Winter Breaks in Cuba

Iberostar Varadero
Brisas Guardalavaca
Trips from Cuban Resorts
Cuba's 1950s American Cars
Yes! Polar Bears
Voltage Converter    Batteries & Charger
DIY Camera Security
Interesting Links

      We live in Canada, right in the middle as a matter of fact - Winnipeg. Winters are cold and long, sometimes too long so we need a break from winter. There are lots of places that offer the beach and sun so we've been to Mexico and Barbados and now Cuba. We like Cuba best but it is not easy to quantify why. In the end it's likely the combination of the sun, beach, the people you meet, and the feeling that tourists are welcome.
      This page will feature some pictures of where we have stayed in Cuba and some of the sights. The majority of the pictures featured on this page are thumbnails of larger pictures. To see the larger picture, left mouse click and then press the Back button to return. Hint: You will notice that the mouse pointer changes from an arrow to a hand when moved over any picture that can be enlarged.

2007 Varadero - Iberostar Varadero

      Back in 1984, we and another sailing couple, rented a 28 foot Morgan, "Pleasure Bond". 10 days of sailing on the east side of Abaco Island, Bahamas - fantastic! We planned a reunion but this time we planned for a week's cruising the West Caribbean and then rent a cottage in Hopetown Bahamas. Turns out this was too expensive so we began to think about a resort in Cuba. Again Debbie's Caribbean Resort Reviews website was researched and we decided on Iberostar Varadero. Friends from England that we met at Brisas Guardalavaca in 2005 joined us as well.

What a great resort and a memorable two weeks, February 8-22, 2007.

Only in Canada you say...    WestJet5206 departing Winnipeg for Varadero on time at 08:00am but first a trip to the deicing area.
I'm sure the Cubans would never believe this!
Snow to surf almost instantly!    4hrs of flying, 30min on a bus, a quick check in and violá - the beach at Iberostar Varadero resort.
   The Iberostar Varadero resort - just like the photos and brochure.    Iberostar Varadero resort map. To get some idea of walking distances from building 17 to the main buffet restaurant is 2 10ths of a mile (about 320 metres).
   Main lobby and registration. Our friends from England had arrived 3 days earlier and met us with a gin & tonic, how civilized. Fountain between the Arcos Bar and the main desk    Always attractive, bright and clean, a pleasure to walk through the various buildings and hallways.
   Building 17, our villa, is on the left. We were on the main floor.

   The view from the 3rd floor of villa 17.
  I guess by now everyone has seen the blanket and towel art at Cuban resorts, but it is a nice touch. Our Jr suite was roomy with a couch, coffee table with chairs, a writing desk and other amenities. The large and attractively tiled bathroom featured both a tub and glass shower.   In addition to the main buffet dining room there are three theme restaurants. Our favourite was the Japanese "Manzoku".
   Vegetable art by one of the chefs in the main buffet restaurant.    Every other night or so the main buffet would feature musicians. We managed to see a jazz quartet, a folk music trio called "Calanti". If you're really lucky, a waiter named Javier just might appear with his guitar, and he is a surprisingly good singer.
   A view of one section of the pool, biggest I've ever seen and it goes all over the place. But it is not heated and it was decidedly cool! Great area for people watching    Between the Cuban restaurant and the pool are palapas, tables and chairs. Great place to pass the time and meet others. Very refreshing - meaning cold!    Even better looking at night.
   Pool activities every day, this "muscleman"contest was funny!    The children's area is right beside the pool and Cuban open air restaurant, very well situated.
   Iberostar Varadero beach on a warm day, facing east. Soft sand like Manitoba's Grand beach.    Private enterprise - Cuban style. We didn't try it but many did and the flights seemed to last a while.    Facing east on a windy and rather cool day. The cold weather in Canada even reached down here but +12C is still better than -33C.
   Iberostar Varadero beach on a warm day, facing west.    Fancy a bit of beach shopping?
   The day after a strong north wind all day, a lot of seaweed was washed up on shore as well as sea life; many PMoW (Portuguese Man O' War), many, many sea cucumbers (middle picture, it is about 8 inches long and is harmless), but I only found two starfish.

And from Jibacoa
  Eeeefarm, a regular on Debbie's Forum, posted these great snaps. Check out the PMoW on the beach after a couple of windy days in February 2008 (leftmost picture) and then the small fish snacking on the PMoW.

  The pictures on the right were taken while snorkelling at Jibacoa. Yes, that's a Barracuda - if it were me, I'm outa there - pronto! But for many who enjoy snorkelling the reefs, the Barracuda is part of nature.
    photos by Eeeefarm.

   We did a one day tour and during that day we; rode a steam train, visited a small Cuban musuem about the Bay of Pigs invasion, visited an alligator farm, then went on a boat ride down a river to Cuba's largest lake.    No need to post no-swimming signs here...
   A collage of Cuban souvenirs available at the Varadero market. The town of Varadero is quite pleasant to visit by either local bus, doubledecker bus or taxi. watch out - big file!    Lots of great older cars, here is a '55 Dodge Custom Royal, rare even in Canada. But these '50's vintage cars must have astounding mileages on them.
   We did a day tour to Havana and would highly recommend a visit to this grand old city, so very different than anywhere in Canada.    An old Catholic Church, very beautiful inside.    That pink and black bus down the street is called a "Havana Camel" and can hold somewhere between 150-200 people. Anything with wheels carries people!

