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Fun in the Sun

Bogtrotter

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Winter is upon us and I need a beach holiday. I'm just wondering if anybody here is planning, or has already planned, a vacation south in the next few months? I went to Varadero on my last excursion to the WI and had a great time. We stayed at Blau Varadero, a brand new hotel, which had good food (for Cuba) and the rooms were modern and very clean. Wait staff were great, particularly at the bar near the beach.

Have you been anywhere- location/hotel etc that you would recommend? ANywhere you wouldn't go again?
 

BuildTO

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I have to go to Cuba every year - somewhat work related, but mostly vacation. Last year we went to the Iberostar Varadero, one of the top-rated resorts in the country. I'd been warned resort buffets tend to get tiresome with the same food by the end of the week, but the food was really great. Really nice rooms, too. Beautiful beach - the kind you see in the magazine ads, with white sand and turquoise water. I'd go back any time.

Before planning Varadero, we had had original plans to go to a new resort area - Cayo Santa Maria - but the plans fell through for us. Our friends have been to Occidental Royal Hideaway Ensenachos there, twice. They travel a lot and rated it the best resort they'd ever been to. It's to the east quite a ways, so there are no day trips into Havana. It's more isolated and quieter, which appeals to us (but not to a lot of younger people). Also, I don't know prices, but both resorts mentioned here would be higher-end in terms of price.
 

Hydrogen

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I went to New Mexico for a whack of time. With plenty of desert, there's lots of beach, but not much in the way of water to go with it. White Sands is kinda cool, though.
 

Bogtrotter

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A more quiet and less popular area is what we try to look for so I'll look into Cayo Santa Maria- thanks

Yeh it's hard to go wrong with Varadero beaches and the option of going to Havana for a day is nice. I'll look into Iberostar as well. Personally I thought Blau Varadero also had an extensive and diverse food selection and the quality, with the exception of the fruit, was very good. Overall I'd recommend it.

We're also thinking about the 'Mayan Riviera' and possibly Cozumel- as we've never been.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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I fell in love with Puerta Vallarta in the late 80's, we used to go every January/February for 2-3 weeks until the mid 90's. Almost guaranteed good weather that time of year, lots of fellow Canadians, a charming town, "okay" beaches (but that's not my thing), quiet, good nightlife can be found, really reasonable and safe. I haven't been back since '95 or '96, I hear it's changed a lot.
 

astroturf

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I can vouch for Puerta Vallarta as well. Was there a year ago - stayed at the Barcello resort (La Jolla de Mismaloya) which is about a 10mins taxi ride into town.

+ Puerta Vallarta has a more authentic mexican city/town feel then sterile Cancun
+ For some reason I preferred the night-life to that of Cancun's
+ Weather was excellent...average 30c days all week. Cool at nights.
+ Close to the jungle. Great tours.
+ Safe town at any hour of the day/night.

- Since its on the Pacific side, beaches are so-so. In other words, dark sand, not so clear water. Water temp was pretty warm though for Dec.


Planning a vacation soon to the mayan riviera. Love turquoise water, so its an easy choice for me.




I fell in love with Puerta Vallarta in the late 80's, we used to go every January/February for 2-3 weeks until the mid 90's. Almost guaranteed good weather that time of year, lots of fellow Canadians, a charming town, "okay" beaches (but that's not my thing), quiet, good nightlife can be found, really reasonable and safe. I haven't been back since '95 or '96, I hear it's changed a lot.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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I can vouch for Puerta Vallarta as well. Was there a year ago - stayed at the Barcello resort (La Jolla de Mismaloya) which is about a 10mins taxi ride into town.

+ Puerta Vallarta has a more authentic mexican city/town feel then sterile Cancun
+ For some reason I preferred the night-life to that of Cancun's
+ Weather was excellent...average 30c days all week. Cool at nights.
+ Close to the jungle. Great tours.
+ Safe town at any hour of the day/night.

- Since its on the Pacific side, beaches are so-so. In other words, dark sand, not so clear water. Water temp was pretty warm though for Dec.


Planning a vacation soon to the mayan riviera. Love turquoise water, so its an easy choice for me.

