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Old 01-26-2018, 12:50 PM
 
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Go to Cuba. Go before it gets too commercialized.

We flew into Havana, stayed in Vedado near the Malecon. It’s a neighborhood about 10-15 minutes from Old Havana. We took at 2-day classic car tour of Havana - Old Havana and the 4 main squares, Centro Havana, the Fort, Ernest Hemingway’s House, Fusterlandia, Miramar, The National Park (amazing), the Capital, the University, Revolution Square, and hit the markets. At night we went to a dance show and got on stage to dance with the performers. We also went out to Viñales for a day and toured the caves and the tobacco farms by horseback. The ride out of Viñales is about 3 hours, but the scenery is breathtaking. I’m told other parts of the island are just as amazing, but my time there didn’t allow for further excursions.

It really is a place stuck in time. Many old delapidated buildings and unfinished buildings in Old Havana. The infrastructure is not like ours. We went just at the start of rainy season and a torrential afternoon rain caused flooding of systems for some areas. Some restaurants were closed for the evening as a result. But the people are proud and friendly. They truly care and support one another. Because of my similar skin tone and look, they assumed I was Cuban as well. I gave myself away not knowing only a little Spanish and the accent. Many do not speak English, and knowing Spanish (they speak a slightly different version, but mostly the same) will help. Crime is not tolerated - I walked back to my hotel by myself late at night and passed one of the many wi-fi parks where locals gather and no one bothered me.

Best time to go is late-November through mid-May. Otherwise, you’re in rainy/hurricane season. I went over Memorial Day weekend and experienced a torrential afternoon downpour. Fortunately it was the only time it rained the entire trip. Oh, and similar to Caribbean heat, it’s hot in Havana and unless near the water, you’re not getting cross island breezes. The locals walk around with umbrellas to block the heat. I got dizzy at first, but adjusted. Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. Also, lots and lots and lots of walking. Wear sensible shoes. It’s similar to walking in Europe on cobblestone streets.

If you go to a paladar restaurant, the food will be better than the local fare. I had an amazing local fish that was lightly seasoned but grilled to perfection. Do not drink the water and avoid ice. Ask for bottled or sparkling water instead. Drink sodas and avoid mixed drinks. Do not drink the local water. Know that you can get sick - like the runs or worse. I avoided this, but some people I know who went came back sick. Take your own snacks if you get hungry in between meals, something not perishable and won’t melt in the heat. There aren’t places to just buy a candy bar - oh, but there was a chocolate museum! Yum!

If American, please be aware about the need to bring cash. It will need to last your entire time there. The embargo does not allow for American banks to do business there. Fortunately, it’s pretty cheap if staying in an Airbnb or hostel. Meals are cheap also. Budget for art, cigars, and rum and other souvenirs you may bring back.

Sorry on getting long-winded, but I really had a great time there. When people complain about Cuba, it’s because their expectations are set towards a certain standard or not being aware of things that will make the trip very enjoyable. So I just wanted to share some additional tips and advice. Do your research before you go because it’s not like traveling to most other Caribbean countries, but it can be an eye-opening and educational experience.

Last edited by mangomadness; 01-26-2018 at 01:00 PM..
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Old 01-26-2018, 12:57 PM
 
Location: NoVa
2,125 posts, read 2,910,211 times
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Originally Posted by iamweasel View Post
I would agree with Bermuda and St. Maarten being two of the better options in that part of the world.
Never been to St. Maarten but I honestly think Bermuda was boring. My husband and I had fun roaming around on a scooter but that's about it. Food was boring, not many activities beyond the beach. Heck, even Cancun has more character than Bermuda.
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Old 01-26-2018, 08:05 PM
 
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Originally Posted by graceC View Post
Never been to St. Maarten but I honestly think Bermuda was boring. My husband and I had fun roaming around on a scooter but that's about it. Food was boring, not many activities beyond the beach. Heck, even Cancun has more character than Bermuda.
We are pretty active travelers and we kept busy all week seeing the sights and we never felt it was boring aside from the limited nightlife/bar scene. There was plenty to see and do for us, and we just used our feet and their nice bus system to get everywhere. We stayed near Hamilton but covered the whole island from the dockyard to St. George’s.
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Old 01-26-2018, 11:09 PM
 
