Tuesday, March 10, 2015

CUBA: What you need to know

Contours Travel offers tips and advice for travellers visiting Cuba
In light of the recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba, Contours Travel reports that the interest they have received from agents and travellers to visit the communist island country has sky-rocketed significantly to more than 50% when compared to the same time last year.
MD Ted Dziadkiewicz says while Cuba has consistently been a popular destination among their clients, the recent surge in interest has clearly intensified a certain trend among travellers on what they want to see and do in Cuba.
“While we’re enjoying being kept busy with all of the interest flowing in, we’ve noticed that most of the requests rarely go beyond the usual tourist traps or activities; and common concerns expressed include food and accommodation – all of which is fine and we do our best to advise and cater for their requirements and preferences,” says Ted.
“However, travellers should know that there is much more to Cuba than Havana, music, cigars, rum salsa. The appeal of the island and people really does stretch far beyond what’s already iconic and we hope many more travellers will continue to take on board our suggestions to explore the lesser known spots.”
Here, Ted shares some tips and facts about Cuba which travellers should be aware of prior to their departure as they may help them with their planning and choice of tours.

1. Australia
There is a sugar mill township in Cuba called Australia, which should not be missed, especially by Aussie travellers for obvious reasons. Australia had a moment of fame when Fidel Castro operated his administration office form there to repel the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. The office is now the Museo Memorial Comandancia de las FAR. A quick stop at Australia is easily done on an overland trip for Havana to Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

2. Food

Cuba may not have the best reputation for its food or food supply due to the limited range available thanks to the embargo, but the fact is, the food in Cuba is not as bad as perceived, especially when fresh lobsters can be enjoyed for only $10. Other local delicacies that are a must-try include their traditional
roast pork or pork chops, fried plantain and fruit marmalades.

3. Religion
Fidel Castro was an Atheist, declaring Cuba an Atheist state and banning religion and religious holidays including Easter and Christmas. However, as he aged, he changed the religious state of the country to “secular”. President Raul Castro even conceded to Pope Benedict’s request to recognise Good Friday.

4. Accommodation
Contours Travel advises that apart from hotels, villas, apartments and hostels, another great option to get to meet locals is via homestays. This accommodation option has been made available over recent years and presents a highly personal experience where travellers can learn more about Cuban cultures, lifestyle and people. It is also a great opportunity to practise Spanish. However, it is important for travellers to look for the official house rental license logo outside the house to ensure industry standards are met.

5. Diving

Diving in Cuba is becoming increasingly popular among the diving community. The island is surrounded by thousands of kilometres of some of the world’s richest and most diverse marine life. Experienced divers will enjoy exploring the many caves and caverns throughout the island, some of which feature ancient native pictographs. According to the team at Contours Travel, some of the best and less touristy diving spots are found on Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). The best time to dive in Cuba is between December and April when water temperatures are around 25°C.

6. Currencies
There are two currencies used in Cuba – the Cuban Peso (CUP) for locals and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists, which is pegged to the USD. In 2013, the Cuban government announced that steps are being taken to unify the currencies, but this may take many years. The best currencies to bring to Cuba are GBP, EUR or CAD.  It is useful to note also that the banknotes to be exchanged must be clean and cannot be torn, marked or written on. It is also advisable for travellers to only change currencies at the CADECAs (Official exchange houses) or banks. 
Ted also advises that the best time to visit Cuba is November and February; and the most efficient and direct route to Havana is via Los Angeles and Mexico City.

About Contours Travel
With experience dating back to 1975, Contours Travel is Australia’s most experienced and longest running Central and Latin American tour operator specialising in tailor-made and small group itineraries, special interest tours as well as the Caribbean Islands. Visit www.contourstravel.com.au or call 1300 135 391 for further information.





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