When Columbus reached Cuba in 1492 the first time he obviously did not know that some centuries later shortly after the visit from Barack Obama and the Rolling Stones also „Die Ausreiser“ visit Cuba. It`s not very likely that we come closer to Cuba as we are at the moment and so we plan an individual sixteen days trip on short notice.
The flight time from Cancun is only 45 minutes and all of a sudden we are in a different world. The first three nights we`ve booked in advance in a casa particulares and with Mylena & Otto we get to know a very nice and friendly family who rent two rooms in their home to tourists. Besides the large all-inclusive hotels these casa particulares, or bed and breakfast, is the simplest and cheapest way to travel in Cuba on an individual basis. For some days one is part of the family and also gets useful information to explore the neighborhood. We give it a try and want to know whether we are able to get a local taxi for a local price to downtown. However this turns out to be not the easiest task. Of course we are directly identified as tourists and they call out a price which is 5-10 times higher than the regular tariff. But we don`t give up and some 10 frustrating taxis later we really get one for the normal price. With three locals we sit in an old Chevy from 1957 and can only hope that the car makes it to our destination. But this is not a problem. The Cuban mechanics seem to be the best in the world and get everything to move which has four wheels.
We start our first sightseeing tour in the old town. It must have been a wonderful city more than 50 years ago. But not much is left from the beauty of the 50th and most of the buildings are in a very poor condition. The Unesco sponsors many renovation work but to us this seems to be a mission impossible for the next 100 years. While renovation work is done on one building others fall apart at the same point in time. Old Fords and Chevys from 1950 form the streetscape and are used as taxis or as fun cars for tourists. Shops are very rare and in case you find one nothing is in there apart from Rum, Cigarettes and eggs together with some very old bananas. Some shops are for locals only and take the Cuban Peso. This is a currency the normal tourist does not have. They get the CUC instead which is an artificial tourist currency and worth the dollar 1:1. But there is nothing which is worth buying apart from tons of souvenirs. At the moment Cuba is flooded from tourists. Daily 1-2 very big cruise ships anchor and their passengers run thru town for 2-3 hours and make it not easy to get through the crowd. We are not sure whether we like all this or not and go to bed early.
On the next day we continue our sightseeing and make a tour with the hop-on hop-off bus. This always gives a good general overview. Apart from the partly renovated city center the periphery is a large debris field and partly remembers at Germany in the 50th after the 2nd world war. Now it would be great to get beamed back into the heydays of the 50th where Havanna was the most decadent city of the world. Today not much is left from the glamour of the past. Since 2014 it`s allowed to import new cars but the old cars are still available and of course a tourist magnet. Honestly there is nothing elsewhere in the world apart from museums to see these super cool cars still moving thru the streets. For lunch we follow a nice lady who knows the best restaurant in town. But this turns out to be a rip-off as the prices are 4 times higher than normal and the lady also wants a Mojito for her accompany to get us to this hot spot. We disappear very quickly and choose our own restaurant without help before we visit the national museum which is not very exciting and more a homage to Fidel, Che and other heroes of the revolution.
For our last evening in Havanna we bought tickets for the Tropicana show supposed to be one of the best shows after the Moulin Rouge in Paris. It`s a nice outdoor stage and every table gets a bottle of rum together with coke and ice. So you better impress your way home before the show. Pretty boys and girls show us how Salsa really goes together with outstanding acrobatic. We spend a very nice evening and with some rum we make our way home after midnight.
After breakfast we have a taxi pick-up and move on to Vinales which is 150km away. The small town is in a wonderful valley with huge dressed rocks and the best tobacco in the world. Unfortunately the city is full of tourists and it seems to be a miracle that the locals are still able to overcome the crowds without many problems. We make a few sightseeing tours to the valley and spend one day on the nice Caribbean beach of Jutias. In the evening we enjoy Mojito and Cuba Libre in one of the many bars together with other travelers.
After three days we continue our journey to Cienfuegos. It`s a 500km trip and we want to make sure beforehand that we get some kind of a modern car with some comfort. Viva Cuba. We`ve got a small truck from the 50th with a passenger area for 12 people. This were the first 200 km and we thought it can`t get worth. However we are repacked on a parking lot and squeezed into an old Ford from 1955 with eight people. Now we know from our own experience how cattle’s feel when they are transported over the Alpes from Italy to Germany. But we have a very nice casa in Cienfuegos and soon stresses and strain from the journey are history. The city has nothing apart from a few old colonial building. Bars and restaurants are very rare and so we get a good dinner in our casa. We are in the middle of the city center and the night is very noisy and therefore short. We drive around with a bicycle taxi and make a short trip with a ferry to the near-by castle. Up to now we did not know how many people a ferry can take but it must be similar on a boat with refugees. But surprisingly enough we stay above water and reach our destination after 45 minutes.
Next is Trinidad. Here it looks like in the 19th century and the old buildings still have a little bit left of the glamour and decadence from long ago. The exploitation of the slaves and the pomposity of the sugar barons did not have limitations. Unfortunately also this little town is full of tourists. On one hand good for the locals who get new ways of income. On the other hand it is questionable how long this may take. However Trinidad was our favorite. We make a tour with the train to the valley of the sugar mills which was their gold mine in the past. But unfortunately all mills are destroyed. Only a 43m tower is left who served to watch the work of the slaves on the fields. Apart from this we stroll thru town and taste the good rum. Very quickly we have identified a nice roof terrace with a wonderful sunset, good live music and the best Mojito in town.
After three days we move on to Varadero one of the most important centers of mass tourism on the island. The beach is nice with no shade and that`s about it. To kill time we make a day trip with a Catamaran. This is just a flat rate drinking tour with 60 other guests on the boat from 9am to 4pm. The snorkel event in between lasts 5 minutes before we move on to an island where a lunch buffet and the beach is waiting for us and 300 other people. Rum flows like water and many have problems to find the right boat for return. But mass tourism also has it`s goodness. In a steak house we eat the best filet steak since a long time and in an Italian restaurant they serve Aperol Spritz which is a very popular drink in Munich and Italy.
Then we go back to Havanna for 2 more days. This time we have a casa in the old city to be closer to the party zone. We walk around and view areas we have not seen so far but more and more we wish to get back to MOMO.
Cuba is an interesting Island but overall we did not like it very much. The people are really super nice and do their best to make it a wonderful holiday for the tourist. But the mass tourism is increasing and all want to participate. One will see how this develops in the next years. In any case we are happy that we are back in Mexico and can continue our journey together with MOMO. Hasta Luego.