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/

A shopping revolution in Cuba!

A shopping revolution in Cuba!

New year’s announcements are normal in Cuba but new year 2012 was an unexpected surprise!  It was announced that, along with the cutting of 500,000 government jobs, Cubans would be allowed to register and set up their own small businesses!!!!

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The truth is that Cubans had been running their own small illegal “negocios” for years in order to survive. The new laws simply made it possible for them legalise their enterprises and operate freely and for that privilege pay their taxes of 50% ish to the government!!!  Everyone happy!! Except the ones that lost their government jobs!! (but more of that later)

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The ball set in motion is gaining momentum. All kinds of small shops are being set up all over the country. People living on ground floor housing can open up their windows and display wears for sale. Food is always a popular commodity, as are illegally copied CDs and DVDs, beauty products, hair accessories, electrical goods, and clothes. The majority of these items imported from China.

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Some people with more stock and finances have turned their downstairs room into a walk in shop. People are out and about buying and selling and enjoying what can only be the start of a shopping revolution!!!

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Cubans can employ other Cubans, and there is no limit to how much they can earn (so long as the state gets its cut!) There is a state list of allowed businesses, so provided you can fit into one of the state registered categories you need not fear the police!  Curiously, there is a registered business for “gigolo” which must be one of the most lucrative trades on the wake of tourism.

Society is becoming more divided… the people with some money are getting more, and those at the bottom, out of reach of the ladder, will have to get by on their ration card allowances as before!

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Visually the streets are changing……dare I say that “consumerism” is creeping in, to shake up the monotony of run down government establishments. Tourists expect more than Cubans suffice with.

The arts and crafts markets have always been abundant are now booming!

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As for the loss of government jobs announced?  We are told it didn’t really happen… people were worried and dashed around asking friends and worrying about their income, but down on the ground, people retired and were not replaced and that just about covered the job loss target! Reductions were made! Every government department was over staffed anyway so plenty of people to cover the extra work load!

Why not come and enjoy Cuba for yourself on one of our tours this year?

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

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

Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”

Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”

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Foreign tourists to Cuba either flock to Varadero’s white sandy beaches or give it and its glut of “all inclusive” hotels a wide birth!

For visitors who don’t like beach hotels, Varadero is still worth a visit to see the dramatic lifestyle contrast with the rest of Cuba. This narrow strip of beach lined land is bursting with Hotels, and amazingly, still more hotel giants are being constructed cheek by jowl. You can only try to imagine what it will be like in ten years time! As no Cubans actually live in Varadero, workers are bussed in and bussed out. The only Cubans enjoying Varadero are the ones selling goods on the streets! This is a pricey, tourist only zone!

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So why come to Varadero?? Well luckily there is more to Varadero than the lovely beach if you are prepared to go and look for it. Put it on your itinerary now before it gets completely squeezed out!

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If you take the “Hop on Hop off beach tour bus” you can get a few glimpses of the sea and, an almost ariel view of the developments on the peninsula. Among the crowded hotels in down town Varadero, dive centres and fishing opportunities are abundant! There is a dolphin centre where shows are put on and it’s possible to swim with the dolphins too. Still in the down town area you find Jonson Park, originally a private residence now a botanical garden with lake and other family attractions in a 9 hectare site.

Continuing on, up the peninsula, the Varadero Golf Club at Mansion Xanadu is 18 to 19 hole golf course surrounded by lush green palm trees and makes a refreshing break from the built up area! Golf carts and equipment are available to rent and an 9 hole option or a course of lessons can be yours at a price.

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Just beyond this and opposite “Reserva Ecologia Chaplin” you find “Boat adventures” a centre offering a range of water bourn tours exploring the mangroves!

Keep going on the bus till you reach the area called “Hicacos” and the “Reserva Ecologia Verahicacos”, our destination today!

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It’s a small reserve but it is an attempt to preserve some of the original flora fauna and vegetation currently to be found on the peninsula. At the entrance there are some well presented information installations in Spanish and English describing some of the highlights and aims of the reserve. Pay your entrance fee and a poor map is provided! But it suffices! Underfoot its sharp coral rocks, so good foot wear is advisable. The paths are adequately marked and the whole self guided tour lasts about an hour to an hour and a half! Butterflies and lizards skit off into the undergrowth, while caves, ruins of the salt works and giant cactus are the main physical attractions of the reserve. It’s nice to think about how this part of the island looked before the first building arrived!

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Your “hop on hop off” bus ticket last the whole day so there is plenty of time to complete the whole beach tour and return down town for a cocktail!

Why not come and see Cuba for yourself?

A Cuban snapshot 7 days tour

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

Mi Cubita 14 days tour.

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

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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!

Malecon Havana Cuba

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/