Cuba Libre: Cuba Beyond the Beach

With deliberate care, Ramon Guilarte places a half-empty bottle of Paticruzado rum on our table,alongside a battered tin coffee pot and some cups made from old soup cans. He sits down, lights a cigar, smiles through a billowing wreath of smoke and proudly proclaims: “Rum, coffee and cigars are the best things produced in Cuba and you have to enjoy them together!”

Guilarte is our host at La Fondita de Compay Ramon, a private restaurant he runs with his family in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city after Havana. Privately operated restaurants like his, known as paladares, cater to tourists and locals alike—and they’re popping up all over the country.

In a country where virtually every business is state-owned and salaries are low, the opportunity to cash in on the tourism boom is a big deal for many families. The restaurants are also great places for visitors to interact with ordinary Cubans.

Guilarte grew up on a farm in the neighbouring Sierra Maestra Mountains, and artifacts from his youth adorn the walls of his eatery. While he leaves the cooking to his wife Mayra and daughter Viviana, Guilarte serves us a buffet of traditional Cuban fare: pork, chicken, fish, rice, beans and plantain. Everyone’s favourite dish is picadillo—ground beef with green peppers, onion and tomato sauce.

After the meal, Viviana describes the satisfaction of preparing food for guests. Her father echoes the sentiment. “The greatest pleasure for me is to see visitors enjoying our food,” Guilarte says, “I really want them to feel like they are in my home; to see them come in as tourists, but leave as members of our family.”

That dinner in Santiago is just one of many highlights of an eight-day road trip that takes us more than 750 kilometres along highways and back roads, through beautiful colonial cities and dusty farm towns. The journey brings us face-to-face with regular Cubans leading ordinary lives, far from the postcard-perfect beaches for which the country is justifiably famous.

Read the rest of the story in CAA Manitoba magazine at http://joom.ag/IpBY/p44.

Internet connectivity is getting easier for visitors to Cuba

I’m not sure how I feel about the announcement from the Cuba Tourist Board about improved internet coverage in the Caribbean island.

The initiative was first presented at FIT Cuba, one of the country’s largest international tourism fairs, hosted in the Villa Clara Keys in May.  Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said in his opening address that wifi coverage would be extended to 287 additional hotels by the end of 2018 with full coverage of every hotel on the island scheduled for 2019.

Part of the island’s charm is the fact that it’s so hard to go online. If you weren’t staying at a hotel with wifi, which were rare, you’d have to buy cards that got you one-hour of connection time at wifi hotspots that were mostly located in the parks and plazas of cities across Cuba. Not only would you have to type in a confusing string of numbers and letters from the scratch-off card for your username and password, there was no guarantee that you’d actually connect if too many people were logged on at once.

Cruz has also announced that Cuba will begin offering visitors preferential rates for roaming service so you can be connected outside of your hotel via your mobile phone as you explore the country. Now that 3G and 4G networks are available in popular destinations like Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Largo visitors will be able to Snapchat and Facebook their vacations like never before.

I suppose there’s no stopping progress and Cuba’s economic outlook depends enough on tourism that it’s necessary to build up their infrastructure to make it more attractive to visitors.

Photos: Dreamy views of Dominica

November 3 marks the anniversary of independence for the Caribbean island of Dominica from Great Britain in 1978. It also marks the day it was discovered in 1493 by explorer Christopher Columbus.  Now, if only people would stop confusing it for the Dominican Republic.

Not blessed with many beaches, Dominica is not as much of a tourist draw as some of its Caribbean neighbours, but it’s natural scenery of volcanic mountains and pristine forests are cherished by nature lovers.

Hit hard by Hurricane Maria in 2017, the country’s inhabitants are rebuilding and hope the tourists return to help the country get back on its feet.

 

 

Cuba ‘Trump-ets’ new American invasion

It was 56 years ago that American-backed insurgents landed on the beaches of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. That invasion was a failure, but, thanks to the recent warming of relations between Cuba and the U.S., there’s a new American invasion taking place. How this one will turn out is anyone’s guess.

