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/

Life on the Malecon!

Life on Havana’s Malecon; Cuba!

The Malecon is undoubtedly the most popular social scene for young and old in Havana! It’s a “must do” outing for any tourist, and one of our favourite haunts!

The wide wall separating the sea from the city is the “Malecon”, a versatile venue for all kinds of meetings and spontaneous rendezvous!

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On one side the ever present rhythm of the ocean, on the other a wall of crumbling colonial buildings that are slowly being restored nowadays! Running between these two, the main road is never very busy.  Cars are a luxury few can afford, but this road is the main artery joining old and new Havana and a string of taxis trundle along in both directions. The Malecon stretches on beyond sight and the constant breezes from the sea make it a cool and refreshing place to meet. Who could resist it!

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Malecon Havana Cuba

Some days the waves are high and the sea surges over in crashing salty cascades flooding the road and the passersby, but those days are few!

All day fishermen come to cast their lines, some with only a coil of nylon fishing line and other with more sophisticated equipment! Any fish caught will supplement the family diet and well worth spending a few hours waiting for!

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As the sun reaches its highest point and the temperatures soar, T shirts are pulled off and children and youths leap into the water to cool off and enjoy a refreshing dip!

Mothers arrive with babies and toddlers and look to the horizon in search of the infrequent ships that bring goods from Venezuela and China into the port! Many point across the water in the direction of Miami and recount stories of brothers and sister, uncles and aunts, who left and have never been back!

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It’s an ideal spot for young lovers to have not-so-secret rendezvous and sit smooching in the sun and sipping a can of “tu cola” and dreaming or a future together.

As dusk falls and in the early morning joggers come out in the cool of the day and pound up and down, dripping  trails of sweat that evaporate as soon as it touches the baking ground.

Finally, as night falls and the stars shimmer invitingly,   small groups of hungry musicians search for opportunities to serenade any tourists who might spare a few pesos in exchange for a popular song.

Musicians of all sorts come out to practice and music drifts in the wind!

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In the darkness of the night it’s a place to party! A bottle of Havana Club is a cheap fiesta that can be shared among a group of friends who have nowhere else to meet….

The Malecon is a hot spot! By day or by night it’s the most popular venue of the city! It’s the place where ideas can be exchanged and plans made!

Why not come and enjoy it for yourself! We run tours to Cuba throughout the year!

Cuban Snapshot is a 7 day tour

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

Mi Cubita is a 14 day tour

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

 

Ferry to Casa Blanca

 

If you are walking down the “malecon” (coastal road fronting the sea wall)  in Havana toward the harbour and Bahia of La Habana, your eyes will be drawn to the lighthouse (faro) standing proud on the cliff edge protecting one of Cuba’s spectacular natural harbours, the bay of Havana!  The lighthouse stands on the end of a promontory strongly fortified with huge walls and battlements, built by the Spanish Conquistadors to defend the city against pirates and other bounty seeking invaders. Opposite stands the old city of Havana, once a jewel of the Caribbean!

A road tunnel now links Havana to the other side of the bay, but locals who live in Casa Blanca (a community on the other side) make the crossing to and fro on the ferry to get to work and school. If you like boat trips then the ferry to Casa Blanca will be one you’ll enjoy, and once there you can walk up the hill to the statue of Blanco Cristo (White Christ) and enjoy the view.

The ferry has a vauge time table…. It starts running around 6.30 to 7am and stops around 9.30 to 10pm and the crossing takes about 5 minutes.

Once you have located the pier, which is opposite the new Russian Orthodox Church you will need to go through the police check point and join the queue which is undercover on the pier. The police will want to look inside your bags and require men to empty their pockets and maybe even do a body search!!!  All a bit strict for a short ferry crossing you might think??

Well NO! In fact two or three ferries have been hijacked and sailed with all their passengers to foreign shores, namely the USA, where all Cubans are welcomed with open arms and helped to settle in! Another victory for the capitalists!!

The story of one famous hijack is worth repeating!

