Havana Great Time in Cuba
Posted: 12 October 2004 01:56 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Joined  2004-10-12

Having just returned from four weeks in Cuba, three of which were spent in Havana, I would like to share with your readers of the wonderful opportunity to enjoy and discover a rich and diverse culture, at less-than-Motel 6 prices!  Consider an alternative title to this article as “Vacationing Like a King in Havana for $50 a Day!” 
One can spend less in Cuba, if the old college-hippie-backpacker-sleep-on-the-floor days appeal to your sense of nostalgia.  One can certainly spend a lot more, if the days of decadent-Mafia-Tropicana-drinking-gambling-sin-and-sun-days appeal to your bulging wallet.  However, $50 a day in Havana can provide a very comfortable vacation, in a style which will not only appeal to your needs for American creature comforts, but also allow you to get a taste of the true Cuba of today. Where To Sleep: Letís start with rooming accommodations.  The Cuban government allows private individuals to rent bed and breakfast rooms in their homes, for a considerable monthly fee.  The going rate in Havana is $20 to $30 per night, depending upon the season.  Avoid “casas particulares” (private homes) in Havana Vieja (old town) or central Havana, as they are much older, probably lack air conditioning, and are located in neighborhoods suffering from deteriorating conditions.  Miramar was, and continues to be, the Beverly Hills of Havana, but is located inconveniently far from the heart of the city.  I recommend El Vedado, which was the upper middle class neighborhood in the pre-revolution days, and today offers the best value for the dollar.
While there are numerous good casas in El Vedado, I give a five-star-plus recommendation to the $25-30 per night Casa Antigua (http://www.casantigua.justincuba.com ), the home of Horacio and Marta Santana, off 23rd street (the main drag of Vedado), on 28th Street.  I visited both the National Hotel in El Vedado, the grand dame of pre-1960ís Havana, as well as the elegant Conde de Villanueva Hotel in the pricey tourist section of Havana Vieja. Casa Antigua offers 90 percent of the amenities at 10 percent of the price!
Built in 1940, this house has two floors, the top of which is Casa Antigua. Your host Horacio, a mechanical engineer, has completely renovated the home in eclectic styles, and provided it with up-to-date conveniences.  Completely furnished in antiques, each room features a different period, be it Neo-classical, Sheraton, Romantic, etc., yet is very Cuban in its unique way.  Marta, an economist with a masters degree in sociology, is the hostess, and shares in the interior decorating, as well as the cooking and other household chores. Consider the following amenities one receives for $25: An open air veranda with tropical plants hanging from the archways, and wrought iron rocking chairs to enjoy a daiquiri or mojito, a Cuban espresso coffee, or an authentic “Habano” cigar. Formal living/sitting room featuring a fully mirrored wall, and a baby grand piano (Horacio is a classically trained pianist, and when the mood strikes, will entertain you for hours at a time!). Elegant stain glass windows, antique furniture, paintings, prints, vases, and other collectibles throughout the home. Formal dining room, for your breakfast and/or dining pleasure, coffee machine, Sparkletts-type spring water dispenser, etc. (a rarity in any home in Cuba). Bedrooms furnished in antiques, with mini fridges, Panasonic air conditioners (not the omnipresent and inefficient Russian models) Oversized fully tiled bathroom with tub and shower…you Americans, enjoy experimenting with the bidet! Pretty outdoors sculpted, bird feeder-style fountain with tropical gold fish. In-house laundry facilities (pay the maid a couple of bucks to do all of your washing and ironing). Free phone service (only about 10% of homes in Cuba even have a phone). Free referral services for accommodations, buses, taxis, tours, restaurants, night clubs, etc., anywhere in Cuba.  Always talk to Horacio before making any substantial purchases or reservations.  He can always help you get whatever you want for lots less money, and never charges the buyer or seller a commission or bird-dog fee! A warm, friendly, intelligent, liberal, educated family with whom to become friends (if one wishes to do so). I spent three weeks with Horacio and Marta, and became intimate friends during my visit. Their gracious hospitality, sense of humor, and eagerness to please cannot be described in words.  Moreover, their bedrooms alone would cost $150-$250 in an elegant Havana tourist hotel.  Okay, so you donít get a swimming pool… So weíve spent $25, or 50% of our budget at Casa Antigua.  Can we survive on just $25 per day? Sure!
Where to Eat…
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