in the early morning, there is a lot of artistic activity going on on Plaza Vieja…..
bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
….while the Plaza de la Catedral is still pretty dreamy.

To get from Plaza Vieja to the Plaza de la Catedral, walk six blocks up on calle Mercaderes.

By the way, to the left, on calle Empedrado is the legendary Bodeguita del Medio. To those who love these clichés: Be their guest – cheers.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Yes, I keep writing smack about all these legendary places all the tourists run to – and look at me cheering in the camera at El Floridita Bar – the cheesiest of the cheesiest. But it was my last evening and I go all sentimental leaving.

Of course, there are more plazas and rincones – which is corners – and shops and bars all over Habana Vieja and one can spend easily one to two days just walking and looking.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Take a close look: Jose Martí is carrying a dove on his index finger; the dove is real….he is not. 

Like I said, the boroughs Habana Vieja and Centro are divided by the Parque Central and the adjacent Prado.

Before you go to the Centro district, walk down south into calle Cárdenas, leading from the Parque Central to the main train station (Estación Central de Ferrocarriles). Here, some true architectural treasures can be found: An astonishing variety of Art Nouveau houses that bring immediately Antoní Gaudí’s building to mind, so it’s not surprising that these gems also stem from a Catalan, namely Baltazar Ustrell.

Talking ’bout Catalans in Cuba: Due to economic misery in Spain, from the beginning of the 19th century on many Catalans came to emergent, wealthy Cuba as immigrant workers, hence the cultural connection. You’ll find a really good novel on this subject below in the “Rating”-section.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Catalonian architecture in Havana.

El Centro, located west of the Parque, is far less polished than Habana Vieja – actually, it’s not polished at all, it isn’t even cleaned. There are not so many sights and historic buildings – that’s probably exactly why.

For me, the most important sight was the Paladar La Guarida. After having seen the movie Fresa y Chocolate, I was like these people that come to Dubrovnik because of Game of Thrones: I had to see everything related to that film.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Already the entrance is just amazing.

So I actually made a reservation a couple of weeks ahead – on the internet – to get a seat and be allowed to fork over the equivalent of a Cuban teacher’s monthly income to have lunch. A nice lunch, but still.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Dining on a film set: The probably most exclusive paladar “La Guarida”

If you also want to waste money like a thrilled teenager, here is there address:

La Guarida
418 Concordia
Havana
Phone: + 53 – 7 – 8669047

They are open daily for lunch from noon to 4 p. m. and for dinner from 6 p. m. to 11.45 p. m.

Make sure to have a reservation.

Another funky place in Havana’s Centro is the Callejon de Hamel – actually already bordering the Vedado district. Many Cuban artists use the scarceness of material to their favor and create their work in an impressively ingenious way with what’s just available. When they decorated the Callejon, there must have been lots of bathtubs available, because they are used lavishly.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Callejon de Hamel between El Centro and Vedado.

From there, my movie-tour led me to the Heladería La Coppelia where the two main protagonists met – hence the movie’s title.

As a matter of fact, it’s rather the myth than the taste of the ice cream, but try for yourself:

Heladería La Coppelia
2111 Calle L
Havana
Phone: + 53 – 7 – 8326184

The ice cream parlor is open from Monday to Friday from 9 a. m. to 8 p. m. – seriously?! Who closes an ice cream parlor on weekends?! Cubans do.

To see more of the mostly more modern sights in the Vedado district, I recommend going on the hop on-hop off tour #2 which covers this area. Here, it makes actually sense since it’s pretty widespread and walking wouldn’t be an option because of the distances.

If you want to get away from Havana’s hustle and bustle and hang out on the beach a bit,  you can take hop on-hop off tour #3 which is the beach route. The Playas del Este, the beaches east of Havana, are nice and clean and not overcrowded by foreigners. The bus from the Parque Central goes every 30 minutes. I got off at Tropicoco and had a great time.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
Playa del Este at Tropicoco…

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
…spontaneous live concert included – quite normal in Cuba.

This map should show you all the places worth visiting and mentioned in this post:



Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba? 
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bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana
bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Havana





Complete Guide to SANTIAGO de CUBA

(Update October 2018)

Most of the travellers that I met on my trip across Cuba visited only the western part – from Viñales to Trinidad. I did that, too – but then I got to the less explored and visited east – and just loved it.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
Good morning, Santiago! Walking in the wee hours to the Viazul bus station. 