One day as the ferry left Casa Blanca to cross the bay a whole bunch of people boarded in party spirit.  Through the police check with their crates of beer, bottles of rum, pots of food and snacks, tambores, maracas, guitaras, singing,  dancing, laughing & joking. Men, women, children, adolescents, babies etc a big family outing!  You get the picture!! An outing with a surprise! Half way across the bay the ferry turned left and headed out to sea, party still in full swing!! This change of route was noticed by the security police on the pier who notified the coast guard. The coast guard was not quick off the mark as they thought something on the lines of..“well the ferry has hardly any fuel they won’t get far!” How wrong they were! This had been well planned. The crates of beer were full but the bottles were full of fuel not beer and so the ferry partied on to Miami!!!

So if you still want to chance the crossing, join the queue in the line marked Casa Blanca and when the ferry appears pay your peso to the official and jump on board!

The price you pay for the ferry is one peso moneda nacional MN (not tourist money CUC) and before you start thinking this is very cheap, please remember that an average Cuban monthly salary is $20 to $40 US so that is only 500 to 1,000 pesos MN.

Once on the ferry find a safe place to stand and hang on! Bicycles and other small cargo are allowed at no extra cost provided there is space. The journey is pretty smooth and eventless normally but you might want to take note of where they keep the life jackets!

Exit the ferry and the ferry terminal at Casa Blanca and ahead of you a road leads up through a small park onto a road that leads to the statue of Jesus Blanco. For the last few months he has been encased in scaffolding but there is a view point worth reaching and the walk up takes about 10 to 15 minutes from the pier.

Proceedure for the return ferry is exactly the same but if you don’t fancy it or are in a hurry you can always catch a taxi and return by the tunnel. If you have lots of time to spare then why not head up to the lighthouse or visit the old fort which is open to visitors for aprox. 10CUC

It’s a lovely view over the old city and the bay is cleaner now than it used to be before the iron curtain fell and cut of the plentifull trade from this once thriving port!

If you fancy a trip to Cuba and want some company why not join one of our small group tours. No more than 8 in a group with a dedicated tour leader throughout. Read more on our tours pages.

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

If you have more time then “Mi Cubita” covers two weeks
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Read more about Cuba in our news posts.

Dulces de Coco: Coconut Sweets

Coconut Sweets and deep fried pasta!

Every country has its junk food and street food and Cuba, despite all its shortages is no exception!

”Necessity is the mother of invention”  so the saying goes, and never a phrase more truly represents all aspects of life in Cuba today. Locally sourced home grown food is no luxury here, is all that’s available, and Cubans make the most of what little they have.

You need not search for pre packaged bags of potato crisps, colourful snack size bags of peanuts nor huge selections of biscuits and cookies in beautiful plastic wrappings!

What you will find out on the streets are snacks made at home by hand, displayed on trays and advertised by voice! Some of the voices are amazing in their volume and your sweet dreams might be interrupted as you wake in the early morning in old Havana to the sound of “Tamales fresco” (fresh Tamales) “Coco! Coco!” (coconut)

Out on the streets, in the popular plazas and especially on the Malecon (the walled sea front where lover go to stroll at night and fishermen spend their days casting out to sea) these are the haunts for the street sellers. Frequently you’ll find old ladies and gents in straw hats carrying a bundle of cone shaped paper packages and ambling along in the sunshine. These old folks will be calling “mani mani” (peanuts) or “chicharrita” (which is a general term for junk food)   Some cones they are clutching are the size of an icecream, others thinner still, and here size matters! The thin ones are mani and the fat ones chcharrita!

If you are lucky the peanuts will still be warm from the roasting, they are small, salty and very tasty!  The chicahrrita is a totally Cuban invention, its deep fried pasta and comes crunchy, crisp and salty in the style of a pasta tube, like penne or macaroni.

For a few pesos MN (moneda nacional) any child or adult can crunch their way through these simple snacks that fill a gap between lunch and dinner!

Younger stronger bodies are needed to carry the trays of “Dulces de Coco” (coconut sweets ) that glisten in the sunshine attracting children like bees to a honeycomb! These street hawkers need strong biceps and walk the streets selling their wears which quickly disappear.

Coconut is the main ingredient and grows abundantly on the island, then you need a generous helping of sugar for which Cuba is famous. The resulting globes of sweet coco gleam like jewels on their trays. Irresistible!!

We can recommend you try a dulce de coco and a cup of Cubas delicious coffee, the perfect partnership!

Why not book your tour today to Cuba today and taste for yourself!

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

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