So you want to go to Cuba? Cubav2018 – Casa Particular – some of my favs


“Casa particular” literally means “private house” but it started to be used to mean “private accommodation” in 1997, when the Cuban government allowed Cubans to rent out rooms in their houses or apartments to tourists, providing Cuban families with new sources of income.”


The downfall of the Soviet Union resulted in tremendous financial hardship for Cuba.  The subsidies they had been receiving (a large part of their budget) were literally cut to zero, thus adjustments for basic survival were needed to their economic strategies.  Part of the turn-around plan called for an increase in tourism.  To address the problem of limited hotels to accommodate the projected visitation, local folk were granted permission to obtain a license to transform rooms in their residence to rental units.  Thus, the casa particular boom was created.

 

Tourist have been flocking to Cuba for years.  The notion of seeing 1950’s American cars troll the streets has its own fascination.  Then there are the iconic cigars or the rum or the music, just to name a few cultural distinctions.  For many Americans, the yearn to visit Cuba has been increasing each year.  However, for some, they are stuck on Fidel Castro and his regime and have disdain of ever visiting or “coming home.”  They view any suggestion on visiting the island as a compromise to their way of life.

The merits of the conflict are worth pursuing, if nothing more than to give you a better perspective but for those like me, it’s the real people who live everyday lives which are more important than political ideology.  So, out of respect many appreciate the feelings of those who hold unto the “anti-Castro” sentiment as the bigger picture is many of the 11 million people of Cuba have a thirst for you to visit their country.

 

You can find casa particulars all over the country.  Some can be booked online through sites such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia, etc.  At the same time, some do not wish to pay the fees associated with having their property listed so once you find their email address or phone number, communication is no problem.

 

If you desire to truly experience everyday Cuban life, you will find casa particular a great choice.  In addition to being a “guest” in somebody’s home, you will have an opportunity to engage with them including experiencing their culture through food.  One important note is even though you are using a portion of somebody’s home, your specific lodging usually has separate entry/exit and you are given a key.

 

At the same time, if your personality is not the adventurous type or your idea of a visiting the Caribbean is to stay at a resort or you desire to be pampered or even consider yourself “high maintenance” you are better off paying a couple of hundred dollars each night at a local hotel where you will be among the throng of tourist.

 

Most casa particulares range in price but $25 is a good standard.  Meals are available however the availability and price are something you negotiate with the owner.  Typically breakfast ranges from $3-$5 and dinner from $7-$12.

 

One more point should you choose to stay in a casa particular – in communication with your guest please ask them if there are any small items (candy, aspirin, spices, headphones, thumb drives, etc.) you can bring to give them, as certain items are unavailable or difficult to obtain?   They will be eternally grateful.

 

Your host can also assist (communicate upfront to establish expectations) with the following:

  • Taxi (to/from airport, to/from bus depot, etc.)
  • Interpreters
  • How to obtain internet cards
  • Cadeca’s to exchange money
  • Paladar or places to eat

 

THE BOTTOM LINE BENEFIT OF STAYING IN A CASA PARTICULAR IS THE FEE YOU PAY PROVIDES A DIRECT POSITIVE IMPACT TO A LOCAL FAMILY, BENEFITTING THE LOCAL COMMUNITY.


Here is a list of some casa particulars I have stayed:

 

HAVANNA

Havana is approximately 12 miles from the airport.  Taxi fares average $25 but could go as high as $30 to $35 – Everything is negotiable so set your expectations upfront.

 

Hostal K

Hostal K is operated by Katia De Llano Cuesta.  She is of German ancestry, born in CUBA and a very delightful person.  Professionally, she is a retired teacher and noted economist.

She takes great care to make sure you are comfortable.  Best of all, she is also on WhatsUp!!!!

 

The property is located in the Cerro community which features great access to Havana.  Located on Ayesteran between Carlos III and Maloja.  Stores, shops and bus stops are very close


Casa Particular Mariela

Mariela operates this casa particular and it is very accessible.  Her unit is a lovely apartment style which features upstairs/downstairs.  There is a living room, kitchen as well as bedroom.

