Wednesday, 17 October 2018

VOLUNTEERING ON A COMMUNITY PROJECT IN CUBA

Finca Tungasuk is an amazing project located 25 km from Havana on the road to Pinar del Rio, a slice of heaven, an inspiration to work alongside Annabelle and her beautiful organic farm in Cuba.

Annabelle arranged for her neighbour, Pedro, to pick me up, as well as Jeanne & Justin from Boston, 2 other volunteers, from our respective Casas in Havana at 7am.

As soon as we arrived, Annabelle welcomed us to her organic farm with some delicious home-made mango & guava yoghurt, made by a local farmer, grated coconut dessert and a cup of Cuban coffee. Before she set us to work in the farm, Annabelle told us all about her journey to Cuba and what led her to changing her life, buying a house in the countryside and starting an organic farm in Cuba.

Annabelle and her husband Alfredo moved to Cuba from Paris in 2013. Annabelle originally from Nicaragua was working as a chef in Paris when her and her Peruvian husband decided to open an organic farm in Cuba and work as a cooperative within the community. Cuba seemed like a natural choice to them as Alfredo’s parents had settled in Cuba in 1997 and it seemed like the perfect place to build their dream.

The initial year was tough, they had to clear the land free of the Cuban weed maribou to prepare the beginnings of their organic farming project. It took a lot of research and determination to learn about organic farming, however they have learnt from their experiences and have shared their knowledge with the local community in Caimitas, Artemisa.

Their hard work has paid off and now they are growing traditional Cuban fruit and vegetables; papaya, sugar cane, corn, mango. They are trying to revive fruits and vegetables indigenous to Cuba, which have been lost over time, as well as growing pak choi, lemon grass and other produce not commonly found and grown in Cuba.

As well as running the organic farm Annabelle and Alfredo now welcome volunteers to their farm looking to experience something different in Cuba. Our voluntary work at the organic farm in Cuba consisted of re-planting tomato, cauliflower and pack choi plants on a fresh plot of land where they will be nurtured without chemicals to grow into delicious organic vegetables. The experience left the 3 of us even more appreciative of the hard work farmers like Annabelle and her family endure when producing healthy, organic, fresh products for us to eat.

After our hard work, we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch with Annabelle’s family before Pedro took us back to Havana, totally grateful for meeting Annabelle and her family, for welcoming us into their world and for having the opportunity to take part in this wonderful Cuban experience.

Experience the Real Cuba offers cultural activities and programs in Cuba supporting local Cuban private businesses, as well as organising accommodation in Casa Particulares.

To find out more about our courses and programs (Spanish lessons, Dance lessons, Music lessons, Art & Pottery workshops) check out our website:

www.experiencetherealcuba.com

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Travel Cuba

Monday, 22 January 2018

HOW TO BOOK A CASA PARTICULAR IN CUBA


WHAT IS A CASA PARTICULAR?

A Casa Particular in Cuba is like a B&B, guesthouse, or family homestay. 

WHAT FACILITIES DO CASAS IN CUBA OFFER?

Casas in Cuba vary, sometimes rooms are within the Cuban family home and sometimes guest accommodation in a Casa Particular is on a different floor with an independent entrance. Most of the time bedrooms in a Casa Particular come with private en-suite bathrooms. Rooms in a Casa Particular have air-conditioning or fans and the Casas provide towels. Some Casas in Cuba are starting to offer additional facilities for example, hairdryers, mini-bar, tv, safety boxes etc.

Whatever the conditions, Cuban families are friendly, welcoming, and respect your privacy. Staying in a Casa Particular is a great way to experience Cuba but just bear in mind that Cuba has its shortages so water may be scarce, hot water may not be as hot as you are used to or it may take time to heat up, towels may be smaller than you are used to and things run slowly so the key to making the most of your experience in Cuba is to be patient and take things in your stride. 

WHY ARE CUBAN CASAS CALLED HOSTALS?


You will find that some Cuban Casas have named themselves Hostal XXX i.e. Hostal Misleydis & Gustavo. This is another term they use denoting that they have a guest house, B&B, homestay or Casa Particular in Cuba. It is not necessarily a backpacker or budget hostel.

ARE THERE ANY BACKPACKERS OR HOSTELS IN CUBA?