All the cities I’ve visited after Trinidad were much more…Cuban. Less tourists, more locals.

Although Santiago de Cuba is not only the isle’s second largest city but also the country’s second capital from 1522 till 1589; the first one was Baracoa – we’ll get there later; literally.

Santiago has a certain artsy vibe to it, and I felt very comfortable here.

Here, the central park is called Parque Céspedes and it’s the perfect central point for exploring the city.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
Overlooking Santiago de Cuba from the Casa Granda’s rooftop bar.

To get a first good view of the city, just go up to the roof bar of the hotel Casa Granda (this is not a typo, it’s actually Grand-a).

While regarding service it’s annoying that employees at public, governmental businesses don’t give a damn, there is an advantage to it: They don’t care if you use the bathroom without buying or consuming something, they are completely unconcerned if you use the facilities although you’re not a guest or customer – that’s really good.

Next to the Casa Granda, on the square’s southern side, is the Santa Basílica Metropolitana Iglesia Catedral, Santiago’s majestic cathedral.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
The two beautiful towers of Santiago’s cathedral can be spotted even from the side streets.

On the square’s west side is the Casa de Diego Velazquez, a Spanish conquistador’s former residence. The building, completed in the early 1600the century, will probably be one of the oldest Cuban residences. Today, it houses the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano.
While the upstairs used to be the residential part, the lower level was a gold foundry and you can still admire the furnace that was used for melting gold.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
From the Casa Granda, the Casa de Diego Velazquez deems almost humble: it’s the building with the black balconies right across the square.

Leaving the parque to the east, there are some museums you shouldn’t miss: On calle Francisco Vincente Aguilera is the Museo Emilio Bacardí Moreau – and the name Bacardí rings a bell for a reason. He did bring good to the world – as a rum manufacturer, as Santiago’s mayor, and as an art collector.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
A museum since 1899.

His rich collection can be seen at the

Emilio Bacardí Moreau Museo
Francisco Vincencte Aguilera
Santiago de Cuba
Phone: + 53 – 22 – 628402

The museum is open daily from 9 a. m.  to 5 p. m.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
Masks and everything a wild carnival is all about.

Just one block down south at the next corner is another jewel, focusing pretty much on the Afro Cuban heritage and the carnival.

Museo del Carnaval
Calle Heredia 301
Santiago de Cuba
Phone: +53 22 626955

The museum is open daily from 8 a. m.  to 4 p. m., but when I was there, it was closed for an hour; well, it’s Cuba, so you might have to adjust your schedule here and there.

The competition between Havana and Santiago starts already with Cuba’s national treasure, the rum. If you haven’t visited a rum factory or museum before, here is – yet another – chance; whereby it’s probably not the most complete and impressive exhibition.

Museo del Ron
Calle San Basilio 358 (Calle Bartolomé Maso)
Santiago de Cuba

A crazy thing in Santiago is that names of streets differ. You get an address – and google maps shows you a spot with a completely different name. It drives me nuts, but don’t worry, it’s ok – they just changed names, so go where google sends you. If you want to make sure, just type both names in google search and you’ll see that it’s the same street – like here with San Basilio and Bartolomé Maso = same street.

It’s very relaxing that in Santiago there is not only a lot to see, but also a lot where to sit: There are various small squares where you can just sit on a bench in the shade of a tropical tree watching people and time passing by.
Oh – and at the Plaza de Marte, you have excellent Wifi.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
Plaza de Dolores – with a statue of freedom fighter Francisco Vicente Aguilera….. 

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
….and Plaza de Marte – with a phrygian cap in honor of Cuban veterans.
In the front, José Marti is turning his back on us. 

What makes Santiago even a bit more picturesque than all the other already very quaint cities is the fact that it’s hilly. You have a bit of an aerial view from many spots around town – you only have to do a little climbing.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
The Padre Pico Steps.

And on every hill, they put a little motivation for you: Getting up the Padre Pico Steps five blocks southwest of Parque Céspedes, you’ll reach the Museo de la Clandestinidad. Basically, it’s only a different name for an exhibition of the revolution in 1956 – and what they show is pretty much what you get to see at the Museo de la Revolución in Havana. Only the location is more spectacular – and well chosen since it’s on top of the Loma del Intendente. It was inaugurated in 1976 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the armed uprising in Santiago in November 1956.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
Abel Santamaria Monument – in honor of the martyr Abel Santamaria who at the age of 25 was murdered in prison after being tortured by police to reveal where the other revolutionaries were hiding.

