A stroll down Obispo.Cuba

Obispo is Havana’s Oxford Street!

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Let’s take a stroll down Obispo! Turn your back on the central park and head down towards the harbour. Obispo acts as the main tourist route connecting the Parque Central to Plaza de Armas a stone’s throw from the bay of Havana.

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On your right Bar Floridita professes to be “the cradle of Daquiri”  and “one of the seven most famous bars in the world” it attracts crowds and is one of the many places Hemmingway left his mark!  The romance of his novels and the many stories of his years spent enjoying the good life in pre revolution Cuba are legendary.

Take your time! There are many things to delight and surprise the eye, the ear and the nose!

The street has blossomed into a cacophony of bookshops, bars, money exchanges, home goods stores, pets in tiny cramped cages, tacky tourist trinkets, and numerous cafes with musicians supplying the background rhythms.

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A couple of blocks on, the figure of Sancho Panza greets you on his mule and musicians play in the shade of some ruins converted into a restaurant and bar.

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New relaxations in the laws have triggered a fast growth of small business and enterprising Cubans are making the most of their new opportunities. Tourists have become more abundant and more approachable and hustlers who have always been present now have licenses to offer their services! Tourist police patrol the designated tourist areas and Cuba is very safe for tourists.

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If the heat is getting too much you might be feeling a bit thirsty. Why not pop into “Lluvia de Oro” for a coffee or a cocktail and imagine yourself back in the cold war days, a secret agent in Graham Green’s Film “Our Man in Havana”. It’s normally hot and the bars do well! Back out onto the street, music floats into your ears from all directions.

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It’s impossible to walk down Obispo without being approached by someone to buy something, go to bar, visit a restaurant or part with some cash to feed a needy family. The choice is widening and Cubans are learning about competition!

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Museums, tourist information, ice cream sellers, pizza sellers, opticians, artists’ studios/shops, shoe shops, clothing shops, flower sellers and Hotels.

Museums, mainly small, are everywhere! Many free to enter.

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The famous Café Paris is small but great music is usually on the menu, whether you stop for a cerveza or a meal. On the walls are memorabilia and photos of the much loved “Caballero de Paris”

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From here the aroma of baking will attract you in to Pastelaria San Jose and there is sure to be something sweet for a tasty snack.

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You are now on the door step of Hotel Ambos Mundos Hemmingways favourite! The view from the roof terrace is worth a visit in the beautiful old lift!

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Continue on past Mercaderes and you enter the colonial architecture of Plaza de Armas surrounding a park with some lovely Palms and flowering Frangipani trees. This Plaza is where second hand book sellers congregate. Beyond the glint of the sea can be seen below the huge fortifications defending the harbour!

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If you would like to see it all for yourself, why not join us on tour this winter to enjoy Cuba at its best!

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A Cuban Snapshot  http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

Mi Cubita  http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

To read more of our Cuban news posts please link to Cuban News Posts

Havana Vieja, Cuba

UNESCO declared Cuba’s Havana Vieja a world heritage site in 1982 in an effort to kick start a programme of restoration of the old city.

With a huge budget of tens of millions of dollars the cities Historian’s Office set out projects of restoration, including plazas such as Catedral, Vieja, Armas which are now big tourist attractions, look beautiful, and have been provided with sufficient cafes, bars and restaurants to feed the visitors!

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The old city has been neglected and left to decay since long before the Revolution of 1959, but these days Calle Obispo links the 4 and 5 start Hotels of Parque Central and Hotel Iglaterra to the picturesque Hotel Ambos Mundos preferred by Hemingway, just a stone’s throw from Plaza de Armas.

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These days the tourist route looks very attractive with lovely yellow, terracotta, blue, green, cream and pink pillars and walls fronting the plazas. One street back it’s quite a different picture of decay and neglect!

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It may look picturesque, artistic even, but it’s no fun living cheek by jowl in a tumbled down building with limited or no running water, dodgy wiring and a leaky roof. On an average monthly salary of $20 to $40 dollars people have not sufficient to buy vegetables and fruit let alone fork out to do any structural repairs!

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Restoration projects are sign posted all over the old city! Scaffolding goes up and in some cases falls down along with the building being supported, before anything resembling restoration happens.