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If considering the DR, 2 days in the Capital Santo Domingo may be enough. Stay in the colonial zone and do the sight seeing tour. After that , get the bus that will bring you to

- the Samana Peninsula , and have a pick of 2 locations, Las Terrenas or Las Galeras. Las Galeras seems to be the location where big name resorts have not taken over. So , no Punta Cana vacation in a can. Waterfalls, Horseback riding, atv tours, and others. or

- To Bayahibe to enjoy some boating excursions to other islands or for scuba diving, a national park to hike, also caves and the like . This part of the DR offers an authentic village and a busy port. Many apartments or Hotels/motels to choose from.

If you are in to surfing, you can get over to El Salvador and enjoy the pacific ocean and those rough waves, or explore Volcanoes , most of Central America is very similar . But Peru seems to offer a better country for tourist to visit. Even going further south, you can get a taste how these folks live so far south of the Americas.
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Old 01-28-2018, 05:10 PM
 
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Thank you all for your wonderful reports on these places! Especially enjoyed hearing about Havana/Cuba. I think for now that is at the top of my list though I think many places are worth seeing. Also enjoyed suggestions for DR, El Salvador and Peru.
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Old 01-29-2018, 11:50 AM
 
Location: Cedar Park, Texas
1,601 posts, read 2,469,884 times
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Originally Posted by cavsfan137 View Post
Thank you all for your wonderful reports on these places! Especially enjoyed hearing about Havana/Cuba. I think for now that is at the top of my list though I think many places are worth seeing. Also enjoyed suggestions for DR, El Salvador and Peru.
We spent 8 days in Cuba last summer and it was a wonderful experience. I hesitate to use the word "vacation" to describe it, because it was more of an experience. We went before the new restrictions were put back in place, so we pretty much roamed around on our own and just explored all over Havana, Vinales, and then Jibacoa so we could dive. HIGHLY recommend it!
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Old 01-30-2018, 03:27 AM
 
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we got back in november . you can still go off on your own but document times and where you go .

be careful of "vacationing " . our treasury department can fine you 10k for sunning at the beach or partying . you can only be there for one of the reasons allowed .
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Old 02-01-2018, 02:58 PM
 
3,784 posts, read 3,002,395 times
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Originally Posted by mathjak107 View Post
we got back in november . you can still go off on your own but document times and where you go .

be careful of "vacationing " . our treasury department can fine you 10k for sunning at the beach or partying . you can only be there for one of the reasons allowed .
US Treasury Dept? Perhaps you can further advise on this
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Old 02-01-2018, 03:52 PM
 
71,515 posts, read 71,694,121 times
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yes , americans can only go to cuba for the reasons listed on the visa application .

it is the us treasury dept of asset control that fines you 10k for just vacationing if you are caught .
only the following reasons are valid

Family visits.
Official government business.
Journalism.
Professional research and meetings.
Educational activities.
Religious activities.
Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions.
“Support for the Cuban people.”
Humanitarian projects.
Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes.
Exporting or importing information or “information materials.”
Travel related to some authorized export transactions
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Old 02-01-2018, 08:03 PM
 
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So besides like going to the beach, what other things might be off limits? Here are some main things I thought to see on a potential visit:
1. Old Havana (primary reason for visit, observing history, architecture, etc.)
2. Vinales (perhaps taking a day trip here, checking out scenery, eating in a cave. etc.)
3. Food and Drink (Eating at at least one paladar, having a drink at one of Hemingway's haunts, etc., perhaps one night heading to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano)
4. Checking out forts and other outlying sites like Plaza de la Revolucion, John Lennon Square, etc.
5. Taking a ride in a classic car
6. Catching a baseball game at the Estadio Latinoamericano
7. Was lower on the list, but thought about going for a walk at Punta del Este (Santa Maria) at some point, or even just walking the Malecon.

Are many of these things off limits? Should I avoid sharing any photos from my visit apart from with immediate family/friends?
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