Canteen dinners in Cuba

By Rick Kelsey, a Travel Professional

Read more on Cuba.

Overall rating:3.5 out of 5 (based on 2 votes)
Enjoyable
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4.0
Useful
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3.0
Inspirational
4
4.0
Recommended for:
Beach, Cultural, Road Trip, Mid-range

Two weeks by a pool relaxing sounds great; but there's only so much you can take of the same canteen. So we scrapped our holiday mid-way, hired a car and ended up living with the locals

Don’t get me wrong. All inclusive holidays serve a purpose. A week away being pampered without lifting a finger, drinking from plastic cups and nodding to "Bazza" and "Shazza" from down the road is fine if that’s what you're after. But not in Cuba. Just minutes from your sun lounger you won’t be able to ignore the unique cultural feast which lies further down the road.
Somehow though I’d booked an all inclusive 4* hotel on Cayo Coco, Cuba’s north coast holiday island, where no Cubans are actually allowed entry. Within two days we were bored of the offers of ‘genuine tours to Cuban villages’ and the like and decided we needed to make a break for it.

Our escape plan seemed perfect, except that public transport in Cuba is pretty much non-existent. For a couple who don’t have a car at home and usually rely heavily on public transport in every country we visit (Singapore’s MRT – brilliant! Bus from Marseille airport to Aix en Provence - fantastic! I digress but you get the idea), the lack of a cheap and easy getaway from the all inclusive crowd caused us mild panic.

Luckily the Cuban government, always on the lookout to make as much money from western tourists as possible, offered one possible solution. Government tourist-priced car hire! We were warned by the rep from the holiday company that we were mad to even contemplate car hire; that Cuban roads were impossible to navigate and the car would probably get stolen, but clearly she had never left the car park of the hotel.

The car was £50 per day which we brought down to £40 by negotiating seven days of rental and they even threw in a free road map. What is note-worthy about driving in Cuba is the frequent appearance of police cars and with no speed limit signs it’s worth staying at a steady pace and admiring the old 1950’s American motors.

One of our pit-stops on the way to our chosen destination of Trinidad was the town of Sancti Spiritus. A bustling market town with open food stalls, a pretty town square, a distinct lack of tourists and a decidedly relaxed vibe. Only an hour and a half from the southern coast and Trinidad itself, definitely worth a visit but not an over-night stop.

After a six hour drive we arrived in the world renowned city of Trinidad and decided to stay in a casa particulare (local person’s house) for a glimpse of the real Cuba. As well as a bed for the night, the owners of these houses will also offer to cook for you. The food is never going to be a la carte, but with the limited ingredients they do have they will feed you until you stop eating and it will be fresh and served with a smile and lots of questions about life in the west.

It is worth negotiating a fixed price before you agree to stay at a casa particulare as the price can go up and change throughout the stay. A good, clean central casa is Araceli Reboso Miranda on Lino Perez, where we stayed; the house had a delightful roof-top balcony and costs £18 for a room with breakfast. This house was also just a two-minute walk to one of the city’s cigar factories; well worth a peep through the windows at the talented Cubans rolling by hand (the factory is closed to the public).

Trinidad comes alive at night, and everyone makes their way up to the world famous Casa de la Musica. This delightful music venue is on the top of the hill in central Trinidad and if you make it up the steps after your evening meal you’ll get a great view of the sun-setting over the city, with cheap rum-based cocktails and dancing till late into the night. For a more traditional night you should check out the Bar Colonial on Maceo Road, which re-creates the late 1800s with engravings and old bottles lined up behind the bar.

Just 7km out of central Trinidad is Trinidad Del Mar. Here casa particulares disappear and the big government-run hotels rule the coast-line. Whereas some are incredibly westernised, we found one with real Cuban charm - the Hotel Brisas Trinidad Del Mar - which from £76 a night all inclusive, allows you to sip mojitos with views of the ocean and the lush green mountains of Escambray as a backdrop. The beach here really is fantastic, so much clearer and warmer than the north coast and much safer for kids with smaller waves and a hotel lifeguard. There are also pedaloes and windsurfers to hire if you feel like getting out on the sea after a night of mojito consumption.

While staying back in town we treated ourselves for a couple of nights at the 5* Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad, this is one place you’re sure to be looked after where opulence and tradition combine (a rarity in Cuba). They have wireless internet and fresh fish and crab caught daily, again though, how the Cubans manage not to turn this into something delicious amazes me. Girls (and maybe men if you’re into that sort of thing) have beauty treatments available from as little as £2 to cure the feet after walking the city's cobbled streets. A double bedroom starts from £90 in high season and is cheaper at other times of the year.

From our initial sight of "Bazza" and "Shazza" arriving on Cayo Coco, Trinidad and our travels through the mid part of Cuba could not have been more contrasting. The energetic Cuban positivity, the brightly-coloured architecturally sensational buildings, and the smell of sweet cigar tobacco all paint a stark contrast to any other city on earth. If you’re looking for the Havana experience of salsa dance, rum and Cuban eccentricity but you’re put off by tales of crime and chaos, Trinidad and the central southern coast offer everything you are looking for.

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More information on Canteen dinners in Cuba:

Author:
Rick Kelsey
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
3.5
Average: 3.5 (2 votes)
Total views:
444
First uploaded:
22 October 2009
Last updated:
4 years 31 weeks 4 days 22 hours 43 min 39 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Beach, Cultural, Road Trip
Budget level:
Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
beaches, dancing, cigars, exploration, roads

Rick recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Hotel Brisas Trinidad Del Mar
N/A
2. Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad
N/A

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Community comments (7)

Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Really enjoyed this: straightforward, unpretentious and entertaining. Have been to Cuba.... but now I want to go again. Thank you!

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Rating:
3
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Story-telling and useful practical information are two of the key components of a great travel guide. Unfortunately Rick, I don't think you've quite struck the balance here. While your all inclusive escape tale is amusing, it takes over what could be a really great guide about Trinidad. Right up until the last paragraph, I wanted to know more about the destination. You failed to conjure a picture of the place. Then in the last paragraph you included a neat little summary - more of that would have been appreciated throughout the guide. It's an enjoyable read, all that said.
More recommendations would have been useful and if you could make sure you enter details of the Iberostar property in the hotel recommendation section (you see this when you create/edit a guide), that would be of benefit.
Something else to be aware of when you write your next guide (and we hope you submit many more) - remember we are not just appealing to a British audience. What you've written here does only that (prices in GBP, the "Bazza" and "Shazza" references). The web is international and we have users all over the world.

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Hi I will make changes however the site will not let me add another hotel I have tried many times. Also would you suggest I wote prices in US dollars? Thanks, Rick.

Hi Rick, hmm...can't think why. Are you seeing any kind of error message? Talk me through it and I'll see what I can do

Cool, the address is Calle José Martí Y Lino Pérez, Trinidad, Cuba. The Hotel is called Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad, its a four star. The website is http://www.iberostar.com/EN/Trinidad-hotels/Iberostar-Grand-Hotel-Trinid....

Everytime I type it in and save it the copy just disappears no matter what PC I do it on.

I will also make changes then I hope you can take down your review suggestions!

Thanks for your help.

The hotel was in our database (not sure why you couldn't find it) so I have added it and hyperlinked within the guide.
To answer an earlier question, the currency of the destination is best. So Cuban Pesos would be ideal. I'm unsure of the current situation regarding the use of US dollars in Cuba but if you stick to the local currency then readers around the world can simply convert into their own currency. Thanks.

thanks