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The lucky people who have homes big enough to turn into casas particulars and rent out rooms to tourists can afford to maintain a high quality of repair inside and out. For the general population??

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Cubans wait….. patiently…..there is no choice!

 

Everyone prays that this year the hurricanes don’t damage their homes and that “one day” in their life time, their building will be restored, the toilet will flush and water will come out of the tap 24 hours a day!

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Tourism is vital to Cuba!

Join us for a tour this year and meet some of the Cubans who have opened their doors to change.

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7 days tour “A Cuban Snapshot”

http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

14 days tour “Mi Cubita”

http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Recycling. A way of life for Cubans

Recycling to live in Havana, Cuba, not a lifestyle choice!

The idea of recycling is nothing new or trendy for Cubans. It’s something that everyone participates in on a daily basis in various ways out of necessity!

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Does that mean that the streets are clean and tidy?

NO sadly, not at all! There is plenty of work for the street sweepers to do and rubbish piles up on street corners quickly. Clouds of flies rise as a bag of rubbish is deposited on top of the overflowing neighbourhood bins, and its only thanks to the regular fumigations and pesticides that epidemics are prevented.

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Soft drink and beer cans are the gold dust of the recycle market with plastic water bottles in second place.

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Many people spend their days scouring the touristic centres, cafes, parks and sea front collecting, in huge sacks, the spoils of the better off. The beach itself after the week end is a good place too!!

Cans can be squashed and condensed into flattened discs and taken to the depot where they are weighed and paid for. In the hands of the more creative these cans transform into model cars or boats and sell for a good price in the craft markets and make a good souvenirs.

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The plastic bottles mainly are empties of mineral water or soft drinks and are collected to re sell homemade products such as lemon juice, vinegar, fruit juice, and tomato sauce in the thriving farmers markets.

The covers of old electric fans can be pieced together to make a delightful but tiny cage for a pet rabbit!

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Every nail, hinge, screw, plug, cable, oil barrel, plastic container and every household item is repaired, recycled, passed on to family and friends. The cars are pieced together with improvised, recycled or copied parts, making rare and unique machines that continue to run on the roads after 60 years of use! Maybe not creating the most aesthetic result visually and usually filling the atmosphere with toxic exhaust emissions that contribute to the polluted atmosphere in the city centres, but…it’s a case of 53 years of “mend and make do”

Why not visit Cuba this year and experience the unique society that has developed here because of and despite the communist and socialist dictatorship that the population has endured.

7 days tour “A Cuban Snapshot”
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

14 day tour “Mi Cubita”
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

If you need help to plan your own personal tour itinerary please submit an enquiry on the “contact us” form!

Havana Aquarium, Miramar

HavanaAquariumMiramar1A Cuban family outing!

Its the weekend in Havana. The city is full of tourists sitting sipping Cuba Libre and Mojitas in old Havana’s street side restaurants and cafes.
The air is hot and the breeze from the sea is only slightly cooling!
Young men and children plunge into the sea as it laps against the walls of the Malecon, down by the harbour these brave young men are delighting in the freshness and excitement that being in the sea brings. The only way to learn to swim is to take the plunge in the open sea!!

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Cuban families living in Havana don’t have many options for days out!
Going anywhere costs money and there is no sandy beach in Havana city for a cheap beach party.

Havana does have an Aquarium in Miramar and that can certainly entertain the family group!
The entrance is cheap and there are buses that stop outside the gates!

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Sadly not much information about the animals housed inside is displayed! It’s a case of looking, watching, asking friends if they know what names of the creatures are in the tanks, or even drawing some and finding out at school next week!

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Highlights are the shows! Dolphins and Sea Lions jump through hoops and balance balls on their noses while the crowds cheer and laugh in the blazing sun.

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Turtles seems to thrive in the murky waters of the central pond but their lives are not unmolested! Poked and prodded they endure manhandling from the children who know no better and from adults who should know better! Guards sleep in the shadows….

Wild Pelikans drop by for a snooze in the shade, but they are freeagents!!

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If you are a tourist you can take the Hop On Hop off bus tour and spend some time at the Aquarium or take a taxi!

Tourist price is in CUC convertible pesos locals in MN moneda nacional.

