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Thursday, April 3, 2008
The Republic of Cuba consists of the island of Cuba, Isla de la Juventud and several adjacent small islands. It is in the northern Caribbean at the nexus of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

It is the Caribbean's most populous island with a population of more than two million and its people, culture and customs are drawn from several sources. There are influences of the indigenous Taino and Ciboney peoples, the period of Spanish colonialism, African slaves and its proximity to the United States. It has a tropical climate moderated by surrounding waters and is prone to frequent hurricanes.

When you think of Cuba, many things spring to mind: salsa, cigars, music and colour — but most of all, the name Fidel Castro. The revolutionary leader has been responsible for creating one of the most fascinating and controversial little island nations in the world.

In January 1959 Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz led his rebel army in an armed revolution to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgenico Batista, beginning one of the longest-running revolutions of the 20th century. He was sworn in as Prime Minister and in 1965 became the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. Cuba's new rulers — who included the legendary Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara — promised to give the land back to the people and to defend the rights of the poor.

Castro led the transformation of his country into a one-party socialist republic. In 1976 Castro became President of the Council of State as well as President of the Council of Ministers and he also held the military rank of Commander-in-Chief of Cuba's armed forces.

Castro transferred his responsibilities to his younger brother Raúl Castro in 2006 after undergoing intestinal surgery. On February 19 this year, just five days before his mandate was to expire, Fidel announced he would neither seek nor accept a new term as either president or commander-in-chief.

On February 24, Raúl Castro succeeded his brother as President of Cuba. Fidel remains First Secretary of the Communist Party.

While many in the outside world looked upon the dictator as oppressive to his people, Cubans look upon him as a father-figure — someone who accomplished all the things he promised.

Cuba's capital, Havana, is not exactly a tricked-up tourist resort, but its authenticity is its greatest attraction. Trade embargoes, which have been in place for many years, have kept Havana as a quirky and old-fashioned city. While 50 years of revolution have taken their toll, the Old Town has been declared a World Heritage site and restoration is high on the agenda.

At the turn of the 20th century, Havana and Buenos Aires in Argentina, were the grandest and most important cities in architectural terms. The boom period, known as "Fat Cows", provided much architecture that was influenced by art nouveau, art deco and eclectic movements. The railway terminal, University of Havana and Capitolio are excellent examples of the art nouveau style.

In the 1970s, buildings were generally decaying and many were collapsing. The city’s historians, together with UNESCO, decided to rescue the value of the city.

Housing is free for everyone, and many buildings which were once grand family homes are now very fragile and house up to eight families. Daily life is heavily subsidised by the government. There are 200 cinemas in Havana and entry costs just 10 cents. Front row seats at the Gran Teatro are 40 cents.

Old Havana — La Havana Veija — is the heart of the city. It was founded by the Spanish in 1519 on the natural harbour and became a stopping point for treasure-laden galleons crossing between the new and old worlds. In the 17th century, it was a major ship-building centre.

The modern city has a seawall running along the northern shore of Havana — from Habana Vieja to the Almendares River — forming the southern boundary of Old Havana, Centro Habana and Vedado. At night, the Habaneros (people from Havana) gather there to talk, debate, drink, play guitar and sing. El Malecón Habanero is the avenue wrapping around the city's edge and one thing you will notice is a lack of advertising. Government opinion is loud, proud and most evident. Black flags indicate people who have been killed by CIA terrorist actions.

Cars are probably Cuba's most valuable luxury item. The skills of keeping engines running are well kept secrets, passed through generations. Before the revolution in 1959, Cuba was the largest importer of American cars. They were huge, gas-guzzling monsters and many of them are still running perfectly today. They are used to drive tourists and drivers can make up to $50 a day — a fortune in a country where the average worker makes around $20 a month.

Plaza De La Revolución is one of the world's largest city squares. Political rallies take place there and it is where Fidel Castro addressed his people with long-winded diatribes.

The square is dominated by a 109-metre tower and an 18-metre statue. The National Library, many government ministries and other buildings are located in and around the Plaza. On the far side of the square is the famous Che Guevara image with the slogan: Hasta la Victoria Siempre — "Forever Onwards Towards Victory."

Havana's Artists' Market is held every Sunday on the Paseo del Prado and features an elegant tree-lined boulevard with a pedestrian walkway down the middle. Works are displayed among bronze lamp posts and there is a good mixture of kitsch and contemporary art, with a few gems to be unearthed.

Cubans love their ice cream and one of the best to be found in Havana is Copelia where locals are happy to queue for two hours or more just to buy one.

The Ambos Mundos Hotel has an impressive pink facade and was made famous by Ernest Hemingway. It was there he wrote the first part of For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the room he stayed in is now a museum. Built in the 1920s, the hotel has excellent views of the cathedral and the lobby serves excellent cocktails. The popular rooftop restaurant is open to non-residents.