I have stayed in a couple of backpacker type accommodations in Havana, however, there are very few backpacker or hostel type accommodations available in Cuba where tourists on a budget visiting Cuba can share a room with other travelers or backpackers i.e. a shared room for 6 people with bunk beds. 

HOW DO I KNOW IF THE CUBAN CASA IS LEGAL?

Cuban Casas who are legally allowed to rent their homes to foreign visitors or travelers have a blue and white sticker posted on their front door. Anyone that stays at a Cuban Casa must sign the guestbook. Cuban Casa owners then have to report to immigration with your passport details declaring who is staying with them in their Casa Particular.


Casa Cuba


HOW DO I BOOK A CASA IN CUBA?

Experience the Real Cuba works with a network of Casas in Cuba. The Casa Particulares that we work with are friends and contacts that we have made over the years and have been carefully selected for their professionalism and excellent hospitality.

To book one of our many Casas in Cuba and ensure you have an amazing stay in Cuba hit the following link:

https://www.experiencetherealcuba.com/destination/

HOW DO I COMMUNICATE WITH A CUBAN CASA?

Communicating with Casas in Cuba can be difficult. Internet connection in Cuba is a challenge and it is not always easy for Cubans to connect to the WIFI in Cuba every day. 

At Experience the Real Cuba we communicate with the Casas in Cuba on your behalf. We have Co-ordinators located in Cuba who have an excellent relationship with the Casas in Cuba and we aim to get back to Cuban Casa enquiries as fast as we can.

HOW DOES THE CUBA CASA BOOKING WEBSITE WORK?

At Experience the Real Cuba we work in conjunction with the Casas in Cuba to offer the easiest Cuban Casa booking system for both the Casa and the traveler visiting Cuba.


1.       Find a Cuban Casa that you like on the Experiencethe Real Cuba website

2.       Click the “book now” button

3.       I will receive an email with your request

4.       I will communicate with the Casas in Cuba to check availability

5.       I get back to you within 72 hours

6.       If the Casa in Cuba is available we will confirm the Casa reservation

7.       You pay a booking fee in advance to secure the Casa reservation

8.       Once payment is received I will send you confirmation details with the Cuban Casa contact details

9.       Once you arrive at your Casa in Cuba you pay the remaining balance in cash in Cuba (CUC).

EXPERIENCE THE REAL CUBA – YOUTUBE

Check out the videos of some of our Casas in Cuba.


EXPERIENCE THE REAL CUBA – SUPPORTING CUBAN BUSINESSES

Experience the Real Cuba offers Casas Particulares in Cuba as well as cultural activities and programs in Cuba supporting local Cuban private businesses.

To find out more about Casas in Cuba and our courses and programs (Spanish lessons, Dance lessons, Music lessons, Art & Pottery workshops) check out our website:

www.experiencetherealcuba.com

Cuba Casa
Casa Gomez

Cuba Casa
Casa Gomez

Casa Cuba
Casa Destino

Cuba Casa
Casa Destino
Cuba Casa
Casa German 1806

Cuba Casa
Casa German 1806

Casa Cuba
Casa German 1806

Cuba Casa
Casa German 1806
Cuba Casa
Casa Misleydis & Gustavo

Cuba Casa
Casa Misleydis & Gustavo


Sunday, 10 December 2017

CAN I BUY A SIM CARD IN CUBA?

CAN I BUY A SIM CARD IN CUBA?

Yes, you can buy a SIM card for your mobile phone when you are on holiday in Cuba.

WHERE CAN I BUY A SIM CARD IN CUBA?

You can go to any ETECSA office in Cuba to buy a Cuban SIM card.

I went to the ETECSA office located at the bottom of the FOCSA building in Vedado on calle M in Havana. When I arrived at the ETECSA office there were 2 queues. You need to know who is last in the queue so ask for “el ultimo”, this is a general rule in Cuba. The gentleman asked me what for “para que?” as each queue serves a different purpose so I said “para sacar una linea” and he pointed me to the relevant queue. The line-up for the queue was outside in the sun and a security guard inside the ETECSA office waved us in one at a time when there was a sales person available to deal with our enquiry.

I was lucky as I was in the queue for around 5-10 minutes, which is quick for Cuban standards, sometimes you can be in the queue at ETECSA for a lot longer, especially when going to an ETECSA office in the provinces around Cuba, so it is probably best to go to an ETECSA office in Havana.