 


Casa Particular Adelia

 

Adelia Ravelo

270 Calle 28, La Habana 10400, Cuba

53 (7) 8308007

 

Adelia is a jewel and great source of information.  Her place is grand and very accessible to parts of Havana.  Stores and paladar’s are very close and the main street where you can access the bus is about ½ mile by walking.


 

CIENFUEGOS

 

Casa Particular Moraima

Moraima Rangel Collado operates this casa particular.  It is very accommodating and just blocks from the main thoroughfare.  She features a stunning garden featuring fruit trees allowing you to obtain fresh fruit/juice.


TRINIDAD

Casa Particular Katiuska

This property is operated by “Kat’s” son (Jose Julio) and her mother in law (Eulalia).  They are splendid host and very accommodating.   I am sure you will love the outside garden.  The property is easy to access and places you may want to visit are within walking distance or a short taxi ride.  She makes a great espresso!  You can also find Kat on WhatsUp.

 


SANTIAGO de CUBA

 

Casa Particular María del Carmen

My dear friend Katia from Havana recommended Villa Maria del Carmen.  Maria and her husband Jose have taken this casa particular to a new level.  The property was owned by Maria’s Great-grandmother and you can see the pride of ownership the way they have maintained the legacy.  The rooms are well equipped and even feature a stocked refrigerator of water/beer (of course you pay for what you consume).  More important to help them operate the venue they have a full staff to help with cooking, cleaning and other maintenance issues.  Their property has wi-fi (you simply access via your Etesca card).  The roof-top views are stunning.

So you want to go to Cuba? Cubav2018 -Accessing the Internet


This post is geared towards the traveler who is a citizen

of the United States. 

However, because it is general in scope and may be used by others.


The above caption is the character Wi-Fi which has become quite popular in Cuba

 

Most do not come to Cuba with the goal is surfing the web all day or just laying on the internet.  However, communication with family and friends is important so yes, even in Cuba you will rely on the internet to stay connected.  Ditch all of the negative information you may have heard about how bad the internet is.  While the speeds may not be as robust as some countries, it is acceptable in allowing you to connect.

 

At various times during my treks to Cuba at one time or another I have had many of the major carriers (Verizon, Sprint & T-Mobile).  As technology has improved they have gotten better in offering special pricing to places like Cuba.  This surely beats the old-fashioned way of having to purchase a phone or device that only works during your stay.

 

My current carrier, Consumer Cellular offered special pricing but I decided to opt against it….and I am glad I did.

 

YOU CAN USE YOUR DEVICE IN CUBA.

 

All you need to do is purchase an internet card.

ETESCA is the communication company in CUBA.  They have offices all over the island.  Simply look for the blue buildings.  Once you arrive in Cuba you will see folk of all kind on the internet.  Usually they are at designated hotspots, which are plenty.  The trick is finding one that is close to where you will be staying or during your travels.

 

BE CAREFUL AS PRICING VARIES

 

The cards vary in denomination.  Usually there are $1 CUC cards good for 1 hour and $5CUC cards good for 5 hours.  However, the cards can be a bit tricky as after use YOU MUST TAKE CAUTION TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE COMPLETELY LOGGED OFF.  Otherwise, you might think your session is over and when you attempt to access the card, you will find there is NO TIME REMAINING.

 

They are also available from street vendors.  While it may appear to make sense – buyer beware and use common sense.  I have never had this experience and simply conform to the basic way of obtaining.   I guess I am just too chicken to purchase a card on the street only to find there is no time remaining or less that what I thought I had purchased…….plus, the seller is long gone!!!! Two common places where you can obtain are:

 

Etesca offices – expect lines and a little wait or if you are lucky and approach the guard and have exact money, he may do you a favor and go inside to grab your card.

  1. Once inside, simply ask for the denomination you wish.
  2. Present your passport to the clerk.
  3. Your card will be registered via the computer and you will be handed the card and a receipt.
  4. Instructions on how to use the card listed, so read and get a good understanding on how to use.
  5. To access the internet, you will need to go to a hotspot (just ask someone or wherever you see lots of folk accessing their devices).

