In today’s episode, I’m travel hacking by booking an all-inclusive resort in Varadero, Cuba, and… skipping town to head to Havana! I wrote about this in a previous post, but today’s episode is the video proof!
Here’s the deal. I wanted to head to Havana at the last minute. The direct flight was $1200. The all-inclusive resort $800. So, it was a no-brainer – plus I get to start my trip in a resort.
I’ve never done an all-inclusive – it doesn’t fit my style, though I’d be totally down to try some crazy nice ones. To be fair, some of the resorts in Cuba are not particularly stellar. You get what you pay for. There’s unlimited food. It’s well known amongst Canadians that Cuba’s resort food is pretty bland, and to bring your own hot sauce as some resorts often run out.
But hey for a resort virgin like me, an unlimited bland food buffet seem OK, and it actually goes well with unlimited mojitos. I’m also not a picky eater, but yeah, I have to be honest to you guys. The food isn’t great. Still, there’s plenty of food I never touch, and the Chinese food is laughable. Then there’s the parades, activities, and variety shows that most guests didn’t seem to care about. Honestly, it seemed like people just wanted to lie on the beach and drink.
The diving is pretty good though. The water is very clear. And the trip to the Matanzas cave is pretty good too. The delicate formations are out of this world.
As for the resort, It was interesting the first day, to have all that food and beer, but by the second day, I was already hopping over to the local beaches and shops, and soon my CUC tourist money was becoming CUP local currency. But, by my third day there, there are signs that it’s time to go. First, I find myself killing time by making videos on how to do the butterfly stroke. Next, I start wandering off to local beaches instead of staying on the combed resort beaches.
I also also swim across a canal to another local beach to discover how drastically different it is. There are horses and donkeys for transportation, tons of seashells compared to almost none on the tourist side, and the water’s a lot murkier from garbage and sediment.
Tip: bring bug spray. The mosquitoes are insanely aggressive. Unlike in Canada, where they swirl around looking for a good spot, these guys land quickly, bite wherever, and their bites pack a punch. Havana actually gets fogged with bug spray often.
Next, it’s time to escape:
I check a website that shows all the casa particulares in Havana. A casa particulare is essentially Airbnb before Airbnb. Because Cuba’s internet is isolated, almost all Casa Particulares use an agency to reach the outside world, making the price higher but I believe the agency fee is a fixed $5/day, which isn’t bad. I roll the dice, and call up the home owner direct in broken Spanish, and think I make the booking.
Next, I tell the maid that I’ll be gone for a while, she thinks I’m joking, but I tell her its real. Next, I join a French-speaking Havana day tour for $25, except I’m going one way. Havana is as awesome as I thought it’d be. The art scene is incredible. I had so many adventures there that I’ll have to break up in other episodes. Eventually, I have to go back, but I honestly could’ve stayed in Havana for months.
Here’s A Summary Of The Strategy:
1. Book resort and extend your return flight for $100
2. Book your stay in Havana on Airbnb in advance or at the resort. The resort will usually have the best and “cheapest” internet you will ever see. If you want, book just a few days, and arrange the rest in cash if you find a deal, but NOTE that it might not be worth it since USD takes a 10% hit in some places even thought the Cuban government says it’s eliminating that.
3. If you extended your flight, then book a casa particulare in Varadero for your return. Don’t book the hotel since they overcharge.
4. Head to Havana on a one-way day tour. Enjoy Havana or wherever you go in Cuba.
5. On your way back, hop on any of day tour buses returning.