In general, things in Cuba are not always available when you want them. Sometimes you can be waiting in a queue for 1 hour only to find out that there are no Cuban SIM cards available to buy when you get inside the ETECSA office. One way to avoid this from happening is to speak the security guard inside the ETECSA office and ask if there are any Cuban SIM cards for sale before you join the queue.

DO I NEED IDENTIFICATION TO BUY A CUBAN SIM CARD?

When you go to buy a SIM Card in Cuba, you need to take the following items with you:
  • Passport
  • Cuban Casa address (where you are staying)
  • a mobile phone / handset (the one you want to use when you are in Cuba)
  • money to pay for the SIM card (Cuban Converitible Pesos – CUC)

You should take the mobile phone with you because the sales person wants to insert the chip into the mobile phone to check that is functioning. I prefer taking an old mobile phone with me to Cuba so I can use to communicate with friends and family in Cuba, i.e. to make local calls within Cuba.



HOW DOES THE CUBAN SIM CARD WORK?

There is only one telecommunications company in Cuba; ETECSA, there are no other service providers in Cuba offering mobile phone contracts (November 2017).

You have 2 options, neither options include a mobile phone or handset, so remember to bring a mobile phone with you to use in Cuba:

1. Permanent SIM Card

The permanent Cuban SIM card costs 40 CUC, it comes with 10 CUC credit. Before I leave Cuba if I add credit to my phone the line will remain active for 11 months, so when I return to Cuba I can use the same SIM card and Cuban mobile phone number. If I am away from Cuba for more than 11 months, I can charge the phone online via various online service providers (I tend to use DING or Cuballama) to keep the line activated.

2. Temporary SIM Card

The temporary Cuban SIM Card is 3 CUC per day. This is a good option for people who are on holiday in Cuba for a short time.

WHERE CAN I TOP UP MY CUBAN MOBILE PHONE CREDIT?

There are many private businesses acting as agents for ETECSA in Cuba. They can be working from their Casa or have a small shop. You will see small ETECSA signs posted on doors or windows, or you can ask your Casa host in Cuba to let you know where your nearest agent is so you can add credit to your Cuban SIM card.

SUPPORTING CUBAN BUSINESSES

Experience the Real Cuba offers cultural activities and programs in Cuba supporting local Cuban private businesses, as well as organising accommodation in Casa Particulares.


To find out more about our courses and programs (Spanish lessons, Dance lessons, Musiclessons, Art & Pottery workshops) check out our website:


Cuba
Havana Cuba

Cuba ETECSA
FOCSA Havana



Mobile Phone Cuba
Cuba SIM Card

Trinidad Cuba
ETECSA Trinidad Cuba




Sunday, 19 November 2017

A TRIP THROUGH THE REAL CUBA 2

A Trip Through the Real Cuba the story continues, is written by Mary and Jack, our wonderful guests who stayed with us in our network of casa particulares throughout Cuba in February 2017. 

A TRIP THROUGH THE REAL CUBA 2
by Mary & Jack

CIENFUEGOS

After a delicious breakfast at 6am, our Casa host Dayne arranged a taxi to the Viazul bus terminal…it would be a six hour trip from Viñales to Cienfuegos, with a rest stop half way. 

Our hosts in Cienfuegos were at the Viazul bus terminal to meet us and drive us to their home in Punta Gorda, a modern suburb south of the city. Our casa was a small attachment through the garden to a kitchen and bedroom, bathroom and well-stocked fridge.

The hosts, Arelys and Norge also prepared supper for 7pm: fresh shrimp, salad, rice, ice cream and coffee.

The following morning, we walked along the Malecón toured the Naval Museum, the Provincial Museum and had a good look at a square-rigged sailing ship at a nearby dock. 

After a rest in the afternoon we caught a ride with Norge into town, first stopping at the Viazul bus station to arrange transport for the next day, Then ambled around the town market, tried fresh coconut milk and enjoyed a beer by the Malecón. The Spanish influence and architecture was the main feature of this quiet town…next time we will take a guided tour to learn more about Cienfuegos than we were able to on this short visit.

After a full breakfast at 7am at the Casa, Norge drove us to the Viazul bus station. We bought our tickets to Trinidad and joined the confusion in the waiting area. After several false starts we got seated in the right bus, and were off!