 

Larger hotels

  1. Most hotels also use the Etesca card but do not be surprised if you need to purchase yet another card for that location (Nacional Hotel of Cuba).
  2. The cost at the hotels are usually $4.50 per hour but be gladly surprised if the cost is lower. At one hotel in Trinidad the cost was $1.50 for 1 hour.
  3. Some hotels will sell you a card but insist you purchase something before you can use your card.


So, you want to go to Cuba?  Cubav2018 -Tips for entering/leaving


This post is geared towards the traveler who is a citizen

of the United States. 

However, some of it is general in scope and may be used by others.


Many have the fascination of going to Cuba.  There is so much information; some good, some bad, some outdated.  So, this post provides an updated experience from my recent trek.

 

Going to Cuba is not something you do on a lark, as planning must be detailed.   The question you might want to ask is why are you going to Cuba?   Going as a general tourist or going to get some cigars, sip on mojitos, or take in the beautiful beaches should not be your answer (although you are allowed as long as you go with a licensed tour group)!

 

Although it is rare, it can be nothing worse than to be in another country whose relationship with the United States is tenuous at best and where there is still an effective embargo, and run into a situation where you need immediate assistance (need money, medical care, lose your travel visa, etc.).

 

Even though President Obama improved relationships with Cuba in December 2015 through an Executive Order which resulted in Americans having better access to Cuba and vice versa, President Trump reversed course and there are specific updates you must factor into your planning, so that you are not in violation of Federal law.

 

Admittedly, during my treks I have come across American’s who were willing to take a chance and are roaming the countryside as “tourist.”  That is a person’s personal prerogative and even though I have never been stopped by authorities questioning my visits, for me the risk is too high, as it is easier to comply.

 

Here are the updated steps:

 

PREPARATION

 

  1. READ AND UNDERSTAND the guidance from the Treasury Department. In my case, I am OK because I use my journalist license and have a thorough itinerary to address the reason I am there.
  2. When you purchase your air travel, your carrier will have a brief questionnaire (online) that acknowledges you meet approved guidelines to enter Cuba.
  3. Days before your travel, it is suggested you register your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (U.S. Department of State). 
  4. You may have read that health insurance is required as well as a departure tax? That has changed and most carriers add those cost as part of your travel fare.  Once purchased you will be able to see the itemized portion on your ticket.
  5. If not already enrolled, I would recommend you signing up for TSA Pre as this will save you some time. 
  6. In preparation for your return, I would recommend you download the “My Mobile Passport” app as this will help you breeze through U.S. Customs.
  7. It is not totally necessary but I would recommend you coordinate taxi pickup. You can contact direct or have your host (casa particulares) coordinate.  A typical cost is $25 CUCS (general Havana which is about 12 miles from airport).  Again, if you decide against doing this, NO PROBLEM as there are many taxis once you get outside of the airport.

    This is my taxi chofer – Lazaro (53) 52947497

 

DEPARTING

  1. To enter CUBA, you need a valid passport BUT MORE IMPORTANT you need a Travel Visa. The prices range based on your departure city/country.  As an example, from Cancun the fee is $25.  However, from the U.S. expect $50 – $100.  You can purchase in advance (Cuba Travel Services) but relax as your carrier will have an agent adjacent your check-in who will handle the transaction (credit cards are accepted). 

IN-FLIGHT

  1. Once you depart and about an hour before landing there will be an announcement alerting you to complete supplemental documents which must be presenting upon arrival and going through Cuba customs.  Relax, don’t overthink the process.