Pete Seeger would be proud    From reading "Debbie's Cuba Forum" I decided to bring some guitar strings and find someone who needed them. I saw many small bands but they seemed ok and wanted to sell their CDs. Then, just as we were about to return to Varadero after visiting the old market (biggest market in Havana?) my wife said she had found someone. I walked up to the older man and said (in my basic Spanish) that I had a present for him and handed him the guitar strings. The moment is etched in time for me. His eyes opened wide as saucers and he couldn't speak. His next reaction was to give me this great hug. He then handed me his guitar, found a set of maracas and the three of us sang "Guantanamera". Truth is they sang the whole song while I played and only joined in the refrain.
  My first (and only) playing and singing in public, but what a great memory.

   Regardless of where we visit we really enjoy meeting new people. Here we are visiting with Joanna and George from Ottawa. It is usually busy at the Arcos bar at night and they invited us to join them.    And here we are visiting with Nina and Tim from Vancouver. We met them at our second visit to the Japanese theme restaurant.

2005 Holguin - Brisas Guardalavaca

      Truth is we waited too long in the fall of 2004 before booking as we had Spring Break 2005 issues. We were planning to go to the Dominican Republic but while we could get a resort we couldn't get seats on an airplane. So then we debated Cuba and chose Varadero. Now we could get airplane seats but accomodation was going to be difficult. Luckily we found Debbie's Caribbean Resort Reviews website and quickly researched the rest of Cuba. It turned out we could get two weeks in Brisas Guardalavaca.

What a great resort and a memorable two weeks, March 19 to April 1, 2005.

   There are no advertising billboards in Cuba but there are many slogans. Socialism or Death in Spanish, welcomes you to Frank Pais airport, Holguin Cuba. Lest that sound harsh, licence plates for New Hampshire USA display; Liberty or Death...

   Ah, finally peace - after a rather wild one hour bus ride from the airport.

  Early morning view from our hotel room. Hard to believe the day before we were in ice, snow and cold. What a great way to get up!

   Of course one gets up early to "reserve" a good beach location, in other words place your towel over a beach lounger.

And I can't even fold a towel...   I guess by now everyone has seen the blanket and towel art, but it is a nice touch.

  Brisas' beach; Looking east you can see the small breakwater and jetty. During our two weeks although there were windy days, we could always swim in the ocean, the breakwater worked well.
  Looking west you can see the Holguin public beach. Club Amigo beach is located in the cove on the left.

   Every afternoon the parachutists came around for customers and I must say, they never missed a landing spot or had a hard landing in the dozen or so times I watched them. They jumped from an Antonov An-2, which is a Russuan radial-engined biplane.

  The main pool. You can just see the main stage behind the pool. Not heated of course, but refreshing nontheless.

  Another view of the main pool and main stage.

  Entertainment was very good and alternated between the main stage one night and the villa's stage the next night.

  This was a touring water ballet - very well done and entertaining!

  We were twice treated to this outdoor pork barbeque - very good!

  Imagine coming all the way to Cuba and then having the opportunity to join a Terry Fox run.

It felt really good to be a Canadian on this day.

  There is a small market a short 10-15 minute walk from Brisas. You can mingle and bargain. We bought a couple of very attractive tablecloths. There is little to no selling or panhandling on the beaches.

  Another market scene, Saturdays only.

  We did one major excursion - an all day bus trip to Santiago de Cuba with a side trip to Fidel Castro's family estate. A good trip spoiled somewhat by a very uncomfortable bus. It was hot and the Cuban roads are occasionally worse than Winnipeg's!

  Armory where the modern Cuban Revolution began, eventually under Fidel Castro's leadership.
  Check out the bullet holes on the walls.

  And the best part, being with family and friends. It really doesn't get much better!

With new British friends Rita and Ron
   With new friends Elaine and Eric from Newfoundland CA

   The next day we returned to Winnipeg and snow and cold, but we had great memories and very much enjoyed Brisas Guardalavaca.      ˇViva Cuba!

It's not Cuba, but...
  In an effort to be a pleasant guest in Cuba, I have been taking Conversational Spanish courses. One of my fellow students, whose Spanish is excellent by the way, was recently in the Yucatan penninusla and took this excellent photo. In Brad's words: "It was taken early in the morning on an unsigned dirt road outside of a city called Tuxtepec (northeast of Oacaca), on the Atlantic slope side of the Sierra de Aloapaneca. Click on this photo and enjoy!

It's not Cuba, but...
  In April '07, a friend visited Machu Picchu in Peru (Ron did the 4 day hike by the way) and sent along this photo of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Fraulein Lena, from his tour group, adds some colour.
More but...
  Ron took this photo during a "break" in the four day hike. These men are actually watching a pick-up soccer game high in the Andes. Quite a backdrop!