Any day that cruise ships are in town, the length of Calle Obispo, the main artery of Havana’s Old City, bustles with American  tourists. They come to explore the host of shops, bars and restaurants that line this picturesque avenue in a city that was once off limits to Americans.

One of the most popular spots along the street is La Floridita, the bar that invented the rum-fuelled daiquiri cocktail that was a favourite of American writer Ernest Hemingway.

Read the rest of the story on TraveLife Magazine’s website.

Photos: Five days in Cuba

Just got back from my first trip to Cuba, a country that I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time. It totally delivered.

Music is everywhere, old American cars are omnipresent and not just on show for tourists and the people love life and are more than happy to share their country with visitors.

Here is some of what I saw during my short stay there:

Tennis not just for posh tourists in Anguilla

Beneath the impossibly blue skies of the Caribbean paradise of Anguilla, I sat in the shade of a palm tree, watching pairs of teenagers playing tennis on rows of immaculate courts.

These weren’t the offspring of well-to-do vacationers. They were local children who were members of the Anguilla Tennis Academy, the fancy-sounding name of an institution that began 21 years ago with the primary goal of making tennis affordable for ordinary Anguillan kids and teaching them all the life lessons that go along with dedicating themselves to becoming good at a sport.

The academy is the brainchild of Mitchelle Lake who was once a local kid himself, but was able to translate his own skill at tennis into a scholarship at an American university. He wants to use the academy to give a new generation of Anguillan kids the chance to have the same opportunity that he did.

Read the rest of the story on Metro.

Photos: Awe-inspiring views of Anguilla

Not many people can find tiny Anguilla on a map and probably can’t even pronounce its name properly, but it’s a Caribbean destination worth discovering. I had the good fortune of spending a few days there last month and came away with these gorgeous photos:

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Last day in the #Anguilla sun.

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#Beach finds from #Anguilla.

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News and notes: European tours, Jewish walking tour, sea turtles in Jamaica and new refugee exhibit

My inbox is filled each week with news and notes from around the travel world. Here are some items that landed recently that I thought would be of interest.

Travellers can score a last-minute deal with Trafalgar

Looking for a last minute getaway? Take advantage of Trafalgar’s special last minute deals to Europe and North America. With many departures available, travellers can book their dream summer vacations now. These offers won’t last long, so you’ll need to book fast to save up to $2,602 on European trips and up to $1,278 on North America guided vacations.

“Our last minute deals to Europe and North America are excellent opportunities for travellers to plan that summer vacation with huge savings,” says Wolf Paunic, president of Trafalgar Canada. “With departures dates on guided vacations from May to August, there are lots of options for Canadian travellers.”

Tours include Britain and Ireland Panorama, Italian Glory, Best of Hawaii Moderate and Northern California.

To find out more information, contact your local travel agent or visit https://www.trafalgar.com/can/offers/last-minute-deals.


Visit Shakespeare’s world this summer

Canadians looking to visit some of the settings of the Bard’s most famous plays can take advantage of some of these European tours this summer:

  • Fans of Measure for Measure should consider Insight Vacations’ 11-day “Vienna Budapest and Prague” itinerary which visits Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic; from $2,850 with departures throughout spring and summer. For more information, visit insightvacations.com
  • Those who love Romeo & Juliet or the Two Gentlemen of Verona should look at Uniworld’s 10-day “Gems of Northern Italy” itinerary that travels from Milan to Venice aboard a floating palace; from $4,949 with departures throughout summer. For more information, visit uniworld.com
  • Hamlet aficionados need to visit Kronborg Castle located in Helsingør, Denmark. They can do that with Contiki’s 13-day “Scandinavia (end Helsinki)” itinerary visits Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland; from $2,585 with departures in August 2016. For more information, visit contiki.com
  • If Macbeth is your cup of tea, then head to Glamis Castle in Scotland with Trafalgar’s 13-day “Scotland’s Highlands Islands and Cities” itinerary visits the Scottish Highlands including Orkney, Skye and Mull; from $3,906 with departures throughout spring and summer. For more information, visit trafalgar.com
  • To know more about Shakespeare, visit his home country, with a stop in Stratford-upon-Avon, on Insight Vacations’ 5-day “Gems of Britain” itinerary captures the essence of Britain in only a few days; from $1,695 with departures throughout spring and summer. For more information, visit insightvacations.com