Have you tried our virtual bus tour?  Click on this link to Hop on the bus!
http://encompasstours.com/2013/04/virtual-havana-bus-tour/

Why not join us on tour and see Cuba for yourself

A Cuban Snapshot 7 day holiday
http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

Mi Cubita 14 day holiday
http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Virtual Havana Bus tour!

Join us for encompass tours virtual Hop-on Hop-off bus tour of Havana, Cuba

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Got your camera, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, money and maybe a snack??? Yes? “Listo?” Ready? Then let’s go…….
This is your Hop – on Hop – off bus tour of the major attractions of the city of Havana!
Keep your ticket in a safe place, it is valid all day and will be inspected every time you hop on or off!! Remember you can get off at any stop and there will be another bus to pick you up in about 20minutes!!!

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As we are staying in a lovely casa (BnB) in Havana Vieja, we are “hoping-on” in Parque Central just opposite Hotel Inglaterra and Café Francesa. http://encompasstours.com/2012/09/coffee-break-havana/  This small park is surrounded by some of the most popular hotels of old Havana. Shiny new ones like Hotel Parque Central and not quite so shiny old ones like Hotel Inglaterra and Telegrafo.

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The best seats for city views are on the top deck, so cover up with sunscreen or you will burn quickly in the sun!!

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We are off!! Down Prado towards the Malecon, passing the Museum of the Revolution housed in the old Batista palace (recently restored) and a fascinating “must do” visit in itself!

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The city’s historians have realised the value of the old architecture to the tourist industry and attempts are being made to re build. Restoration of some of the crumbling facades is underway, but for some of the decaying buildings, fronting the malecon, weathered by the sea spray and the winds; it’s too late and they are being torn down. The malecon is always a popular place for Cubans and tourists alike. http://encompasstours.com/2013/02/life-on-the-malecon/

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Our tour bus stops to pick up people from various hotels en route, then we arrive at the first stop of real interest; Plaza de la Revolucion. This expansive plaza was built to celebrate culmination in 1959 of the revolutionary struggle for Cuba led by Fidel Castro.

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Plaza de la revolucion

Castro used the plaza to make countless public addresses to the masses in praise of the revolution over the years, but more recently this enormous plaza has been used for non political musical events. Famously the free concert in 2009 given by many of Latin Americas most famous and popular stars. This concert was attended by a staggering one tenth of the population of the island and astounded the authorities who struggled to provided security and support!!!

Next stop the Miramar trade centre with a good view of the coast and National Aquarium!

AquariumHavanaCastro announced the Aquarium would be “the best in the world”, but if you do hop off for a visit you will see it has a long long way to go! It’s mainly a day out for Cuban families who have not heard of animal rights or welfare, and sadly there is little information about the lovely fish that are housed here. Turtles are abundant and there are shows daily of trained of dolphins and sea lions who seem to be well fed!

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Winding through busy streets, a bus ride is a great way to see life going on in this extraordinary city where most buildings seem to be half ruined. Everyone going about their business.

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The CDR and Huge political hoardings remind Cuban’s to be uphold the revolution and this one at the gates of the cities cemetery Cementario Colon broadcasts the words Jose Marti  http://encompasstours.com/2012/05/in-search-of-cubas-national-symbols/ We can hop off here and explore the maze of magnificent tombs within the yellow walls, but If it’s not your thing stay on the bus!!

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Heading back towards the old part of the city our bus returns to the Capitolio (now closed and being restored) and the Gran Teatro de la Habana,  the majestic grand theatre, which is certainly worth a visit. You can take a guided tour for 2 or 3cuc. If you want to come back in the evening to catch a performance that will cost you tourist price of 25cuc upwards great value!

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More or less the last port of call on our bus tour is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. These fortifications are situated at the entrance to Plaza de Armas and were listed in a UNESCO world heritage site as part of Old Havana and Fortifications. If you look up at the watch tower you will notice a familiar figure, La Giraldilla, this one is a copy, but she is the symbol seen now on every bottle of Havana Club!!

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In the magic and romance of the old city, maybe it’s time to Hop off for one last time and explore! Find a nice bar to enjoy a cocktail before dinner and digest all you have seen!!

Why not join us for a real tour this year and take your own fotos!

“A Cuban Snapshot” http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

“Mi Cubita” http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/