Trip to Cuba
Cienfeugos Cuba

Trip to Cuba
Malecón Cienfuegos Cuba

TRINIDAD

Again, we were met at the Viazul bus station in Trinidad, this time by a young fellow (Jamie!) driving a tricycle-taxi. He took us on a ten minute drive to our next casa, mostly downhill. His contraption had a sturdy frame and balloon tires - quite robust, and one hardly felt the original cobblestones of this 16th century city.

Casa Misleydis & Gustavo in Trinidad was a warm and friendly B&B close to the centre and our hosts could not have been more welcoming. Misleydis was our main contact in Cuba and Rena our contact before arriving in Cuba kept Misleydis alert to our movements around Cuba….Misleydis was our contact for any problems at a local level and a fount of knowledge on all things Cuban. It was also a real plus to be able to communicate in English. We looked forward to spending the next three nights in her comfortable casa. 

Our first challenge was to get bus tickets to our next port-of-call, Camaguay. Waiting in line to put your name on a list seems to be the norm….we were certain to get a seat as we booked three days in advance, but we had to show up an hour before the trip to pay and get the tickets.

Touring central Trinidad was delightful, with many Spanish colonial houses and buildings to see, bands on each corner and watching the world go by….we dined early, and well, in a nearby restaurant recommended by Misleydis….in fact we went back to Restaurant San Jose for dinner each night we were in Trinidad!

Our patio breakfasts at the casa were generous and hearty, enough to make a snack for lunch, with some fruit and water. Then more exploring, reading in the cool upstairs or lounging in the hammock on the patio, siesta, and out again. Our last day involved a taxi to the beach for a few hours…beautiful sand, warm water and hot sun.  Our driver, Mario, kindly returned to the beach later to take us back to town.

Trinidad was such a user-friendly town - we could have stayed longer…early Thursday morning, a taxi ride in a decrepit ’50 Buick (we weren't sure we would make it without pushing) got us to the Viazul bus station and we were away. 



Trip to Cuba
Trinidad Bici-taxis Cuba

Cuba beach
Playa Ancon Trinidad Cuba

Trip to Cuba
Plaza Mayor Trinidad Cuba

Trip to Cuba
Cuban Musicians Trinidad Cuba

Experience the Real Cuba would like to thank Mary and Jack for booking their Cuba trip with us and for sharing their Cuban adventures on the Experience the Real Cuba blog. 

Contact us at Experience the Real Cuba to book your personalized trip to Cuba.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A TRIP THROUGH THE REAL CUBA 1

A Trip Through the Real Cuba is written by Mary and Jack, our wonderful guests who stayed with us in our network of casa particulares throughout Cuba in February 2017. 


A TRIP THROUGH THE REAL CUBA
by Mary & Jack


Cuba Trip
Cuba Trip February 2017

HAVANA

Our first casa particular (Casa Maruchi) in Havana provided a large bedroom in a second-floor apartment, facing the ocean, which we shared with Maru, Aida and their friendly dog. After settling in and a walk around the Vedado neighborhood, we enjoyed a delicious Cuban supper prepared by our Cuban hostesses, then early to bed. Breakfast the next day was as excellent as it was generous - the coffee in Cuba was especially good throughout our visit. 


Casa in Cuba
Casa Maruchi Havana

The apartment was not far from the Riviera Hotel and the huge 500-room Melia Cohiba Hotel in Havana, in which we found a Transtur agent...and bought our bus tickets to Viñales for three days later. We also boarded the Hop-on-hop-off bus outside the Riviera, bought our day’s ticket - an easy way to get to and from our apartment while seeing the sights of the process.


Things to do in Havana
Havana Bus Tour

Things to do in Havana
Fortress 1577 Havana Cuba

Music Havana
Ladies String Orchestra Havana

VIÑALES

Our comfortable three-hour bus ride through the Cuban countryside, ended at the bus station in Viñales, where we were met by our hosts Randy and Dayna. We taxied to their home, by far the most comfortable of our casas. Newly built by Randy, an industrial engineer and furnished by Dayna, this young couple was working hard showcase Viñales with first class accommodation for foreign visitors. Their separate cottage featured tile floors and bathroom, double beds, a fridge with beer and water and a rooftop patio. Dayna served us a delicious Cuban supper and helped arrange a guided tour of the local attractions in for the next day.