Another revolutionary lookout is the Cuartel Moncada with the Museo Historico 26 de Julio. Here you are lectured about more heroic activities – but that’s not the reason why the best part comes as you leave – the views down the roads towards the harbor are; only the views.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba
Obviously, the spirit of the revolution lives on.

If you have time, a visit to the Cemeterio de Santa Ifigenia, a cemetery located about two miles west of the Parque Céspedes, is worth a visit: At this graveyard are resting many great Cubans such as Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Emilio Bacardi, and Frank Pais; and since 2003 also Señor Compay Segundo, since to this date famous people are buried here. Every thirty minutes, there is a changing of the guards. A guided tour of the place is a good option.

Another very popular trip takes you to the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a fortress from 1700, located about six miles southwest of the city center. From here, the views of the bay are just spectacular.

This map should show you all the places worth visiting and mentioned in this post:







Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!


If you choose to pin this post, please use these pictures:




bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Santiago de Cuba



Complete Guide to CAMAGÜEY

(Update October 2018)

On the way from Santa Clara to the beaches of Isla Santa Lucia, a stopover at Camagüey came handy; and going by Viazul, it was inevitable, anyway.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey
Plaze del Carmen and Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen

Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have visited – I had already so many idyllic midsized cities on my list – and missed out on a really pleasant place. Whereby – one day also was enough.


Camagüey has over 320,000 inhabitants which makes it actually Cuba’s third largest city. Here, the main square is called after Ignacio Agramonte y Loynáz, a revolutionary in the Ten Years’ War from 1868 to 1878 when Cuba was seeking independence from the Spanish. He was born in what today is Camagüey and his native house can be visited.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey
A central meeting point of Camagüey: Parque Ignacio Agramonte

On the southern side of the square is the Iglesia Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria and on the west side yet another Casa de la Trova, here named after Patricio Ballagas which makes sense since not only was he born in Camagüey, this composer and guitarist also had an important impact on the trova music.

My favorite side is the northern one since there is the Maqueta de la Ciudad de Camagüey, i. e. the city en miniature, and next to it the Café Cuidad, one of the nicest cafés I’ve been to in Cuba. You get excellent coffee in a pretty worldly ambiance – and you get internet access, provided you have your scratch-card.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey
Plaza San Juan de Dios with lots of stalls with handicrafts and souvenirs during the day, lots of good food at night; and the church San Juan de Dios to the right.

To get a bit of a Mexican feel, just walk down two blocks south from the Parque and you’ll get to the Plaza San Juan de Dios. Here you get to see one of the most exquisite ensembles of well-preserved colonial architecture from the 18the century.

Another famous and very alluring square is the Plaza del Carmen, whereby not only the plaza itself deserves your attention but also the calle Marín Varona leading there: There are beautiful structures, lots of small bars, shops, and galleries – all lovingly decorated with lanterns and flowers.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey
Martha Jimenez’ neighbors are life-size and sculpted after real Camagüeyans.

The plaza’s strongest suit and a real tourist magnet are the local people you meet here. They seem a bit stiff? Well, that’s because they were cast from bronze by artist Martha Jimenez Perez, originally from Holguín, but living and working in Camagüey. At house number 282 you can visit her studio and store – and maybe you are lucky and run into Ms Martha herself.

As a globetrotter, I thought it might be a good idea to visit the church Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje – which might ensure a happy progression of my coming trips. And what can I say, so far, it’s working like a charm. Good thing is, that the adjacent cemetery is pretty well maintained and with the artistic gravestones a bit of an outdoor museum.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey
Cemetery of Camagüey with the church Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje in the backdrop.

What really amazed me after having been to Cuba for quite a while were the shopping streets and the stores in Camagüey.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey
‘The Bronze Titan’ Antonio Maceo – here actually made of bronze- overlooking Camagüey’s shopping dorado.

I do not want to assert that they are just like in capitalist countries and what is called ‘mall’ in Cuba makes us smile. But in Camagüey, the stores are not empty, there are actually goods there – sometimes even in bulks.
People shop. And you can shop, too, since they have some really nice handcraft like little leather pouches for about 1 CUC and ceramic houses for about 3 CUC and they look nice and not like tourist crap.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey
Shopping street Calle Maceo.

This map should show you all the places worth visiting and mentioned in this post:






Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!


If you choose to pin this post, please use these pictures:




bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Camagüey