     If you are planning a trip to Cuba and are wondering about the voltage or electrical plug types in use at your resort, check out YVRck's excellent post at Debbie's Caribbean Forum.
110v/220v Power Converter
Left mouse button click for a larger picture, then Back
     We have used this voltage converter, which comes with several adapters, in both Cuba and Europe. This picture is almost life-size and the prongs are 20mm apart. We used this adapter to charge the NiMH camera batteries as recently as February 2007 at Iberostar Varadero. The only difficulty is that the Cuban plugs are vertical so you have to figure out a way to keep the converter level when you have plugged in a charger.

Batteries/Chargers for the Digital World
Left mouse button click for a larger picture, then Back      Many of the devices in our modern world use AA or AAA batteries; the ubiquitous TV remote, digital cameras, mp3 players, hand-held GPS units, the list goes on. These devices are all good but battery consumption is out of sight! I have had a GPS unit for 4 years and these devices go through alkaline batteries like sh** through a goose. My solution was to purchase 4 Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries and a suitable charger. This was and is a very good solution as these batteries can handle about 1000 charges with minimum effort on my part. However, over time, the performance of NiMH batteries can deteriorate and you feel compelled to buy new ones. Hold on, the problem may not be the batteries but rather the crude charging unit.
     I learned about batteries and chargers from the excellent camera website Steve's Digicams. In a nutshell, department store chargers stop charging either at a threshold temperature or a voltage. So if you're charging more than one battery at a time, charging will cease when the first battery reaches "charge" however, the remaining batteries may not have yet reached full charge. This charging cycle continues and obviously, over time, this leads to degraded performance.
     After considerable internet research I purchased a processor controlled NiMh charger made by LaCrosse (less than $50us and included 4AA and 4AAA NiMH batteries). This unit charges each battery independently of the others and performs discharge/charge cycles to determine optimum charge levels. The results are quite impressive and my charged NiMH batteries perform like new.
     Another improvement is to use newer technology NiMH batteries (e.g. Sanyo eneloop) that hold a 85% or better charge for at least six months. Ordinary NiMH batteries will discharge over a couple of months even if they are not used. Now, in my Canon digital camera, I use 4 2400mAh NiMH batteries and keep 4 eneloop batteries as backup. When the 2400s are discharged I swap in the eneloops and charge the others and then switch again. I have converted all my AA AAA batteries to NiMH and I will not need to purchase any other cells for 4-6 YEARS!

Check This Out - A Neat DIY Camera Security Idea
Left mouse button click for a larger picture, then Back This is Steve_YYZ's idea which he posted in 2007 on Debbie's Caribbean Forum. Check out his photo website in the "Intesting Links" section.
     "Here is an idea for added camera security when you're walking around. The rig is a 1/16" braided steel cable about 24" long that attaches to the camera with a tripod screw (available at good camera shops) and the other end of the cable attaches to a caribiner which is attached to my leather belt or pack shoulder strap. You want it attached to something very strong. Do NOT use the fabric belt loop on your pants as in a snatch, it would just rip away. The object is to prevent the camera going anywhere.
     Now the length of the cable was made to fit my waist to eye-level shooting height and you'd have to make it to whatever length you want to fit your body style. One other great advantage of this system is that should the camera get dropped, with the cable length I use, the camera comes to a stop about 6" above the ground. No broken camera even if dropped.
     In use, the cable is virtually invisible and no hindrance at all to shooting. If some kid or punk snatches the camera and is running, he'll get about one step away from me and the cable would come up tight. Odds are he'd be so surprised the camera would pull right out of HIS hands and swing back to me. But he's still running away from me. However, if it was an armed robbery (as happened to me in Cartagena Columbia), unclip the camera and let it GO!!! But for the average opportunistic snatch and grab, this will totally prevent it. It's on a Point-n-Shoot here, but next trip it will be on my D200 which I darn sure don't want to lose.
     Note that the cable is from Home Depot along with the crimp connectors (I used two on each end for added security) and some shrink wrap to keep the whole thing neat. Took me about 15 minutes to put together."

Unless otherwise stated, photos by Phil, Denis and Tim.
Please forward corrections, additions comments or suggestions to   phlatlanders  

Latest update is March 9, 2008

Interesting Links

7 Days In Paradise - a Canadian travel website and a fun forum. Mostly about Cuba - good!
The Travel Chat Board is on the right side of the page. 

Steve's - photographs of Cuba - very good, take a look 

Joe and Karen's Travel Photos - excellent display of several resorts in Cuba 

Debbie's Caribbean Resort Reviews - One of the better Caribbean travel/resort websites on the 'net. 

links to my other websites

CZWG - Air Traffic Control in Winnipeg 

WOTR - Wheatens On The Red (Wheaten Terriers that is) 

Italy 2009 - Our trip to Italy in the fall of 2009  

since 2010-03-03