Viñales Cuba
Enjoying the Terrace Casa Randy & Dayna


Casa Viñales Cuba
Casa Randy & Dayna Viñales Cuba

Our day consisted of a visit to to the caves and a boat ride among stalactites and stalagmites, a tobacco plantation, Botanical Garden and excellent seafood lunch (El Campanero). Finding it a bit too hot for the climb up the hill,  Mary asked a young fellow (Alexander) on a horse-drawn cart if he would take us back to our casa in Viñales, and he was happy to do so for a couple of CUCs. There are many such vehicles in Cuba, some used as taxis but most as the family car would be used in Canada - the structure consists of a robust frame and axle, with bearings, car wheels and tires and the shafts that connect to the horse. It is quite a comfortable ride considering the condition of the roads in Cuba, which are often cobblestone. The small Cuban horses seemed well taken care of, and lively in spite of the temperature, a hot 32℃. We had a nice picnic supper on the roof, read books and retired early.

Transport in Cuba
Cuban Transport

To find out more about their Cuban adventures, check out "A Trip Through the Real Cuba 2" by Mary & Jack.


Experience the Real Cuba would like to thank Mary and Jack for booking their Cuba trip with us and for sharing their Cuban adventures on the Experience the Real Cuba blog.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

CUBA HAVANA


Check out this amazing video of Cuba Havana by Karim Rashad & Jessica Ross. 

Thanks to you both for featuring Experience the Real Cuba and taking part in our Salsa lessons with our partner SalsAmiga dance studio.









Thursday, 1 June 2017

SEÑORITA CAN I BUY YOUR CLOTHES

 By Lara Sabry



Trinidad, Cuba


Me and my hobo set out to Cuba in January 2016. Cuba has been on the top of our list for years, we’ve saved up a great amount and had spent months doing our research to the point that by the time we got to Trinidad, we knew the street names by heart.

Little did we know, our three-digit budget was about to take a speeding swing down to 0.

Cuba


Before heading out to Cuba we had already made all our Hotel reservations online and so we set out with a budget that would cover our daily expenses and internal transportation. The plan was to start in Havana then backpack across Cuba and end the trip in Baracoa (sounds like reasonable plan, doesn’t it?).

By the time we got to Viñales (which was our 3rd city to visit) instead of spending two nights there we ended up staying for a week. That’s when the financial crisis and excitement began!

*****


By staying in Viñales for a week, we were also deciding to miss the rest of our reservations, exciting! We had $500 to cover us for 3 weeks; that gave us $23 to spend per day on:

Accommodation, Transportation and Daily Expenses (WHAT!).

Cuba


Not only did we manage to rent a room to sleep in but we also managed to visit two more cities!

From Viñales to Varadero to TRINIDAD

You can’t simply go all the way to Cuba and not pass by Trinidad, can you?

Any Cuban you come across will almost always recommend you to go to Trinidad. What’s there not to like? From cave parties, sugar cane fields, tobacco fields, waterfalls, mountains, horse-back riding to THE Hershey City-Tour Train. Shall I say more?

Cuba


By the time we made it to Trinidad, we had been surviving on biscuits, $2 Pizza and tap water for the past 3 days. That was until our host came up to me and genuinely offered to buy my clothes (but wait, let me explain).

It is almost impossible to find clothing stores in Cuba except in Havana and with a maximum wage of $20–25 per month, Cubans can rarely afford to purchase clothes. For those not living in Havana, it is impossible.

Being far away from Havana, our host asked if we had spare clothes to sell for a reasonable price and we sure as hell did! For $15 we had sold: 2 dresses, 3 pair of pants, 2 scarves and 5 shirts. She had bought herself and her daughter a few flowery-patterned pieces of clothing and we had earned enough cash to keep us alive the next couple of days. A win-win situation is what it is! To top that off, before we departed to catch the bus heading back to Havana, she had prepared 2 pieces of bread for us, a juice box, fried chicken and a free ride to the bus station!


***

Lara Sabry was born in Venezuela and spent the majority of her life moving around Latin America until moving to Belgrade in 2005 and to Egypt in 2009. Laura went to Cuba in January of 2016, and found that Cuba was one of the most profound places she had visited. She spent 2 months roaming around Cuba and truly believes that for the first time she has found a place she could call home.