Complete Guide to CIENFUEGOS

(Update October 2018)

At first glance, the city of Cienfuegos does not have that much to offer – except its incredible beauty.

Not only due to its proximity to Trinidad, where everybody goes, it’s absolutely worth a stopover for one or two days.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
Classic Sunday concert on the Paseo El Prado

It was settled by French immigrants in 1819 and kept its colonial charm over the years.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
A stroll along the Paseo El Prado….as if in southern Europe; except maybe for the young pioneers.

As a matter of fact, it deemed less Cuban than most other cities: There are many stores and business in the center which looks like many pedestrian shopping streets in southern regions.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
At one of the houses along the Prado: A piece of art in the making; and what a unique motive the artist has chosen.

The houses look well maintained. There is at least one supermarket that has actually groceries – and where you can pay with CUP and with CUC, too. If you’ve been to Cuba, you will understand what a big deal and how unusual this is. No scarcity, no shortage – what’s wrong with this place?!

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
It’s not Fifth Avenue, I give you that. But for Cuba, this is very posh.

The main activity in Cienfuegos should be strolling; strolling up and down the very French boulevard Paseo El Prado and its side streets towards the Parque José Martí; don’t miss the famous – and now of course slowly falling apart – Teatro Tomás Terry.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
So here the central park is called after Jose Martí, the great Cuban writer and philosopher; and there he stands waving. The blue building behind him is the Museo Provincial and on the left, the building with the big cupola is the Palacio de Gobierno, the Governmental Palace. It cannot be visited.

Regarding architectonic attractions, the sightseeing tour of Cienfuegos is easy since they are all located on or around the Parque: The Teatro Tomás Terry on the north side – where during the day all the tour buses are parked, so that you hardly can get a decent picture of it.

On the east side is the Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion, built in 1833.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
One of the iconic buildings that made the historic center of Cienfuegos a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

On the southern side of the square are the Museum and the Governmental Palace, around in the corner in the west are the Palacio Ferrer and finally the Federation of Writers and Artists.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
The Arco de Triunfo – celebrating the Cuban Republic. In the background the famous Teatro Tomás Terry. I find it very confusing that this theater has been named after a magnate who was involved in slave trade, born in Venezuela and buried in Paris. Not so very much a revolutionary.

In the park is not only José Marti, but also a gazebo and even an Arc de Triomphe – built in 1902 supposedly by a bunch of passionate workers who celebrated victory and independence.

Cienfuegos’ nicest stroll, of course, is along the Malecón, which I find much more beautiful and majestic than the one in Havana, by the way.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
Where the blue of the sky meets the blue of the water – Cienfuegos’ Malecón.

There are a couple of nice stops where you can get a drink and a complimentary Salsa concert: First of all, there is the elegant yacht club – again: it’s incredible that there is a place like this in Cuba!

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
The sun shines through the Yacht Club Cienfuegos.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
Mojitos and complimentary Salsa concerts wherever you go.

But actually, it’s very good that it is there: At the government-owned places, food and drinks are at fixed standard prices. While regarding the food you shouldn’t bother, good Mojitos at 3 CUC are a great bargain!

You know how I always thoroughly write down the addresses and phone numbers and link the name to the business’ or museum’s website? Well, in a guide to Cuba, unfortunately it is hardly possible since most of the places do not have a website, sometimes it’s even not possible to find a real address online. Therefore, at the end of each chapter, you’ll find a map that shows you where to find all these great spots; and maybe one day there will be referring sites and I will update my posts – and google will be happy, too.

So the fun never stops in Cienfuegos since only a ten minutes walk farther is another fantastic waterhole – one that you wouldn’t expect in Cuba, neither: The Palacio de Valle, built by Italian architect Alfredo Colli from 1913 to 1917 in Moorish style.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
A quirky place: Palacio de Valle.

They have rooftop seating- and mojitos are 3 CUC and the Salsa band plays on – ¡life is good!

By the way, the Casa Particular where I stayed and that I’m recommending in the Rating-chapter is just a ten minutes walk from either the Yacht Club or the Palacio de Valle – so another reason to stay there. On the other hand, it’s 15 to 20 minutes to walk to the center – so it’s totally up to you.

Depending on how long you stay in Cienfuegos – and I find one can stay there pretty long – there are at least two-day trips you should join. I say join since in Cienfuegos it’s actually easy to do a tour with a governmental tour agent: Havanatur, Cubatur, Cubanacan – they all offer day trips. I booked with Cubanacan – the office is at Paseo del Prado – and got a whole day trip for 35 CUC to the waterfalls at El Nicho, lunch included.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
Turquoise waters that visitors can even swim in.

While in Cienfuegos a trip with Cubanacan worked out like a charm, in other places it was hopeless: The person in charge of the office came late or didn’t show up at all or for some reason was not able to book a tour or….it’s a governmental company – nuff said.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos
Once you achieve getting on a tour, it’s totally worth it.

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 Cienfuegos

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cuba Cienfuegos

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 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 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

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 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!

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

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

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.”

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.