Hotel Habana Libra is a five-star hotel in the heart of Havana. It has three restaurants serving Creole, Polynesian and international cuisine, a snack bar, cafeteria and buffet restaurant. There is a patio bar, piano bar and the Salsa Café nightclub. The hotel has a fitness club with gymnasium as well as hydro-massage, hydrotherapy and massage services. The pool has a solarium and snack bar.

There are 574 rooms including 40 junior suites, senior suites and a presidential suite. All are air-conditioned and have private bathrooms.

Cuban cigars are considered to be the best in the world and are highly sought after around the world. The tight bundles are made of dried and fermented tobacco which grows throughout Cuba. Cuban cigar rollers are claimed to be the most skilled in their particular trade. Production is tightly controlled by the government — manufacture, quality control, promotion, distribution and export are all treated with the utmost importance. All boxes and labels are marked Hecho en Cuba (made in Cuba).

Havana is a safe city, and heavy police presence on the streets keeps it so. However, watch out for young men on bicycles who try to snatch purses, handbags or cameras. Like anywhere in the world, pickpockets are active on crowded city buses.

Don't stop to talk to anyone offering ''Havana cigars'' on the street. They are very persistent hustlers. Shops may try to overcharge or cheat you, especially if your Spanish is minimal. Verify all prices before buying, check the total and count your change before leaving the counter.


Between The Bahamas and Jamaica


GAP Adventures has 15-day Cuba Colonial Tours from Havana. Transport, accommodation, salsa lessons and guided local tours are included. Tours start at around $1220 per person, twin share.

Hotel Habana Libra rooms start at around $130 a night.

There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares are one-way on the Net. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at March 20, 2008 and are subject to change.

Valid for travel until March 31, 2009. Conditions apply.

Prices correct at April 3, 2008.

For further information

GAP Adventures
122 Hardware Street
Melbourne 3000
Ph: 1300 796 618

Hotel Habana Libra
Calle L esq 23
Ciudad de La Habana
Ph: 214 748 3647

It is recommended travellers to Cuba see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit

User reviews
no mention what so ever of the poverty and bad conditions the Cubans live under. no rights what so ever.
cuba is a fanatstic country to visit, full of contradictions. Or as the locals say complicated. The locals are friendly, even if they are trying to sell fake cigars or lead you to a salsa festival, any day of the week. They are trying to earn an extra money, not rip you off. Most can speak ok english. Stay in private homes and get to know the real cuba not the sugar coated version.Fidel is an iconic figure, but has let the locals down. Yes they are waiting for change and have been for 50 years. Cigars are premium in cuba, humidity keeps them in prime condition. Habanos cigars are not dried nor fermented, but moist natural tabacco leaf and all made by hand. From the picking of tabacco to the finished boxed product. Visit Pinar del Rio and the cigar factories. Eat in paladors, private restaurants, food is superior. Go to the nighth clubs and bars, listen to the music. It will get inside you. I'm going back.
Beautiful footage of travelling around the streets, but everything else is a gloss over. Having been in Cuba twice in the last 12 months, a few thruths to help you. Dont take US dollars, the prefered exchange dollar is the Euro. Best to avoid using your credit card period.Yes the locals are a very happy lot and do the best with what little material things they have. They don't try to rip you off.Cuban cigars are NOT made from dried and fermented tabacco. A tour through a cigar factory and the truth would be known. Humidity reins supreme in havana and that keeps the best cigars in the world at their premium. Visit the Partagas factory and get the facts.Yes talking to the locals on TV will get you all the in favour comments on Fidel. Fidel is not a father figure and why do they say they are waiting for change? Because they have been waiting for 50 years and Fidel has delivered little on the real ideals of the revolution. I LOVE CUBA, GO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF. IT IS FASINATING
Hi, I watched the show last night and was a bit up set as to how they rated the hotels. I have been twice to Cuba within 9 months and I must say I loved it. The Hotel I stayed at was Hotel Conde de Villia and it was a really nice one and not too expensive. Yes they dont have much of a view but you go there to sleep (and it was clean), if you get any sleep when your there. I also must say that when you go, go and eat in the so called china town they have there. Food is cheap and really nice, and they have the best pizza there too. Another place to visit is Trinida, I went but only for a day and apparently its really goes off at night. Its like Old Havana with out the policing and people are more free, its really nice all the roads are old really nice town. They advise not to trust the Cubans but if you got good instincts trust them as you will see a lot more being with them than going on tours that may rip you off, it did happen to us. Best thing is the night life and the people. GO!!!
Great program, but it failed to mention that Cuban food in restaraunts is not that good. Often the places dont have the food that you want and they often overcharge you. The best way to eat is in a Paladar - these are restaraunts in houses and the food is usually much much better and home made. Or if you are staying in a privte house rahter than a hotel it is better to eat in the house as Cuban women are wonderful cooks! Also, it is customary to tip whenever you buy anything - even in a kiosk or clothing store! Even if it is only 5 cents - and even if the service is bad.

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