My Cuban Suitcase!

Packing for your holiday in Cuba needs some thought! We at Encompass Tours are familiar with the situation and we’d like to pass on some packing tips!

Apart from the usual “clothing to suit the weather conditions and activities you plan to participate in” What else??????

Knowing what conditions are on the ground and that the US trade embargo means that shopping for EVERYTHING can be either limited, difficult or impossible to get in Cuba.


Bring everything you think you will need for your stay. Any thing you can not live without and maybe some extras to give away to Cuban friends you have made during your stay!

My list might help you!!!


Sunscreen, Shampoo, Conditioner, Moisturizer, Insect repellent, soap antibacterial hand wipes/gel, razors, shaving cream, deodorant, eye drops, toothpaste.


Aspirin, Paracetamol, Neurophen and any thing you take on a regular basis

Food stuffs

Travel kettle, Tea bags, instant coffee, black pepper (if you like pepper) chili sauce (if you like spice) Chocloate, Nuts.

Other essential items

Universal adapter

Phone plus charger

Camera plus charger

Chargers for any i pod, pads, tablets

Books to read on the flight

Clean English Pounds, Euros, Canadian Dollars, Australian Dollars in Cash (not travellers cheques)


Scottish Pounds!! US Dollars!!

Damaged notes of any type

Dongles of any type or GPS will automatically detain your arrival in Havana and hours will pass waiting for the forms to be filled in and your hardware confiscated. You will be charged for it and can pick it up on your departure from the airport!!!! Best to check your baggage and not make delays for your self!!!



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!!!!


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)


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.


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!!!


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!


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!


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

Mi Cubita a 14 days tour

Cuban Soup of the day

“Ajiaco Oriental” is our Cuban soup of the day.

Ajiaco Oriental sopa

“Ajiaco Oriental nuestra sopa del dia!”

This typical Cuban soup is cheap, delicious and nutritious!

Ajiaco Oriental is so named because it’s from the orient of Cuba, down in the region of Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa! It’s so good and popular that it’s made the length and breadth of the island in markets and at home.

Market Havana Cuba

First you need to go to the farmers market and buy your ingredients!

No meal in Cuba is complete without meat and beef is the key ingredient in this dish! There are some standard ingredients and others you can throw in to your taste and budget!

Garlic Havana

**Major supermarket in the UK now  have a general selection of Caribbean foods but in more remote parts of the British Isles some of the ingredients will have to substituted for other similar vegetables. 

Peppers&Onions Havana



Beef of some sort –  Carne de res
Yam –  Yuca
Sweet potato –  Boniato
Pumpkin –  Calabaza
Taro –  Malanga ….possibly not available in UK, it’s a root tuber.
Potatoes –  Papas
Plantain green or ripe –   Plátano verde o madura
Sweet corn –   Maize
Peppers –   Ajies
Onions –   Cebolla
Mexican Coriander or Coriander (fresh)  –   Cilantro o Culantro
Garlic –   Ajo
Lemon juice –  Limon (in Cuba its Lime)
Tomato puree –  Puré de Tomate
Chopped tomatoes  –  Tomate en torsos
+ Plus any other vegetables and flavouring spices and herbs that you like!!!
A little oil + Salt and pepper!

Tomatos Havana

In Cuba the majority of the people have basic utensils and basic cooking facilities, so this is a “one pot soup”

Yucca Yams Havana

Choose a nice big pot with a lid if it has one!

1. Cover the bottom of the pan with oil and add finely chopped onions and crushed garlic and cook gently to extract the flavours and soften the onion.

2. Turn the heat up a bit and add your shredded beef next!

Once the meat is browned, turn the heat down again and begin adding the other ingredients well chopped up into small pieces.

3. Let it all simmer adding more water as needed. As the vegetables begin to soften and break up you will be delighted to find a thick tasty broth!

Cilantro Mexican Coriander Havana Boniato Sweets Potatoe Havana

Join us in Cuba for Ajiaco Oriental this year

A Cuban Snapshot 7 days tour.

Mi Cubita 14 days tour

Calabaza Pumpkin Havana





Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”

Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”


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!

Varadero beach

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!


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.


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!


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!


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>

Mi Cubita 14 days tour.>


Humboldt’s Cuban Footprint

Alejandro von Humboldt in Cuba (“the last man who knew everything”)

Alexander von Humboldt (born in Berlin Sept. 14, 1769 — died in Berlin May 6, 1859) visited Cuba for only a few months on two occasions during his many years exploring and researching South America with Aimé Bonpland, a French born botanist. His short visits have left a large footprint on the island, and his writing there have shaped and influenced many thinkers, leaders and scientists the world over.

If you are in old Havana you can visit a house where he stayed in Calle de los Oficios. It has a bronze plaque dedicated to his memory to the left of the main entrance, and another one with his portrait in relief. There is not a lot to see in the small museum house but, it is more than anything a tribute to a man who was an energetic and tireless collector, thinker, scientist, botanist, humanist, educator, philanthropist, explorer and more! He funded much of his own expeditions and died somewhat hard up due to his philanthropic activities, always keen to help young penniless students in the fields he love and made such significant contributions to.

He was undoubtedly the influence for the works of Charles Darwin who described him in a letter to a friend as “greatest scientific traveller who ever lived” Simon Bolivar who was responsible for the liberation of so many Spanish colonies, said of him “Alexander von Humboldt has done more for America than all its conquerors, he is the true discoverer of America.

While in Cuba Humboldt undertook scientific and social research with collaboration of Cuban landowner and thinker Francisco Arrango y Parreño. He visited regions around Havana as far as Trinidad and Matanzas. They conducted a survey of the city and surroundings and on his second visit he completed a mineralogical survey too.  He and his companion Aimé Bonpland made an extensive collection of Cuba’s flora and fauna, and in honour of Humboldt’s achievements and research carried out on behalf of Cuba a national park in the department of Baracoa has been dedicated to his name “The Alejandro Humboldt National Park”

Humboldt’s theory of life and the world was that “Nature herself is sublimely eloquent. The stars as they sparkle in firmament fill us with delight and ecstasy, and yet they all move in orbit marked out with mathematical precision”. He spent a large number of years writing up his findings and his theories of the sciences and the unity of the world we live in. He wrote an essay on the island of Cuba that was banned by the Spanish who felt threatened by it! It was called “Ensayo Politico sobre la isla de Cuba” and pointed great criticism at the inhumane  practice of slavery and all the injustices and corruption of thinking around its practice!


Humboldt was considered by Cubans as the second discoverer of the island and we can be thankful that the practice of slavery in Cuba was soon abolished. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes a landowner and lawyer declared all his slaves free men October 10, 1868 and became the catalyst for liberation from Spain and freedom for slaves in Cuba

If you would like to see Cuba and its beautiful flora and fauna, explore the old cities and rural towns, join us on a tour!

Learn more about Humboldt on BBC Radio 4 podcast with Melvyn Bragg

Why not book yourself onto one of our tours this year?

7 days tour “Cuban Snapshot”

14 days tour “Mi Cubita”