ARRIVAL

  1. Most flights from the U.S. are “international flights” so you will be landing in TERMINAL 2.
  2. Once you pick up your luggage, you will proceed to the Customs clerk. They will have you remove your cap and glasses (if appropriate) as they will take a head-shot.  THEY WILL STAMP YOUR TRAVEL VISA AND THIS MUST REMAIN IN YOUR POSSESSION AT ALL TIMES DURING YOUR STAY.  If you have the misfortune of losing it, DON’T PANIC…. on your departure you just have to plan on getting to the airport early to explain your situation.  Be prepared for an interrogation of how/why it was lost and don’t be surprised if you are charged for a replacement.
  3. Once you pass through Customs you will see a “Declaration area.” FOR MOST U.S. TRAVELERS simply proceed to the NON-DECLARATION AREA (as for the most part you are not bringing anything into the country of significant value).  The clerk will complete a cursory review of your personal luggage and pass you through.
  4. Your next step is to convert your U.S. Dollars into Cuban CUCS. If you don’t see the window, simply ask someone.  Again, I know there is some discussion on the internet that you might want to do this while in the U.S., such as converting your dollars to Euros, etc. but from my experience IT IS NOT WORTH IT.  Just be prepared to have the tax/fee come out of your change (i.e., $100-$13=$87).
    This is a CUC – Convertible pesos and the value is $1 CUC to $1USD

    This is a CUP or Pesos. Value is 24:1 so this $3 CUC is worth .125 USD cents. However, because it is the currency used by locals the best place to purchase is at CADECA’s.
  5. THAT’S IT. Go outside and grab your taxi and enjoy your time in CUBA.

 

COMING BACK HOME

Remember the new guidelines allow for unrestricted purchase of cigars/rum, however most are restricted due to weight of luggage, so depending on your budget it may be a good idea to pack up to your weight (as an example, rum is bottled and can be heavy and in my garment bag I was able to pack 6 bottles and still stay within the weight limit).  You can always purchase more in the duty-free area of which you will be bringing on your flight as a carry-on.

 

DEPARTING

  1. Make sure you check-in online and pay any luggage fees (remember for the most part you won’t be able to use your credit cards at the airport and paying at the check-in may result in higher fees).
  2. Make sure you verify where which terminal your flight is departing. The last thing you want to do is be at the wrong terminal and have to hustle to get a taxi to the correct one which will result in unnecessary taxi fees as well as personal stress.
  3. The airport is busy but pretty organized, so give yourself enough time for unforeseen issues.
  4. When you go through Cuba customs they will once again take a head-shot. The officer will take your stamped travel visa and file.  YOUR PASSPORT WILL BE STAMPED.
  5. You will see a duty-free area for last minute souvenirs. It’s actually pretty affordable and can be a good option to get rid of your Cuban money (CUCS/CUPS).  As part of my planning I bring a knapsack or bag so that I can handle any duty-free purchases.  This will minimize breakage or trying to figure out how to lug the items around.
  6. Upon arriving back into the United States, you will go through customs. THIS IS WHERE YOU MY MOBILE PASSPORT COMES IN HANDY, as you complete your declarations via the app.  You will see throngs of folk who didn’t pay attention and are snaked in long lines getting through customs.  The mobile line is usually short.
  7. Once through Customs you will be directed to pick-up your luggage and drop off for your final destination flight.
  8. You will proceed through the other part of customs for final bag check. Your duty-free items will be inspected so don’t be surprised if the bag is opened.  Once cleared, head to your gate.

 

WELCOME HOME

Despite the obvious……Team Trump claims a great week while insisting no crime has occured?


cartoon courtesy of David Brown studios (Los Angeles Sentinel)

“After two years and millions of pages of documents (and a cost of over $30 million) no collusion!” Donald Trump – Dec. 7, 2018
“If the President puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russia connection,” the White House spokesman insisted during a contentious exchange with reporters.
He said every official that’s been briefed on the matter has said there’s no sign of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.”  Sean Spicer March 2017
“from what we know on the public record, Mueller has failed to prove the Trump-Russia collusion that he was appointed to investigate 19 months ago.” Fox News

“I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don’t have property in Russia. A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don’t have property in Russia … I built a great company, but I’m not involved with Russia. I have had dealings with them over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe pageant which I owned for quite a while. I had it in Moscow a long time ago, but other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.” Donald Trump


[Postscript]  This was a critical week for a few of Donald Trump’s close allies who have pled guilty and simply are waiting for their sentencing.  The filings regarding Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen provide the public a better picture of what occurred during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Despite emphatic communication from Trump supporters, their claim is despite the filings no crime has been committed and proves people are out to get Donald Trump simply because he won the election!

In the meantime, those who swore the SC investigation is a witch-hunt or it would end in a few days……might want to wake up and stop their prognostication.

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