I only ever tried Cancun and Acapulco once, didn't care for either. Just not my style of place to go.
The sand on the PV beaches on the bay is brownish and the water isn't clear but if you rent a jeep, head north along the coast about 45 mins. past the airport you'll come across beaches that come very close to those of Cuba. Truly stunning - white sand, clear water, sand bars galore, really nice. Unfortunately there's no one nearby except a few locals who sell beer & food on the beach so if you get taken out with the current, stung by jellyfish or other such unpleasantness your sunk (no pun), so it's a "use at your own risk" scenario.
I enjoyed Cuba too but I didn't like being relegated to the hotel areas...boring! I like to get out and explore local places and people (not on a guided bus tour) and that was strongly discouraged in the mid-80's. Oh, and the food sucked huge!
 

BuildTO

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I enjoyed Cuba too but I didn't like being relegated to the hotel areas...boring! I like to get out and explore local places and people (not on a guided bus tour) and that was strongly discouraged in the mid-80's. Oh, and the food sucked huge!

There's plenty of good food to be had, but it's still pretty hit-and-miss unless you can get recommendations from locals or people who have been there. I had mediocre food and service at one restaurant that was highly recommended in the New York Times.

Some of the best restaurants are "paladars" - small, family-run restaurants. Some are in people's homes.

This will be my fourth trip to Havana and we're adding each year to a list of restaurants that we go back to every time we're there.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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There's plenty of good food to be had, but it's still pretty hit-and-miss unless you can get recommendations from locals or people who have been there. I had mediocre food and service at one restaurant that was highly recommended in the New York Times.

Some of the best restaurants are "paladars" - small, family-run restaurants. Some are in people's homes.

This will be my fourth trip to Havana and we're adding each year to a list of restaurants that we go back to every time we're there.

So it's safe to be Canadian, non-Spanish speaking and wander Havana? I've heard conflicting opinions of this over the years.
The food in the hotels is what sucked, we never went out to sample the local fare. It was a truly miserable, boring and unremarkable week
 

BuildTO

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So it's safe to be Canadian, non-Spanish speaking and wander Havana? I've heard conflicting opinions of this over the years.

I never felt unsafe at any time. If anything, being Canadian is an advantage, as Cuba and Canada have had generally good relations and Canadians make a lot of contributions to the Cuban economy. Keep in mind too that while Canadian tourists around the world often get treated badly when they are mistaken for Americans, there are almost no Americans in Cuba so this is not an issue.

Not being able to speak any Spanish will put you at a disadvantage, as restaurants may not have any English-speaking staff. The cheaper the hotel is, the less likely they will speak English at the reception.

We were often out late and wandering the streets in the dark. A friend of mine just returned from Havana yesterday and talked about wandering around alone, late, running into a group of men on the street and when they realized he was a tourist, they took him home where he hung out with them and had a lovely time.

I'm not sure what you've heard, but keep in mind that American propaganda views dominate our media.

There is some crime, but it is still probably the safest place to go in the Caribbean.

The food in the hotels is what sucked, we never went out to sample the local fare. It was a truly miserable, boring and unremarkable week

Sounds like it! What a shame.

My boss is a social worker, and has been conducting tours of Havana's social services for about 10 years. We also did a bus tour of western and central Cuba a few years ago, and are about to do a tour of eastern Cuba in February. It's all about meeting the people, seeing how they do things (especially since their money and resources are so limited), and getting away from the standard tourist fare. We also have good (and incredibly knowledgeable) friends who act as tour guides, so we get the inside story on a lot of things.

There's so much we can learn from Cuba. If you go back, you really have to wander around and take a good look. It's been mentioned on this forum more than once that walking around is the best way to really get to know another city/country/culture.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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Thanks for all of your comments. I really wasn't sure if crime was a problem there or not, that's the impression I got from the tour operator during our orientation. I know all about the hogwash fed to the American people about Cuba, that nonsense doesn't even register with me.
The best thing about traveling is taking in the local culture which is why I felt so cheated when I got to Cuba. The hotel and beaches were terrific, but after a few hours of that I wanted to go exploring.
I don't travel as much for pleasure anymore but I'll certainly keep Cuba at the top of my list.
 

Zephyr

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Spanish is such an easy language to learn, take the conversational version in a local college and you will never regret it. I use Spanish to get around Italy and even Brasil, where in both cases it is not the native tongue.

And it opens up all those South American options beyond what is discussed here.
 

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