I knew this would be an extensive trek so part of my strategy was to make sure I had quality meals as well as getting adequate rest. I love food!!!!! All types of food!!!! So, while I consume in moderation I try to pay attention to balance. Listed below are some of the foods I had. Keep in mind to accomplish my itinerary which included visiting many people, cities and communities I put in 55 miles of walking, 35 hours on the Viazul bus plus countless hours in a taxi and local bus.
One critical point, my goal was to stay away from tourist areas so that I could stretch my tight budget and use local currency (cuban pesos). This is where the casa particulares shine because you are at someone’s home and their food is comparable to what you would find in a restaurant but at a fraction of the cost. Also, I did a combination of paladars as well as local “street food.”
When the word CUBA comes up, of all the cultural attributes which define the country three stand out and are popular throughout the world: Cigars, Rum & American Cars.
Excerpt from United States Department of Treasury regarding updated guidelines. The bottom-line is regarding Cigars and Rum/Alcohol you can bring back as much as you want!! As was the case with us, “as much as you want” is tricky because you run into overweight luggage issues and the practical reality of exactly how much you can tote without smashing or breaking the products?
“Can I purchase Cuban-origin cigars and/or Cuban-origin rum or other alcohol while traveling in Cuba? Persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products while in Cuba for personal consumption. Authorized travelers may also return to the United States with alcohol and/or tobacco products acquired in Cuba as accompanied baggage for personal use. OFAC considers “personal use” of an imported item to include giving the item to another individual as a personal gift, but not the transfer of the item to another person for payment or other consideration,” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL
Cuban Cigars are institutionalized which mean they are controlled by the government. The Vinales valley located in the Pinar Del Rio region of Cuba is about 2 hours southwest of Havana. It is known as the top tabac region in the world as it is an incredible sight to see how the plant is transformed resulting in a product which is coveted around the globe.
Production operations are scattered throughout the country. However, in Havana there are several facilities which are historic and have been around for centuries. One facility we visited was the Partagas Tabac Factory. Interestingly it is located across the street of the country Capitol. Prices vary based on the grade or quality of the cigar but whatever you pay at the retail store, is far less than what you might expect on the fair market, assuming it is available. As an example the one box of cigars which was defined as “medium grade” cost a tad under $75. So that is a little less than $3 per stogie. The same box sold in the open market would yield $130, $150 or even $175 and more. Therein, you can see the advantage as well as bargain of going directly to the source.
Another note about Cuban cigars is the abundance or available throughout the country. I understand the mystique about buying a quality cigar at a low price but I am stunned how tourist or those visiting the country still find themselves duped into buying counterfeit smokes. So, the buyer must be aware. My recommendation is unless you buy them directly from the grower or from a government establishment (or otherwise reputable seller), you are risking to get snakebit.
Cuba like most countries in the Caribbean are known for their rum production. In Cuba, rum appears to be cheaper than water!! Being the largest island in the region helps you understand how rum is also institutionalized. Haiti was known as the top producer of sugar cane. That is until the Haitian revolution of 1781 when the slaves revolted. It was that moment which sugar cane plantation owners relocated their operations to Cuba. There are many rums in Cuba. The national brand is known as Havana Club.
The price is consistent throughout the country. You can walk into any store and a pint of basic run will set you back only $2.90. A fifth or about a liter sets you back around $4.50. Of course the super premium blends will cost you $8, $10 or even $15 for a liter. That is a “steal” when you consider in those countries where it may be available you will be paying $35, $45 and more for the same product.
American cars produced in 1959 and younger have special recognition and are treasured. In Cuba they are icons and help ferry tourists throughout the country.