Tour Barcelona’s Jewish Quarter with Context Travel

Context Travel, known for its critically acclaimed walking tours in the world’s cultural capitals, is expanding its Barcelona program to include a Jewish history walk in the Gothic Quarter.

Titled “Jewish Barcelona,” the walk looks at uncovering the history of the Jewish community in the cultural capital of Catalonia.

Visitors on the walk will explore the Gothic Quarter, looking at the the former Jewish neighborhood, known as El Call. Strolling the area, they will connect the difficult history of the Sephardic Jews to Barcelona’s present Jewish community, gaining cultural and religious insights.

The 2.5 hour walk is available Tuesdays and Sundays for groups, priced at 85 euros per person, or privately daily, priced at 375 euros for a party of up to 6 travelers. For specific inquiries regarding scheduling, please consult their website at www.contexttravel.com


Jamaica’s Half Moon Resort wants guests to help sea turtles

Half Moon resort in Jamaica is offering guests for its turtle season (August 1 –November 30) an exciting opportunity to tick off their bucket list this summer and learn how they can play their part in sea turtle conservation.

The Sizzling Summer Offer includes: 

  •         7 nights luxury accommodations with up to 7 nights free (a savings of up to 50%!)
  •         Sunset picnic on the beach
  •         Guided night-time turtle walk
  •         Reserve picnic and turtle walk on arrival. (Turtle walk based on turtle nesting & hatching patterns. Turtle sightings not guaranteed).

Book by July 24; stay August 1 – November 30. To book your reservation, contact your travel agent or call 1-876-953-2211, using the promo code TSIZZ. Terms & Conditions apply.


Refugees’ perilous sea voyages featured in new Winnipeg exhibit
 
A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg looks at the perilous voyages across the Mediterranean, attempted last year by over a million migrants and refugees who were fleeing war, persecution and instability.
Their journeys began in countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. One in five was a child. Over 3,600 people lost their lives on these voyages in 2015.
The exhibit, called A Perilous Crossing, is centred on the 2015 story of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders as they carried out search-and-rescue operations aboard ships (including a retrofitted Canadian fishing boat, the Phoenix) to save lives at sea.
This small exhibit includes lifejackets worn by children rescued by Médecins Sans Frontières and Migrant Offshore Aid Station last summer – including an inflatable “toy” vest unsuitable for survival at sea – and a plastic compass that was the only navigation equipment found on an overcrowded inflatable boat with 118 people on board.
  
The exhibit was developed by the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, in partnership with the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, and with the cooperation of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. Newly adapted and re-designed for its showing at the CMHR, it will be on display at the Museum until September 25.

 

Video: Journey to the Cayman Islands


The camera work on this promotional video for the Caymans is astounding and the attractive models that populate it are certainly appealing to look at, but if it didn’t have “Cayman Islands” in the title. it could have been filmed in just about any tropical destination. Perhaps it’s Fiji, Jamaica or the Maldives.

Photos: Captivating views of Cuba

Many are predicting that Cuba will change once the effects of America’s embargo disappear. It surely will, although it remains to be seen if the changes will be for the better or for the worse. Whatever the case, you can be sure that it won’t happen overnight.

This collection of photos of the Caribbean nation give you a glimpse of what it’s like today so enjoy it while you can.

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Cuba 2013!

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